Thursday, 28 July 2011

TransFormers (Movie) Megatron

Although there was as much artwork of Megatron's live action movie appearance as there was for the other characters, his alternate mode was shrouded in mystery. For everyone else - Autobot and Decepticon - images had leaked of the contentious robot modes and the terrestrial disguises they'd adopted. Then came the bombshell: Megatron wasn't taking an Earth-based alternate mode.

While the scant information available before the release of the movie characterised this as arrogance - why would the Decepticon leader feel the need to have a disguise? - the news left most fans cold. Sure, we couldn't expect his to transform into a gun (Michael Bay had been adamant that there would be no 'mass shifting' to ruin his 'realism') but, if he wasn't going to be a 'Robot in Disguise', what would he be?

Vehicle Mode:
The answer, of course, was that he would be a Cybertronian attack jet.

Wait, what?

The toy actually came out before the movie hit the screens, and it became swiftly apparent that it was playing fast and loose with the CGI model. That said, Megatron's jet mode was so spindly, his transformation into the bulky, massively tall robot stretched credulity. There was no way the toy would be able to mimmick that in real-life, plastic parts. You could probably customise a movie-accurate alternate mode out of this toy, but it would mean removing the legs and rebuilding the entire midsection of the jet.

So, in short, Movie Megatron's toy vehicle mode is shit. There's no getting around it. From the front and sides, it would almost look OK were it not for the legs very obviously dangling from the undersides of the wings. As if that wasn't bad enough, he also suffers terribly from 'Visible Robot Head' Syndrome - with just a small plastic tab 'concealing' his face, the entire head sits just behind the jet's nose.

This model is another fine example of a toy that looks pretty good from above, because that's the only angle at which the silhouette comes close to matching the CGI. It's a pretty large model and, in that respect, it wins back a few points, but the extensive (excessive?) use of plain grey plastic, and the airbrushed patches of a strange metallic blue really don't constitute a paintjob to be proud of. As with far too many of the first movie's toys, I had to bring out my paintbrushes and do some extensive work on him... work which I eventually gave up on through sheer tedium. Molded detail abounds - there's even some on the underside of the tail section, and on pieces that end up inside the torso in robot mode.

There is a sound effect in this mode, but it almost sounds like a holdover from Galaxy Force Flame Convoy, because it's just a screech... I can only assume it's meant to represent the jet mode's engine sounds, but I don't recall any sound like it in the movie.

The worst part about it is that, while all the other movie toys turn into something recognisable - and licensed! - arguably the most important character becomes some strange, alien, and yet nondescript so-called jet. Had there been any mention in the movie of Megatron's reasoning for not taking a disguise - even if it was just a case of not having time to select one - it might make some sense, but the whole issue was ignored.
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Robot Mode:
And it's not as if things are much better when Megatron shows his true form... Neither this nor the Voyager class version did a particularly good job of representing the CGI for the first movie, and it wasn't just because Movie Megatron looked more like The Shrike than Megatron. What possible chance did the designers have of turning such a monstrosity into a viable toy?

It's not unusual for a TransFormer to be burdened by a surfeit of obvious vehicle mode parts in its robot mode... but when the vehicle in question is alien, surely that should make it easier to conceal? And yet Movie Megatron's wings protrude from his back, the entire nose section hangs down over the entire tail section (which is only as bulky as it is because it doubles as the battery compartment) on his back, and the forearms carry the 'prongs' that flank the nose section.

Attempts were surely made to keep to the look of the CGI, as evidenced by the panels that move into place in the final (and otherwise redundant) phase of transformation. Like Prime, there's a switch at the bottom of his waist which, when flipped, releases the internal gears that raise some translucent pink... things... behind his shoulders. What these are is anyone's guess, because nothing like them ever appeared in the movie.

There are a couple of true Automorph gimmicks - one closes up the wings onto the robot's back as the nose is flipped back over the shoulders, the other puts the toes into place when the knee is clicked back to vertical. The former is quite impressive to watch, the latter is well done but, since the legs are wholly superfluous to the requirements of the vehicle mode, it seems like wasted effort.

Considering the way the torso basically concertinas into place, it's no surprise that there's no waist articulation, but what's left is horribly limited. The head doesn't move at all - and it's not because of electronic lighting for the eyes, all he has is light piping! - the arms are a mass of bizarre joints and protrusions that interfere with them and, while the legs have decent range, the feet barely keep Megatron stable standing straight, let alone posed dramatically.

With so much extra bulk on the model to accommodate the electronics, one could be forgiven for hoping that robot mode would offer substantially more than the button-activated screech in jet mode. Sadly, one would be very disappointed: the geared movement of the chest plates is accompanied by another, different screech and a couple of blinking lights in the chest. Not even a single voice clip, and no additional effects once transformation is complete. The button that activated jet mode's screech is actually covered up in robot mode.

There are a couple of 'bonus' features that may mitigate this disaster, depending on how generous one is willing to be: the right 'hand' can detach and fold up to be the mace Megatron used toward the end of the movie (a subtle reference to his Energon weapon from the TV series pilot), while the left arm's 'prong' can extend and Automorph a kind of weapon, though it's not entirely clear what it's supposed to be. Finally, the two arms can be linked via a small clip on one wrist but, again, it's not obvious what this is intended to accomplish.

The paint job for robot mode did the model a disservice, too. The face was painted black, the biceps were largely black, much of the chest detail was masked in black, the central parts of the shoulders were black, and much of the shins remain black because I just gave up. Hasbro have a terrible habit of substituting silver with black (original mass release of RotF Ravage, anyone?), and this version of Megatron is probably still the worst victim of this heinous act.
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The problem with any TransFormer that's a mess in robot mode and has a non-terrestrial vehicle mode is that transformation is going to be a disaster. The Automorph features are cool and all, but the more attention you pay to transformation, the more you start to see how, perhaps, it might have been done better. Of particular note are the 'concertina' torso and everything from the waist down. Getting the legs into position - because there's a tab on the back of the lower leg that needs to clip into the underside of the wings - is a nightmare, and several poorly-judged attempts have worn away some of the crotch detail on mine.

It probably wouldn't be so bad if the figure was poseable but, as previously noted, the design of the feet basically means that he can only successfully stand up straight. The awkward, bulky arms and the sorry excuses for hands mean there's almost no way you can make this toy look threatening... except perhaps by wielding it as a weapon yourself.

It is unlikely to ever be revealed why the movie designers chose Dan Simmons' futuristic, time-travelling technorganic monster as their inspiration for Megatron but, in doing so, they did the character, the fans, and Hasbro a rather significant disservice. I don't dispute that a lot of effort went into making a toy based on the movie's CGI... I just think that effort was well and truly wasted, and that Hasbro should have stepped in and demanded a proper disguise for Megatron from the outset.

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