The writer of Transformers: The Movie on killing Optimus Prime

News Ryan Lambie
6 Jan 2014 - 08:32

In a candid interview, writer Ron Friedman talks about the infamous death of Optimus Prime in the 1986 Transformers: The Movie...

Way, way before Michael Bay brought us his live-action Transformers adaptations, Hasbro's hit line of toys' previous big screen outing came in 1986 - the animated feature Transformers: The Movie.

Featuring some lavish animation from Toei and a starry voice cast including Eric Idle, Leonard Nimoy and Orson Welles, the film was notable for the violent deaths of several characters, most infamously the Autobot leader, Optimus Prime. With Hasbro keen to tie off the old line of toys, and use the movie to introduce a new range of robots, poor old Prime's fate was sealed - despite the warnings of screenwriter Ron Friedman.

Already an experienced writer for TV and film, Friedman had been involved in the Transformers series since it began in 1984, and also worked on such hit shows as G.I. Joe and Marvel Action Hour. In a new interview with writer Todd Matthy, Friedman talks candidly about his career and work on Transformers: The Movie, and in particular his misgivings about Prime's death.

"They [Hasbro] didn’t recognize that Optimus Prime was the heartbeat of the Autobots," Friedman said. "The strong and fatherly presence that made sure everybody else behave and tries to live up to his example. You cannot pass that over and have any hope of duplicating the success you had. I proved right because they resurrected him rapidly. They established an icon."

When it was made clear that Prime had to go, Friedman came up with a brilliant concept: that of the Matrix, an artefact of power which can be passed down from Autobot to Autobot - and the inspiration for that artefact, Friedman reveals, came from a source we hadn't expected.

"I tried to establish an essential ingredient for the Optimus Prime character that he was both the caretaker and exponent of. That was the Matrix. It’s like the Petrean Touch in Catholicism. St. Peter touched his successor and every successive Pope has touched the next Pope carrying the touch of Peter into eternity [...] In effect, Prime did not die, he assumed another form resident in his successor, Rodimus Prime."

Elsewhere in the interview, Friedman talks about creating the planet-eating colossus Unicron, Greek mythology, his friendship with Stan Lee and his work in the Marvel universe, and his struggle to convince Hasbro to create a female Transformer.

It's a lively, fascinating interview, and well worth reading in full - you can do so here.

Ron Friedman's memoir, I Killed Optimus Prime, is due out later this year. On the strength of Friedman's anecdotes above, it should make for an engrossing read.

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