The other night I was watching Michael Bay’s Transformers for the second time for reasons beyond me. Maybe it’s all that ever-scraping steel shifting raucously from car to bot. Maybe it’s the nostalgia-factor, all those lost happy hours spent in front of my family’s monstrous Zenith from the 60s. Maybe it’s the fact that I never could draw Optimus Prime quite right. Whatever the reason (certainly not the storyline), I found myself engaged.
During this viewing I noticed (for the second time) that Optimus Prime doesn’t pull a trailer when he transforms into cab form, which is a prominent feature in the old cartoons.
Autobot leaders have to have trailers. This has always fascinated me even as a 12-year-old boy (I didn’t get out much!) It’s as if the leader inherits a world of difficulties once the Matrix of Leadership is bestowed upon the (un)fortunate leader-to-be. Optimus Prime is a prime example, of course. He transforms from robot to rig, that long gray trailer attaching itself to him almost unconsciously.
And just what is the trailer Optimus trucks behind him? In a few episodes (as well as the original Optimus Prime toy), the trailer is a mobile command center, or Combat Deck, complete with a mobile scout called Roller. Interesting enough, Wikipedia mentions, “while Prime could survive the destruction of either, despite the slight degree of autonomy they possess, the Combat Deck and Roller would not be able to survive without him.” Taken as a metaphor for Autobot existence without Optimus, without leadership, nothing can exist. That’s quite a world to carry upon one Autobot’s shoulders!
Then there’s Rodimus Prime. He is probably the sole reason I started thinking more about the trailer motif. In Transformers: The Movie, we’re introduced to the youthful robot Hot Rod (or Rodimus Major) who transforms into the coolest car next to Bumblebee’s ‘09 Camaro. He’s hip and energetic, but a bit naive. Once Optimus dies and Ultra Magnus loses the Matrix to the resurrected Megatron, Hot Rod takes in the Matrix and becomes Rodimus Prime. Once he transforms to vehicle form, he now has a sort of camper that attaches itself to his futuristic hot rod self, as the young robot is propelled into a brave new world of Autobot leadership, heir to a trailerload of responsibilities (as we’ll see in subsequent seasons of the original series.)
In Shakespeare’s play Henry IV, Part II, the dying title character states “Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown.” In the case of Optimus and Rodimus Primes, uneasy lies the Autobot who wields the Matrix. Actually, it’s interesting to note just how similar Transformers: The Movie is to Henry IV, specifically with regards to Hot Rod, the metallic embodiment of the Bard’s unlikely protagonist Prince Hal, who at the beginning of the play hasn’t a care in the world for politics, war, or the state of his country. He changes through the duration of the two parts, and once his father dies, he inherits the crown of England and is ordained Henry V, much the same as Hot Rod receiving the Matrix (and his own trailer) to become Rodimus Prime.
I love stuff like this, and to tell the truth, after writing this, I’m not only fascinated by the idea of the trailer, but by the fact that Transformers: The Movie actually is essentially both parts of Shakespeare’s Henry IV…but I’ll save that for the 200 page doctoral dissertation I’ll write in an alternate future!
So what cool or interesting things have you discovered while watching your favorite old school cartoons like Transformers?