Yes, it's a Go-Bots movie, but I swear, it's not as bad as you'd think. "The Battle of the Rock Lords," from 1986, was inarguably a 90-minute toy commercial of the most shameless kind. Need I remind you that the majority of such animated features were only crafted for the same purpose? Do you think they killed off Optimus and introduced a hundred new Autobots for dramatic effect? Do you think He-Man found out he had a sister because of the forthcoming relationship bringing on a welcome, stark contrast to his dealings with allies he wasn't related to? Does that sentence even make sense?
I only bring this up because that's been the biggest complaint thrown at "Battle of the Rock Lords," which really is a fun little movie. Stupid and poorly scripted, yes. With characters less defined than the boulders they battled on top of, yes. But still fun. The fact that it flopped in 1986 isn't a big concern, but don't skip past it just because of what you might've heard, or more probably, just because it has to do with Go-Bots. Yeah, Go-Bots suck. They're transforming warriors made of steel who still manage to exhume complete flaccidity, but no worries: the Go-Bots share the spotlight with more interesting characters here, and best of all, they're not as wooden as usual. Sure, it's going to be hard to avoid comparing it to "Transformers: The Movie." Don't do it, folks. Compare it to something less challenging -- maybe the "Snorks?" Keeping in mind that it's a Hanna-Barbera flick, it's more like a heavy-handed Yogi Bear cartoon than a lighthearted Transformers adventure. If you can forget how cool Unicron and Wreck-Gar were for a few hours, you should be able to enjoy this.
Still, there's no denying that the flick deserved to fail. It's fun to watch now, taking into consideration the time period and eventual fate of the series, but to market this as a "real deal" film and actually put it in theaters was a vast mistake, well illustrated by the horrendous showing at the box office. This thing didn't even bank two million. Course, it was amazingly low budget, and remember, "Transformers: The Movie" made less than six million. Incredibly, for what would seem like the ultimate rip-off, "Battle of the Rock Lords" was actually released first. With the difference in ticket sales arguably marginal, why would the flick we're looking at today be considered so much less successful? Simple. That Transformers movie paved way for assloads of new television shows, and enough toys to entirely cover Egypt. "Battle of the Rock Lords" only introduced a short-lived line of action figures, which were cool, but sales didn't indicate that the collection was worth a full-blown theatrical effort. Come to think of it, they would've been much better served getting a network to show this during prime time. More people would've seen it, and in all likelihood, more toys would've been sold.
So, what were "Rock Lords?" Many of you have probably owned a few of the action figures, though I wouldn't doubt that you've completely forgotten 'em. Slightly modifying the "transforming robot" trend, the figures (and movie characters) turned from humanoid or android warriors into...well, rocks. Only connected to the original Go-Bots by this movie and a parent company, "Rock Lords" was very much its own entity, and though no major success, remains one of my favorite lines of 80's toys. Now, onto the show...
AT A GLANCE: The Go-Bots are composed of two teams. One good, one evil. Leader-1 leads (hey how bout that) the heroes, which are collectively known as the Guardians. They're as saccharine as Bil Keane, they like humans, and they're pretty boring. Cy-Kill leads the more interesting villains, known as the Renegades (a lot of thought went into the team titles, see), who basically run around doing lots of evil things with no proper goals in mind. Leader-1 is more like Ultra Magnus than Optimus, but Cy-Kill definitely shows signs of a Megatron influence. The Rock Lords haven't been introduced yet -- that's why we got this damn movie. Here's my review, with a handful of video clips at the bottom. Feel free to skip ahead to those if you have no respect for the fact that I, a veritable social butterfly in his mid 20s, spent Friday night writing about Go-Bots.
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Now, you're going to have to forgive me -- I'm no Go-Bots nut, so I'm a little sketchy on some of their names. I'm not even sure if there's supposed to be a hyphen in "Go-Bots," but that's how I penned it as a child, and old habits stick. After a really well produced opening sequence that misleads you into thinking you're about to see something correspondingly well produced, we learn that the Go-Bots are still fighting their little war. Renegades out for blood, Guardians out for pie and niceties. The three top heroes are shown in that first pic -- from left to right, we've got double-tough "Turbo," leading "Leader-1," and "Scooter." Scooter is voiced by Frank Welker, and even if you've never heard that name, you've heard his work a thousand times. The guy voiced everyone from Megatron to Freddy Jones. Check out his body of work, it's seriously incredible. He even voiced Orbity! Orbity! Incidentally, Orbity's voice is the most reminiscent of Scooter's -- they sound nearly the same.
