I suppose I’ve always been one to root for the underdogs. If someone said they could take me back to 1973 via a time machine and get me a front-row seat for Elvis Presley’s Aloha From Hawaii performance at the same time that Arch Hall, Jr. was playin’ a gig at the Ponderosa Stomp, I’d go for the Archer in a flash. Were I faced with the opportunity to see either a pristine 70mm print of the original, unaltered Star Wars at the Pantages versus a battered, choppy ol’ cut of Luigi Cozzi’s Starcrash at some hole-in-the-wall venue, I would opt for the latter.
And, when it comes to the age-old debate of Transformers versus GoBots, I’m afraid that I’ll side with them GoBots each and every time. Why? Well, for starters, the GoBots’ image (what there is of one) has not been tarnished by Michael Bay in the guise of crappy, poorly-written CGI-laden blockbusters. Nor has its theme song been ripped off by Chuck Nutt. But that’s beside the point, really.
Despite the fact that the Transformers have always reigned supreme in all forms — toys, TV, film, etc. — the GoBots line of toys were the first hit American shelves in late 1983. Thanks to a recently-dismissed 1969 ban by the FCC that prohibited toy companies from making television programs in order to promote their goods (which, in hindsight, probably wasn‘t a wise move: go take a walk through your local toy store if you don‘t believe me), a GoBots television mini-series followed September of ‘84; less than two weeks after the Transformers cartoon first aired.
At its robotic core, Challenge Of The GoBots: The Complete Miniseries is about as ‘80s and as Saturday Morning Cartoon-ish as you can get. Cheesy, lurid and downright silly, its story is a wholeheartedly conspicuous blending of such live-action science fiction films as the Star Wars and Superman franchises, Flash Gordon and more. And that’s just one reason why this Hanna-Barbera show kicks ass.
The story here has a tiny faction of evil Renegade GoBots (with names like Cy-Kill) attempting to conquer Earth, while the friendly Guardian shape-shifting robots do their best to save the day. The bad guys bring down a manned NASA spaceship upon their arrival, blowing their otherwise secure cover to humanity in the process. And, after saving the lives of the ship’s astronauts (a porn-stached guy and two younger people), the Guardians join forces with the Earthlings to prevent the Renegades from achieving their goal — which they have enlisted the aid of a shady Earth scientist (who looks like he’s just escaped from an episode of Scooby-Doo.
A female Russian scientist is thrown into the equation, just to give the show that then-current Cold War feeling, and the ever-faithful and still-relevant “can’t we all just get along” message is later employed at the end of the miniseries as she and the male astronaut kiss and — presumably — fall in love. Among the voice actors involved here are the great Frank Welker, Rene Auberjonois, Bernie Erhard, Brock Peters, Marilyn Lightstone, Lou Richards, and Morgan Paull.
Warner Bros. releases this long-overdue first part of the doomed Challenge Of The GoBots series (a more-traditional series — consisting of a whopping 60 episodes — aired from September to December of 1985) in a Manufactured-On-Demand DVD-R that’s part of their Warner Archive Collection, available from their website. The miniseries has been remastered in 2K from newly-minted interpositives, which have been taken directly from original camera negatives. This has improved the color scheme drastically (see below), and the barebones disc is presented in Full Frame with mono sound.
Recommended as a grandiose guilty pleasure if nothing else. Enjoy.