Monday, 25 July 2011

TransFormers (Movie) Optimus Prime

Back when I wrote about the Revenge of the Fallen Leader Class Prime, I noted that it was unfair to do so without first having written about this one. In retrospect, I feel it was not only unfair but downright daft. The toyline for the 2007 movie is where the real improvements in toy engineering began, giving fans the complexity and movie accuracy we have today. The original Leader Class Optimus Prime is one of the most significant milestones.

Vehicle Mode:
Arguably, this is the easiest bit to get right, and certainly in the halcyon days of G1, the toyline was full of accurate, real-life (albeit unlicensed) model cars that turned into awesome, chunky robots. On the surface, this appears to be a reasonably accurate model of the Peterbilt truck used in the movie, albeit not as shiny or as heavily decorated. A 'premium' version was released later, with more silver paint and even some chroming, but this first mass-release version looks the part from most angles, and I was particularly tickled to find that the Autobot logo hood/grille ornament detail from the movie had been retained.

From the sides, you can see what is obviously the robot mode's weapon plugging into the back of the truck, where a corrugated metal plate should be, and the large gap that the weapon plugs into, but you can kind of let it slide because the rest of the truck looks so good, and because it could easily be some piece of customised truck engine. Right at the back, I (along with, I suspect, many other fans) was pleased to find a molded trailer hitch with the kind of recess that could have indicated a trailer in our future... but none appeared until the Dark of the Moon line.

The paintwork is a bit patchy - most of it is there in a reasonably movie-accurate way, though the white pinstriping on the flames is absent in every instance. In fact, the flames are absent from the sides of the nose, but they do return on the sides of the cab.

A couple of really impressive things: first and foremost, the tyres are rubber - all six of 'em - surely making this the first TransFormer since the early years of G1 to have rubber tyres, automatically making this toy cooler than it might otherwise have been. Secondly, the battery compartments, rather than becoming an unsightly, clumsy box somewhere in the model, are the external fuel tanks on either side of the truck. Each one accommodates one of the required AA batteries, making this the most sensibly organised electronic TransFormer I've ever seen - not even the Revenge of the Fallen version deals with its batteries that cleverly.

And speaking of the electronics, they're not bad, but they are a little underutilised. Vehicle mode has a button on the roof of the cab which activates a few blasts from the truck's horn and, bizarrely, a pair of yellow lights behind the windscreen. That's really all there is - one sound/light feature...
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Robot Mode:
Here's where my writeup of the RotF version becomes seriously unfair because, back when I first bought this, transformed it and played with it for a while, I couldn't believe they'd ever be able to surpass this model. I should note before going any further that the photos below show my quite extensively painted model - many of the molded details (mostly on the arms and back) have been picked out further by paint, with reference taken from the CGI artwork that accompanied the release of the first film.

Even so, to my naive eyes back in 2007, this looked almost identical to the movie CGI, with the windscreen splitting open to form the chest, all the bits and bobs sticking up over his shoulders, and those distinctive two-toed feet. Of course, it's really not that accurate - the grille on the waist is spaced out too far, the shoulders are hopelessly inaccurate, the forearms are boxy, the molded details on the legs don't match to the joints, the proportions are all wrong... and what the hell is that hanging off his hips?

The position of the rear wheels may well be an attempt at authenticity to the CGI model, but their size is a problem, and the only reason the legs have the range of motion they need is that the darned things are hinged so that the rearmost wheel isn't obstructing the knee.

Such cheats aside, this model is exceptionally poseable - I'm tempted to say moreso than the RotF version, if only because the arms, though bulky, have a full range of motion and can be fully straightened, and because the feet, while not as accurate, are a bit more mobile and stable.

The head mold - again, as a result pre-production artwork - isn't quite right... not only that, but straight out of the box, many of the details which should be silver are left in the plain blue plastic (touched up on mine!). This omission is all the more strange considering the tiny specks of gold paint on the outsides of his eyes.

Molded detail, generally, is pretty good so, while certain aspects of the transformed robot are not screen accurate, details - on the back particularly - make direct reference to aspects of the CGI model... even if they were left unpainted.

Much like vehicle mode, there's one sounds-and-lights feature, linked to the rather weak Automorph gimmick. Pulling down on a switch at his waist causes the windscreen to separate and the head to rise out of the chest cavity, flipping back part of the roof. Accompanying this is a strange 'power up' sound, with a few mechanical, gear-meshing sounds (not to mention the clockwork whirr of the internal gears), and the two lights behind his windows flash along with the lights in his eyes.

The other Automorph gimmick is his right-hand weapon. A slide switch on the inner forearm swings the entire gun assembly round over the fist and extends a rod just below. The gun incorporates a spring-loaded missile and looks fairly accurate to the weapon in the movie, just a little truncated.
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Getting the original movie Optimus Prime from one mode to the other is certainly easier than with the RotF model, but it's not without its complications. There are some awkward panels that have to be navigated, juggled, or outright forced around other chunks of this model, but the transformation experience is pretty satisfying, even after the release of the RotF version, and both modes seem pretty solid.

For it's time, the original Leader Class movie Optimus Prime was fantastic... Four years and two further movies later, it has been surpassed aesthetically, but perhaps not in terms of play value. While the joints aren't necessarily screen accurate, they're far more mobile that the more recent Leader Class figure and, while his head isn't accurate to the character in the movie, it does have uninterrupted rotation. If on assumes that this model was intended for the 'Ages 5+' market at the time of the first movie, it's not unreasonable to extrapolate that the more complicated/CGI accurate model from Revenge of the Fallen would be the ideal follow up for a child of 7+ who wished to continue their collection.

TransFormers toys: A Learning and Growing Experience... :P

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