So, the good guys are doing their best to look busy and heroic when a strange ship crash-lands nearby. They fear the worst, but don't fret, the creatures onboard have come in peace. They even say it, just like that. It's here that we meet some of the Rock Lords. The tall chick is named "Solitaire," and holy crap, she's voiced by Margot Kidder. That's Lois Lane, folks. Her decision to star in "Battle of the Rock Lords" was questionable, but before I pull the trigger on her, I'll mention that the flick is full of celebrity voice-people. Really odd choices, too. Solitaire spends entirely too much time explaining that her homeworld is in trouble, mentioning all sorts of plot points that don't make sense...yet. The Guardians agree to help, never once showing signs of skepticism or even debating the inherent stupidity of leaving their various bases and spacecraft unguarded as they head for a wild and woolly adventure in outerspace.
Solitaire is flanked by "Nuggit," another type of Rock Lord, and boy, I absolutely loved that little guy as a kid. Like, enough to throw a really huge picture of him in the middle of this review, complete with vanity license plate.
From what I can tell, 95% of the characters shown here were given the action figure treatment. Some were great, others were not. "Nuggit," however, was dee bestest. You didn't have to be a fan of Go-Bots or Rock Lords to want this thing. Picture, if you will, a small, shiny gold rock that opened up to reveal an also-shiny robot with big red eyes and posable arms that looked like dentist equipment. Nuggit wasn't the most important character in the movie, but he was clearly the pack leader of the action figures. Better yet, he's one of the few toys in the series that actually looked like a rock when transformed as such. Other figures just looked like they were crouching or defecating. Nuggit? No way, he was all rock. Besides, kids love shiny objects, and I've never owned a toy quite as shiny as Nuggit. He's my hero. My herock. My lovah.
Nuggit's role in "Battle of the Rock Lords" was to supply a sense of old-fashioned intelligence and maturity, and to meet those ends, they hired Roddy McDowall to supply the voice. Roddy McDowall -- twas he who played Cornelius in "Planet Of The Apes." Sure, he's famous for lots of other stuff, but who could forget that money scene where a bunch of evil, rogue apes punched at a tree and made poor Cornelius plummet to the ground? That sequence is forever burned into my brain, which is interesting because I'm not really sure if I've ever seen the old "Planet of the Apes" movies. I know I've seen a few bits and pieces, but I could just be confused by the climax from "Spaceballs." Either way, the guy played a monkey and voiced a robot boulder. Hollywood is such a crazzzzzy town.
Despite some misgivings from his team, Leader-1 agrees to help the poor aliens. Solitaire tells of a grand foe who's been collecting odd bits of world-conquering baubles, and since the conversation was just droning on and on with no signs of an about-face towards being mildly interesting, the animators cut her short and took us halfway across the galaxy. Time to go to the Rock Lords' homeworld. Time to meet EVIL.
Okay, here's where things start to pick up. Like Go-Bots, the Rock Lords are also segregated into teams of heroes and villains. Like Go-Bots, the villains are infinitely more entertaining than the heroes. The bad rocks are led by "Magmar," shown above at left, who's been collecting these weird power wands from various clan leaders around the planet. Once he collects all of them, he'll attain godlike powers. Magmar looks sorta punkish -- he's colored like leather, has a mohawk, and his facial markings make him look like a rebellious raccoon, or on a stretch, the Hamburglar. Yet, despite all of the terrible things he's doing (the dude kills off a good guy in his first ten seconds onscreen), I couldn't shake the fact that he didn't seem all that evil. The actions were correct, and he certainly had the right look, but Magmar's voice just didn't sound villainous enough. Why? Because he's voiced by Telly Savalas.
