1986 in Film – GoBots: Battle of The Rock Lords

Release Date: January 1st
Box Office: $1,338,264

This was an actual film that got made and released into cinemas. What a way to start the year off. But how did a film like this, based on a kids toy about transforming rocks, get a theatrical release?

Like most things, we have to go back to a galaxy far far away.

In 1977 Star Wars, as it was then before all the fiddling started, was released and became a huge success. This wasn’t just in the cinema, the merchandise did as well and specifically the toys. Now, these fundamentally changed the toy industry; before Star Wars action figures were generally around 11 inches tall. The oil supply crisis of the 70s kicked in which meant that creating figures of this size became costly. In Japan a company called Takara began making figures of around 3-4 inches tall that were cyborgs called Micromen. This was the format that Kenner used for Star Wars and a global phenomenon was born. Everyone else began to use the same template which was based around lots of different characters and vehicles. Soon we had He-Man and The Masters of The Universe that rode the exploding toy market, we saw Hasbro licence Takara’s updated Micromenrenamed Micro Change as well as another line called Diaclone which were transforming cars. They called the new line Transformers which were also a bit popular.

GoBots were created by Tonka around the same time and also backed up by a TV series, Challenge of The GoBots which ran from ’84 to ’85. It was pretty obvious that the toys, whilst decently made, couldn’t compete with the behemoth that was The Transformers and went into a slow decline before the line ended in ’87.

The Rock Lords then appear to be a last gasp effort to revive the franchise, only here instead of transforming into vehicles the Rock Lords transform into…well, rocks.

The film begins with the GoBots rebuilding their home planet of Gobotron (yes, really) which is interrupted by a crashing space ship. The occupants are Solitaire and Nugget, two Rock Lords who are seeking help; on their planet the evil Rock Lord Magmar is busy killing Rock Lords and stealing their power sceptres, which he uses to power up his own sceptre. The GoBots decide to help, but then their enemy Cy-Kill kidnaps Solitaire and heads to the Rock Lord planet himself. After that we get a lot of walking, some fighting and lots of rocks.

The film was released by Clubhouse Pictures, a company that had seen some success with a theatrical release of He-Man and She-Ra: The Secret of The Sword. This was part of a trend started by, of all things, The Care Bear Movie which had been released the previous year. This had somehow, whilst being decried by the critics as little more than an advert for the toy line, ended up making more money than the Disney film that was released that year, The Black Cauldron. This was clearly a bandwagon that people could get behind.

The main problem with this was the cheapness of the films; Care Bearsdidn’t look much different from the TV show that would follow, the He-Manfilm was little more than stitched together episodes of the show. It would take Transformers The Movie, released later in the year to actually use advanced techniques to make a film version worthwhile.

Rock Lords does not follow this path. Again, it looks as good as the TV show so not that great. For some reason the budget seems to have been thrown at the voice actors; we have Lois Lane herself Margot Kidder as Solitaire, professional ape impersonator Roddy McDowell as Nugget and somehow Telly Savalas as main bad guy Magmar.

Now. Everyone needs a payday, I get that. Having these guys show up in this film seems ridiculous, although none were in that great of a position career wise by this point. It’s an attempt to add some legitimacy to the film, to have some names on the poster, when its target audience couldn’t care less. And, of course, it would again be trumped by the soon to be released Transformers film when it came to stunt casting.

So it’s a cheaply made and plotted slice of 80s Saturday morning TV that somehow ended up in the cinema when it’s natural home should have been on VHS. It’s not terrible, just a film you look at and ask why about damn near everything.

The company behind it must have thought that as well as the Rock Lords seemed to get sent out to die: there was no follow up TV show and the toy line was soon folded up. It’s a weird little blip, a statement which pretty much sums up the whole film if we’re honest.

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