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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We need more of these types of articles as they are great (that was not a pop at you DoG, my sweetie shnookums!)
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I just wish people were more upfront about where these types of problems come up like Prime being killed closer to their happening. It does happen occasionally but not often enough. People tend to fear (and not unreasonably) for their jobs if they speak out.

I just cried and cried at this, and it still sticks with me to this day. That and Atriou's horse being swallowed by a swamp in never ending story, watership down, fox and the hound, Bambi...

do kids cartoons even come close to this sort of stuff now?

As soon as Perceptor says "I'm afraid the wounds are fatal!" tears start to well up. Thank the creator the Dinobots were there to make me feel better for the rest of the movie!

I always wondered if Ratchet had made it to Earth if he would've been able to save Prime, Perceptor being a scientist didn't exactly qualify him for the job.

Brilliant article, a book I will certainly be buying!

Prowl's and Brawn's deaths particularly always seem to me to be colossal wastes of good characters.

I always thought it was fine that they killed off Optimus, albeit just to apparently sell newer toys. I wish Michael Bay had had the guts to leave Optimus dead at the end of his second film. Can people not handle anything but a happy ending any more?

The first ten minutes of Up. Utterly devastating.

Especially so if you've just suffered a miscarriage yourself. Wasn't the best choice of film to watch in a bid to cheer us up.

did you HAVE to mention Watership Down.... Bright Eyes... wahhhhhhhh wahhh :'(

trum I did think of UP but then bypassed it. It did kill me that 10 minutes

I remember being traumatised by Prime's death as a kid - which also led on to an unrelenting hatred of Ultra Magnus that lives on til this very day.

However, after the movie, I'm sure Optimus became almost farcical in his continued attempts to sacrifice his life whenever he'd been brought back. I remember him blowing himself up to save some non-sentient bots in a computer program in one of the comics, for example!

Mr Brew already knows the effect that scene had on me! Well at least Optimus kept coming back, you can't keep a good 'bot down :)

I wonder if many of today's animation writers put as much thought and love into their work? It's clear from the interview that Friedman cared a lot about his writing, and used a whole load of interesting references (Shakespeare, Greek Mythology, etc) which shows he approached it from an intelligent story-telling point of view, rather than a cynical marketing job. Good on him!

I'd argue that Transformers:The Movie is greater than the first three Michael Bay efforts put together. Not many franchises would off their central figure but a third of the way through the feature.
I'd also defend Ultra Magnus to the hilt. He knew he was just a soldier...
Great soundtrack too.

I was 13 years old when I saw the Transformers movie. I remember how shocked I was when the Decepticons attacked the shuttle, killing several iconic characters I had grown up with. Then Prime is killed, and it's clear that the rule is, there are no rules, any character can die.

It was a complete paradigm shift from what I had been used to. No major character had ever died like that before in Transformers. And when I think of the other shows I watched, the level of violence was always offset by the fact that no one ever died.

GI Joe for example. Everyone's using laser guns instead of bullets, so characters that are hit are just stunned, not killed. Tanks and aircraft blowing up everywhere but the crews always get out or eject...even in helicopters.

The A-Team, another example, but this time there's bullets flying everywhere but no one actually gets shot. I still remember the first character death around season 3-4, it was a govt person who used to pursue the A-Team, and it was a big deal when he died.

As kids, we were really desensitized to the amount of violence we were exposed to. Prime's death was a wake up call.

You got the Touch, you got the Power!! Cue heavy guiters!
"End of the road galvatron"

Making me feel upset jst reading that list an the memories they bring especially that bit in nes! An no kids cartoons are no way near now days, cudnt see them killing patrick from sponge bob Lol

Still one of my favourite films. I love that Prime isn't taking any prisoners and tells the Dinobots to 'Destroy Devastator'. Pants were shat.

Not ashamed to say, one of my all time favourite films and a pivotal film from my childhood. I wish that Michael Bay could capture just a small percent of the spirit and heart of the film but so far he has just not managed to do so,
As mentioned below the soundtrack is excellent, I still have it on my ipod, Stan Bush is still going now and even reworked "The Touch" a few years back and even wrote a new song "till all are one" great article again DoG.

Ultra Magnus was a self-centred prick! I quote, apon his impending death he actually says "Prime, you said the matrix would light our darkest hour". Really Magnus? You think that the Autobots darkest hour is you dying? :D

Grimlock will always remain my favorite Transformer... I can't wait for Michael Bay to destroy my childhood! He said "I will never do the dinobots" but the way it is looking, they'll be in the next one!

top film!

"Megatron must be stopped. No matter the cost"
You got the Touch, you got the Power...

I say it all comes down to how old we were when we saw Transformers: The Movie.

I was a kid, so naturally I grew up loving it and still have fond memories of it.

I'm sure kids of today will be saying the same thing about Bays effort when they make a reboot in 2028!

"Wait!!..I still function!!" Wanna Bet!!
"Megatron!!..I have summoned you here for a purpose"

I hate Shia! My prob with the Mbay movies is that they're too self-aware and keep tonally shifting into some crappy comic relief whenever something grim happens.

probably not as much as before. Cant stay attached to something that can be taken away from you is the kinda vibe I get from most writers these days.

RIP Ratchet - my favourite autobot. Going down John Woo-style, two guns blazing...

I think it was General Fulbright (Jack Ging) who died in The A-Team at the latter end of season 4, which if memory serves, was only half a season anyway due to the show getting cancelled. It was probably the only truly moving episode of that show that wasn't done in some way for comedy value.

As for Prime dying, that scene still makes me cry as a near on 40 year old man. It should never have happened, but then the film was built around the emotional impact of his death, so without it, it would've been a much different film.

This ^

2018.

The land before time. Jebus that is a throat clogger.

He was talking about all the Autobots dying, not just himself.

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