That's right -- Kojak. This was bad casting at its worst, for a hundred reasons. First of all, why in God's name would you hire a guy like Telly Savalas and make him voice one of the bad guys? Secondly, Telly Savalas uses his regular voice. He makes no effort whatsoever to sound robotic, rocklike, or otherwise different whatsoever. The pic shown at left explains this phenomenon. If you've been hired as the voice coach for "Battle of the Rock Lords," would you want to tell that guy to change something? Yeah, that would've gone over real well. "Hey Telly, I know you're pretty ashamed to be here to begin with, and I know you could probably kill me with three fingers, but I have some suggestions that I think will better help illustrate Magmar's personality." That's thirty-seven words, and if spoken to Telly Savalas, that's thirty-seven words that plead for a beatdown. Instead, they just let the guy be himself, and the movie really suffers from it. At best, Magmar sounds uninterested. At worst, Magmar sounds like Telly Savalas ordering lunch at Chi-Chi's. The character skirts further reprimand just by looking so cool, but yeah...definitely a bad casting choice.
Magmar leads a team of oddball assassins, some of which having two-heads, others looking much like dinosaurs. One thing I've noticed about this movie: the cartoon characters actually look like toys. They've practically got screws in their shoulders. Whereas Transformers toys took several liberties on their associated characters for an easier (and cheaper) transition, these Rock Lords are exact representations of the available figures. In retrospect, I should've spent this paragraph making fun of the two-headed rock ape. That chimp!!
As Magmar continues not sounding evil but doing evil things nonetheless, we finally get a chance to meet the heroic Rock Lords. Boulder, the red-faced guy, seems to be the leader. The idiot with the frog-like face is named Crackpot, while the insectoid in the back, "Pulver-Eyes," steals everyone else's thunder by literally eating rocks whenever he's onscreen. Awesome. They all have their own little nuances and character traits, but they don't run very deep. Pulver-Eyes is tough, Crackpot is funny, Boulder is serious, yadda yadda yadda. The only Rock Lord from the hero squad with noted uniquity is the guy pictured at right, "Marbles."
Consider Marbles the "Luke Skywalker" of Rock Lords lore -- for reasons never explained, he "sees" and "feels" things that either haven't happened yet, or are happening at some far off distance. The story never fully explores this feature; it's only used when it's convenient for the heroes to know something they absolutely have no way of knowing. Making matters worse, some of Marbles' predictions aren't even correct. He even tells us this himself, writing it off as "inexperience" or some shit. It's all done in such a terrible, cliche sorta way, too. The heroes will be walking around, and all of the sudden, Marbles gets this huge headache and makes another bold prediction. We never learn why he's been granted this power. We never learn why he's named "Marbles," or why he looks like a nauseous version of Boulder. "Battle of the Rock Lords" leaves plenty to the imagination. Hanna-Barbera swears that this was their intent.
Now that the movie's half finished, we've met all of the star characters. Well, almost. There's a few more, though most of them aren't given names and only appear during "battle scenes," providing a more impressive scope of war. It's sort of like how the earlier Transformers episodes featured 40,000 Starscreams and Thundercrackers flying around during conflicts, only not as cool, 'cause they're Go-Bots. Got that?
Course, it wouldn't be a Go-Bots movie without Cy-Kill. The Renegades are lurking about, no doubt plotting to blow up Leader-1 and anything else that falls under the "love and sweetness" category. To be honest, it's pretty hard to follow the Renegades' conversations -- none of them speak normally, and by that, I don't just mean that they're "robotic sounding." Cy-Kill has a strong accent, the lesser villains sound much like the cartoon cockroaches found in any "Raid" commercial, and Crasher? Wow, Crasher is just...something else.
Few Go-Bots characters have even come close to achieving cult status, but Crasher is a definite candidate. The villain is female, though at first glance, she seems more like a lipstick-wearing transvestite...just a bit confused. The lipstick and mascara (?!) are sort of understated, so you'll be watching the show thinking you're just overanalyzing things. After all, it's hard to believe that there'd be a female Go-Bot. Just as you convince yourself that she's no woman, Crasher'll turn to one of the hero robots and confess a long lost childhood crush before blasting at him and shouting various "girl power" battle cries. In a show as basic and by-the-numbers as "Go-Bots," it's pretty unexpected.
