“Behold the culmination of centuries! The ultimate fruit of hypergenetic manipulation, a weapon which no enemy can withstand… The pods will bear spores, and those spores will degenerate all organisms they touch, mutating them into mindless incompetent life forms!”
FROM JASON’S VCR — Back in the mid-to-late 80s, there were plenty of cartoon-promoting-toy franchises for a young kid to buy into. Every morning before school, I tuned into M.A.S.K.; after school were Gobots, Silverhawks, and Thundercats. Jayce and the Wheel Warriors and Voltron aired back-to-back on Saturday mornings, with Centurions, Visionaries, and RoboTech getting their share of my attention, too. Lucky kids with cable could even catch Robotix.
But just like every kid knew McDonald’s was the burger champ, there were two animated shows that all snot-nosed boys knew held top-billing: Transformers and G.I. Joe. A few kids might get their dirty little fingers on Battle Damage He-Man or a plastic Sword of Omens, but everybody had at least one Robot In Disguise or a few Joes.
So it was no surprise for any bright-eyed first-grader when Transformers the Movie hit screens in 1986. Sseeing it in the theater is one of my first film memories (Return of the Jedi was my first, and The Care Bears Movie my second, and then Transformers). I remember in third grade all the kids, fresh off the shell-shock of Optimus Prime’s death, were spreading rumors about an upcoming G.I. Joe movie.
This was big news. This was almost as big as the rumors that would spring up in ’89 about real-life hoverboards when Back to the Future II was released.
But the Joes never made it to the big screen. After all the hype, and after Transformers fell flat with a measly $5.85 million take, Hasbro broke the film into five parts and ran it on television. On one hand, that meant watching it on a 25-inch television; on the other, it meant seeing the flick for free.
What we got was pretty damned good, I thought, but it split my classmates into two camps: There were those who liked the new baddies (we’ll get to them in a minute), and there were those who were angry that G.I. Joe toys had gone to being somewhat “realistic” (if you can even call it that) to complete sci-fi fantasy.
Sure, Destro’s face was made of metal. People shot lasers, and flew person bubble-craft, and there was one guy who was kind of a snake. None of my friends thought any of that was too out-of-left-field.
But the movie transmogrified Cobra from a robotic-themed evil terrorist force to an organic one by introducing Cobra-La, an entire race of monstrous baddies based on old hollow Earth and reptilian myths.
After failing to capture the Joe’s newest gadget, the Black Entertainment Television Broadcast Energy Transmitter, Cobra’s forces under Serpentor’s command are beaten back into the polar ice. Cobra Commander leads them into the gates of Cobra-La, an 40,000-year-old race of hominid reptiles that retreated underground and left the Earth to humans. It’s revealed that Cobra Commander was really a 14th century nobleman and scientist who found a strange plant, and was transfigured into a reptilian when the plant’s spores exploded in his face.
This was no accident — it was the master plan of Golobulus, ruler of Cobra-La, who wanted Cobra Commander to wage war on the human race so Cobra-La could re-emerge as the planet’s dominant civilization.
Hundreds of years later, Golobulus is severely pissed at the lack of progress. He explains that exposure to the spores devolves mammals; he wrathfully uses them to fully change Cobra Commander into a talking snake, and reveals his plan to launch million of the spores into orbit. Once there, the plan is to use the BET to incubate the plants so they release spores into the atmosphere, falling to Earth and devolving everyone below.
Forget G.I. Joe for a minute.
Did you know there are really people today who believe in some of this malarkey?
Cobra-La is a not-so-subtle reinvention of Shangri-La, a fictional utopian valley in turn based on the Buddhist mystical city Shambhala. Both names have been mixed up for about two centuries now with a spectacular kind of pseudo-scientific nonsense that theorizes the Earth is actually hollow, with entrances at the polar caps that lead through an 800-mile-thick crust to interior rings where entire civilizations lives. Many of these folks believe there is even a miniature sun at the center of the Earth that powers the civilizations, drawing on the theoretical concept that the whole planet could be a Dyson sphere.
Believe it or not, there’s more.
These people actually, truly believe that gravity works differently the deeper into the Earth you travel, allowing ginormous plants (like the film’s spores) to grow. Supposedly, they are tended by a technologically and culturally superior race (or races) — and the theories crackpot hypotheses lacking any evidence suggest these subterranean dwellers are everything from the 10 lost tribes of Israel (Mole Jews) to snake-people (A.K.A. “dinosauroids”). Oh, and they fly UFOs.
Rodney M. Cluff, a Mormon crackpot (sorry for the redundancy), is even collecting funds for an Artic expedition that would supposedly take place in 2009, with the goal of finding the entrance to “Inner Earth” and visit “cousins of the Lost Viking Colony and the Lost Tribes of Israel.”
To explain away the scientific refutation of the Hollow Earth hypothesis, Cluff and his gang sub-intellectually molest the concept of S- and P-waves, and say 3D imaging of the Earth’s interior are faulty because of a mysterious “shadow zone.”
My answer to her is that scientists claim the outer core is liquid.
This is because S seismic waves do not pass through the outer core.
But neither can they pass through air or space. The P-waves that they
claim are passing through the Inner Core, are not. They bend around the
hollow core, like sound waves around a corner. The hollow core causes a
shadow zone on the opposite of the earth from the epicenter in both types of
waves. The shadow zone is caused because neither type of wave pass
through the hollow core of the earth. It’s all in the interpretation.
In a recent update to his site, Cluff writes:
We have eye witnesses that have been to the hollow
earth and have confirmed that the earth is hollow.
So maybe they’ll find Cobra-La. But I doubt it.
Back to the Joes.
What I haven’t mentioned so far is the cast. We’ve got Don “Sonny” Johnson as Lt. Falcon; the late Burgess “Mickey” Meredith as Golobulus; Peter “Optimus Prime” Cullen as Zandar and Nemesis Enforcer; wrestler Sgt. Slaughter as a glorified version of himself; and Frank “Megatron” Welker as Torch and Wild Bill.
A lot of the other cas tmembers may sound like no-names until you read through their IMDB bios. Then you realize they are still the backbone of the voice-over profession.
Corey Burton alone has 235 acting credits to his name, including Zeus in the upcoming God of War III, Dooku in The Clone Wars, and roles in Batman: Gotham Knight, Transformers: Animated, Justice League, Legion of Superheroes, Planet Terror, Bleach, Knights of the Old Republic II, Kingdom Hearts, Final Fantasy X-2, Samurai Jack, Batman Beyond….
Charles Adler has provided voices for Transformers (2007), Psychonauts, Johnny Bravo, Rugrats, Hey Arnold, Fallout 1 and 2, Rocko’s Modern Life, Timon and Pumba, Sonic the Hedgehog (TV), SWAT Kats, Tiny Toon Adventures….
Michael Bell has been in Ninja Gaiden Sigma, Cars, The Batman, Metal Gear Solid 3, Age of Empires III, Six Feet Under, Doom 3, the Ratchet and Clank series….
You get the picture.
This movie was everything it should have been: Overblown, cheesy, dragging in all of the old characters and giving us new ones. There were fortresses and traps. There were laser guns and monsters (check out the two Dune-ish worms in the Cobra-La climax). There was a romance, a death (or nearly. It depends which region copy you watch), character growth. There was a lasting impact on Cobra Commander (although he was partially transformed back into a reptile-man by Baroness later in the series).
Excuse me, I’m going to call my mother and have her ship my G.I. Joe toys to me for Christmas.