Bumblebee starts off with a bang — but for anyone who grew up loving The Transformers series in the ’80s, its opening battle sequence has even deeper impact.
The fight on the robot world of Cybertron that we see unfolding in the first few minutes is the kind of thing kids have been imagining with their Hasbro toys for decades. “The way that I originally pitched it was essentially it’s the opening moments of the cartoons fused with Saving Private Ryan,” director Travis Knight tells EW.
Knight gave EW exclusive insight into who’s who, and how he paid homage to classic moments from the cartoon and ’86 animated film.
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With Bumblebee, director Travis Knight has made a girl-and-her-robot story about a teenage mechanic (Hailee Steinfeld) who discovers, repairs, and hides a shapeshifting robot from another world.
But he knew before he touched anyone’s heart, he had to get it beating fast.
That’s why Knight started the movie with an epic fight on Cybertron, the Transformers’ mechanical home world, with Bumblebee eventually retreating to Earth to set up a new base of operations for his Autobot brethren.
“I was a huge Transformers fan when I grew up, I’m a child of the ’80s, so having played with the toys, and watched the cartoons, and read the comic books, it was an absolute dream come true to see the Cybertron of my imagination on screen for the first time,” Knight says.
People from his generation will immediately recognize many of the beloved Autobots (and hated Decepticons) he throws into that opening battle. Others may be wondering: who were those guys?
As part of our deep dive, Entertainment Weekly has some exclusive new image to show.
This was probably the most instantly recognizable of the ‘bots — Wheeljack, the Autobot engineer — who built many of their weapons and defense systems. He had a head flanked by two flat panels that glowed when he spoke.
“I definitely wanted to feature Wheeljack even though we only see him for a moment because along with Bumblebee he was the first two robots that we meet in the animated series. So he gets this big beautiful close up.
BRAWN, ARCEE, AND CLIFFJUMPER
The Transformers series didn’t get any female robots until Episode 53, when a squad of them thought long-dead was discovered (then, after that episode, never seen again.)
In 1986’s Transformers: The Movie, a new female Autobot was introduced as a central and recurring character — Arcee, who took the vehicle form of a Cybertronian speeder, and later a motorcycle.
She turns up front and center in the Bumblebee battle sequence, flanked by two other familiar heroes: Brawn, the taciturn old soldier on her right, and Cliffjumper, the hotheaded red scout.
SOUNDWAVE AND RAVAGE
In the original toy line, Soundwave — the Decepticon spymaster — could not just transform himself into a tape player, but he could shrink himself down to the size of one a human might carry around. Within him, he could launch “tapes” that took the shape of a condor (Laserbeak), humanoid robots (Rumble and Frenzy), and a robotic panther, Ravage.
“If I could have Laserbeak or Rumble or any of those other ones, I would have put them all in there,” Knight says. The cost of creating them meant he could only pick one for Soundwave to unleash on the Autobots.
“It was always Ravage, he was always the coolest one,” Knight says. “So we see Ravage try to wreak havoc on Optimus Prime.”
SHOCKWAVE AND STARSCREAM
They were able to populate the Decepticon side of the battle in a cost-saving way thanks to that Hasbro practice of reusing the same model for different toys.
In this shot, we see the tyrannical cyclops Shockwave, surrounded by “Seeker” jets — who historically were all basically clones of each other with the same design.
Bright blue jet Thundercracker makes an appearance, along with black and purple Skywarp. And to differentiate some of the toys later, Hasbro changed the transformation instructions so that the nosecone on the heads remained upright, like a helmet.
“We leaned heavily into like the Seeker designs because the seekers are basically the same silhouette just different colors,” Knight says. “And we did have some of the coneheads in there,” like Dirge.
Before the Transformers arrive on Earth, it defies logic for them to take the shape of one of our vehicles. In the cartoon, rather than assuming the form of fighter jets, the Seekers were pyramid-shaped “Tetrajets.”
That’s another style Bumblebee borrowed from the classic cartoon for the Cybertron aerial battles.
The heroic leader of the Autobots is a supporting character in Bumblebee, but he still gets several important scenes (and is again voiced by Peter Cullen, who has been performing the character from the beginning.)
The opening battle features him in vehicle form charging into the crossfire, then vaulting through the air, drawing his cannon, and blasting his way through the Decepticon line.
“That was a specific shot inspired by the ’86 movie,” Knight says. “There are lots of things like that, that are kind of scattered throughout.”
“It was complete wish-fulfillment for me,” Knight says.