She's not just a girl, though -- Crasher's a crazy girl. Generally speaking, her response to all inquiries or comments is an insane fit of hyena laughter, complete with rapid head-jerks for added effect. I've included a clip of this phenomenon in the videos section down below. Aside from all that, Crasher is the only character ever afforded good lines. Every other robot gets saddled with the most pedestrian conversations and redundant commentaries imaginable, but everything that comes out of Crasher's mouth is pure gold. I only mention this because it proves that someone involved with scripting this series was actually trying.
Okay, I'm going to rush through a big chunk of time here, mainly because there's a few subplots and shit that only seem to exist to kill time. You'll run into this problem a lot with cartoon series that ply their trade with theatrical releases. It's no big shock that most of these shows have paperthin plots, but it's passable for a mere thirty minutes with commercial breaks. When you're dealing with it for a solid 90 minutes -- with no breaks -- all those nifty holes and gratingly extraneous time-killers become way more noticeable. Fortunately, this doesn't seem to happen too often nowadays. If an animated film is worth two hours, so be it -- if it's not, then they'll stick it on video or whatever. Well...sometimes, anyway.
Case in point: there's this time-eating subplot involving the Renegades kidnapping the Guardians' human friends, and it just has absolutely no bearing on the rest of the story whatsoever. The humans have a more prominent role on the regular series, but despite their wacky haircuts and suave leather jackets, I can't help but wish they were dead. Dead dead dead dead dead. I've left out this ongoing humans-in-peril struggle from the rest of the review. Trust me, you're not missing anything. Let's stick to the rock guys.
After a lengthy ground battle between the Guardians and the evil Rock Lords, Cy-Kill turns up to save Magmar from certain doom. They enjoy a brisk debate over why Cy-Kill would do such a thing, with everyone on the planet besides Magmar (this includes plant life, however rare it might be, and yes, even frogs) realizing that there's a potential team-up in the works. Yes, Cy-Kill wants Magmar to be his newest ally, forging a conglomerate of pure evil the likes of which wouldn't be seen again till Parker Brothers shat miniature Monopoly game pieces all over McD's soft drinks. Magmar considers the possibilities for a moment, ultimately agreeing. I think he said it best: "eh, why the Hell not?"
Elsewhere, Leader-1 and the Guardians don't click as well with the heroic Rock Lords. Don't get me wrong -- they team up just fine in the end -- but there's a little more apprehensiveness on both teams' parts. Personally, I think the reluctance was more like a weird courting ritual than anything else...you know, sorta like "Hey I'm a robot and you're a rock-bot and we've all got computer-level intelligence so we can't go teaming up unless we're absolutely sure we ain't being tricked, because then, as robots and rock-bots, we'd look mighty stupid." I'm sure it's something like that, though I don't know if Leader-1 or Boulder would actually say "ain't." Turbo might, but he's all red and raging.
Oh, the hero-to-hero conversations are mostly meaningless, though we do learn a bit about everyone's stupid origins. I'll do my best to explain. Go-Bots...well, you know, they're robots. Rock Lords? They're something else. They weren't "born" rocky -- apparently, some great catastrophe on the planet merged everyone with rocks. The brunt of the Rock Lords were actually real people way back when...hence the humanoid faces. Nuggit, though -- he's a robot who got rocktified. I swear to Christ, listening to the conversation that unearthed these forbidden secrets was like being thrown in a tank full of chirping dolphins and being forced to figure out which one was asking for potato chips. I had to rewind the tape six times to get it straight, and because someone upstairs hates me, I managed to rewind to the exact point where Crackpot belts out an inconsequential "ga-blah-harrr" all six times.
Okay, I know this review has gone past "long" and straight into "nobody is going to make it this far," but oh well.
See that purple creature attacking Scooter? That's a "Rock Narlie." Holy frig. I can't begin to describe how much I loved the Rock Narlie toys as a kid -- way cooler than most of the other Go-Bots merchandise, and definitely some of the most unique toys I've ever owned. As it's explained, the creatures are one of the new species that came along with the world TURNING TO ROCK, though I don't see much in 'em that's particularly tuned to being "rocky." They're sort of like little, fur-covered dragons. Some play nice and lick heroes, others snarl and pal around with the villains. They come in a variety of colors, too! The figures were covered in the standard "toy hair," and had a pullback feature that let 'em roll around freely, chomping their plastic jaws as they went along. You know how kids always pick a few of their toys to adopt as "pets?" These things were perfect candidates: small enough to fit in your pocket, and when you pet 'em, they felt so much like cute little hamsters. Plus, you could throw them at the wall and nobody would take issue.
