The Great Scenes: The Birth of Galvatron from TRANSFORMERS: THE MOVIE (and how Dwyane Wade recruited LeBron James)
The Movie: The Transformers: The Movie (1986)
Spoiler Level: Moderate to High
The Setup: After a deadly attack on the Autobots’ base on Earth and a fateful showdown with Optimus Prime, the mortally wounded Deception leader Megatron drifts through empty abyss of deep space to die along with his fallen minions. Soon, Megatron floats into the path of the colossal and all-powerful planet-eating Unicron (voiced by Orson Welles in his final film role; yes, THAT Orson Welles!), who tells the Transformer he’s been summoned for “a purpose.” Unicron offers him and his cronies new bodies and weapons and commands them to help him destroy the Autobot Matrix of Leadership, the one thing that can stand in the planet-gorger’s way. After some resistance, the ego-maniacal Megatron accepts Unicron’s proposition and undergoes his final transformation into the Autobot nemesis Galvatron.
Why It’s Great: My fellow Film Nerds understand, and in some cases share, my deep affinity for Nelson Shin’s TRANSFORMERS: THE MOVIE, the 1986 film adaptation of the beloved television series (ahem, and toy line), which I personally feel has stood the test of time and remained a masterpiece.
My film nerd compadres should also know I’m a basketball nut, and I recently noticed the oddest parallel while reflecting on the 2010-11 NBA season. As many know, two-time MVP LeBron James opted for free agency last summer and joined his buddy Dwyane Wade at the Miami Heat, who subsequently reached the finals and lost to the Dallas Mavericks (go Mavs).
Looking back, the pairing got me thinking about this scene from Transformers, and I’ll tell you why. The basketball world was curious about James’ decision to join the Heat, forming what many considered a “super-team” with the likes of Wade and all-star free agent Chris Bosh. Most thought James might stay in Cleveland or join squads that just made more sense from a basketball and financial standpoint, like Chicago or New York.
But it turns out the guy wanted to take his talents to South Beach and play with his buddies.
Lurking in the shadows in all this is Wade, the former finals MVP turned recruiter. Somehow, Wade managed to convince one all-star and arguably the best player alive to join him to win not five, not six, not even…you get the point. The critics tore into LeBron, calling him a quitter, a guy who couldn’t lead a team to glory on his own. He had to take the easy way out and join a cold-blooded killer on the court like Wade to get it done.
So that got me thinking about the conversation that took place between Wade and James and whatever methods the Miami superstar used to sway the “king.” All I could think about was Unicron and Megatron’s first meeting. LeBron, the self-proclaimed “chosen one,” was the new savior of the NBA, a Michael Jordan/Magic Johnson hybrid that would dominate for years to come. Nobody ever doubted LeBron’s talent and sheer physical domination of his opponents. But he lacked a key ingredient that makes champions of these men: the killer instinct. Jordan had it. Magic had it. Larry Bird had it. Kobe Bryant has it. And Wade has it.
From my perspective, Wade played the best psychological game in this free agency free-for-all period and recruited LeBron like no one else could. He convinced LeBron the Heat would be his team and that he would the credit as the player who led them to the promise land. But Wade is an evil genius. Already an NBA champ, he new the media would perceive whatever success LeBron and the Heat achieved as a result of pairing with a winner like Wade who could take over when LeBron couldn’t. What kind of sway, or control, does Wade have over LeBron? Should we believe this idea that these guys are really good friends and wanted to win together? Why didn’t LeBron want to win it on his own?
Either way, that got me thinking about this scene and how that meeting might have gone down. Below is a little dialogue that I think might have prefaced Wade’s final pitch/command to LeBron, which finally convinced him to take his talents to South Beach.
Unicron/Wade: I have summoned you here for a purpose…
Megatron/LeBron: Nobody summons Megatron!
Unicron/Wade: Then it pleases me to be the first.
Megatron/LeBron: State your business…
Unicron/Wade: This is my command…
…And lo, the Miami Heat as we know it were born.
Beyond whatever went down in the NBA, let us praise Shin, writer Ron Friedman and composer Vince DiCola for creating an unforgettably ominous mood that has stuck with me since early childhood.
The moments between Megatron and Unicron are appropriately menacing, these quips between dueling cybertronic archvillains. But what sells this whole sequence is the actual transformation from Megatron into Galvatron, this birth of a new Autobot enemy. DiCola absolutely murders it, along with the animators, as we see a villain we’ve grown so familiar with find a way to unfairly extend his life after our hero has lost his and become even younger and more powerful.
Call me crazy (and I know plenty of you will for this), but this scene brings rich and sophisticated dialogue complete with high stakes that I feel like Orson Welles was proud to deliver, albeit in a kitschy way. The man never really sat out on a performance, not even this one. And I’m sure he’s as pleased as I am that he book-ended his career with Citizen Kane and Transformers: The Movie.