Well, this was fun. After deciding that it'd be better to work as a cohesive unit than as two separate units gunning for the same exact goal (it took them longer to reach this decision than you'd think), all of the heroes are thrown into several perilous situations. First, they get stranded on a big rock floating through an immense river of lava. Then...well, they get attacked by giant, flying coffee beans that eat metal.
Seriously. They beat the odds and survive, but not before a killer sequence where the Go-Bots are absolutely covered in these coffee bean bugs, complete with the unaffected Rock Lords rushing over to literally swat them off. My guess? After making the storyboards and allocating time to each scene, the producers had just one tiny request. "We need to kill two more minutes!" Thank God for that. The movie would've fell by a full letter grade if I didn't get to see Leader-1 covered in alien coffee beans.
So, they've survived the river of lava, and they made it through the big coffee bean scare without any major injuries. Why not chuck some giant, robot dinosaurs at 'em? Yeah!
These things were part of a species called "Rockasaurus," and yeah, it's pretty much product placement. The creatures shown above were never immortalized in plastic, but Tonka used the general idea to make different Rockasaurus monsters -- I guess the ones shown above would've been too expensive. The toy collection was much larger than you might think -- it had several "seasons," with figures of all different shapes and sizes, plus a few "special editions" with action features. This wasn't intended to be a subdivision of "Go-Bots," but rather an entirely new, full-fledged effort. I don't know how successful Tonka was at getting kids to buy rocks, but the toys were certainly inspired.
Anyway, Boulder pulls out one of those wands Magmar's been collecting, using it to blow away the Rockasaurs. Leader-1 hits the nail on the head, wondering aloud why Boulder didn't mention this godly weapon of doom earlier. If you wanna know how Boulder fielded that, check the videos section down below. His words...man, they were like freakin magic.
At this point, I don't think anyone would mind if I skipped ahead a bit. After a few more battles, Magmar manages to steal Boulder's wand -- and guess what? That's the last one he needed. He throws it in some strange machine and becomes enchanted with godlike powers. Oh wait, no he doesn't. But he was supposed to, I swear.
Solitaire, by the way, is perhaps the worst character in cartoon history. As if Margot Kidder wasn't shamed enough by her role, the robot she voiced is scripted to get everything wrong. Solitaire's been held captive basically for the entire duration of the movie, getting tricked by Cy-Kill every five seconds into giving away her comrades' secrets, weaknesses and hidden locations. If you played a drinking game where shots were downed whenever Solitaire fucked up, you'd be in the hospital within twenty minutes.
Though it's understood that the massive wand-power was supposed to go to Magmar, Cy-Kill reverts to type and runs off with it for himself. So, he's supposed to be all-powerful now, right? Wrong. Leader-1 casually flies up, shoots at him, and that's all she wrote. The day is saved. Ninety minutes of this crap, and the conclusion was reached by a single laser blast. I know it's common for bad movies to have bad endings, but COME ON.
And so it ends. Magmar still controls the planet, but at least he doesn't have the wands anymore. Cy-Kill and the Renegades retreat, vowing to fight another day. The Rock Lords thank Leader-1 and friends for their help, and just to make sure the ending is unbelievably happy, that Rock Narlie from earlier creeps back up to lick Scooter some more. Awesome.
Overall: Not everyone is going to enjoy "Battle of the Rock Lords." If you weren't watching a lot of cartoons at the time, you probably won't be able to "see through the shit," so to speak. It still beats the spit out of all the other Go-Bots shows, though. They were smart enough to include virtually every known character -- even if some were limited to three-second cameos. The Rock Lords themselves were an interesting concept, and the movie certainly set up a great template to work from for the regular series they were assuredly hoping for. Alas, no such series ever came to fruition. If you want to see the Rock Lords in a cartoon, this is the only place to find 'em. I'm going to give this one an admittedly generous 8 out of 10. It's a sleeper, and there's too many "whaa??" moments, but I think it's worth tracking down. From what I've seen, the existing videos haven't appreciated in price much. If interested, you know where to look. Reserves kept low, folks. Buyer pays all shipping costs.