Movie Review:
Robotech: The Untold Story.

by Peter Walker

Movie Review:
Robotech: The Untold Story.

Home Separator

A Fly's View of the Tangled Web

Part I

Dave Deitrich, former moderator of the Robotech Mailing List, requested a while back that the regulars put together Robotech FAQ for the listserv, and and by extention the newsgroups as well. As a regular contributor there, and someone who has attained some small amount of acclaim from my Robotech fan fiction (co-authored with Anand Rao) and the Robotech tech files (co-authored with Pieter Thomassen), I volunteered to write some sections of the FAQ. In addition, since Anand and I were present at the premiere of the Robotech Movie in August '86, I agreed to take that part. To a large degree, this essay formed a basis for my contrabution to that entry. Dave warned us against inserting opinions into FAQ entries, and I agree with him on that, except here. There is a lot of vitriolic emotion regarding the movie, and I think the opinions of a disinterested observer are in this case more helpful than the cold light of objectivity.

'Disinterested observer?' I hear you ask. Though I was a regular at the conventions during the 'Golden Age' of anime fandom (1985-1988), I was never a member of the local anime fanclubs, nor was I really well-known by the movers and shakers in the Dallas area (though I knew *them* through my friends, Chris Edbauer, Steve Marshall, the late great David Smith, Stevie Treiber, et al). I saw much of the goings-on from a healthy distance, and I think I'm qualified to report on them.

Harken back to 1986 if you will. Anime was big business. Not like now; dubbed and subbed videotapes are commonplace, and translated manga are a dime a dozen. Not so then. The arrival of Robotech sparked off a huge interest in anime, which for many people was latent since Star Blazers (Yamato) and Battle of the Planets (Gatchaman) - and even Speed Racer (Mach Go Go Go). The Macross Movie had just come out, as had Megazone 23. Castle Cagliostro was just coming over in dubbed form. The Dirty Pair (uuh...sorry ladies, I meant 'The Lovely Angels') was the biggest thing next to Robotech. But because of the lack of translated anime, for most of us to see it, we had to huddle together in video rooms at conventions, purchase a synopsis book for $1.50 or so, and sit in near total incomprehension at these films we so loved. Meanwhile, the dealers rooms were brimming over with Macross models and other goodies - even Star Trek: TNG was being eclipsed, at least in fandom, by the new anime phenomenon.

But the main thing that is important to remember is that anime was a public fandom, far more than now. We couldn't drop by Blockbuster to rent our anime. We either had to sit in a con video room (hosted by an ever-patient Japanophile with a good tape collection, or at a fanclub meeting, or get a pirated (but untranslated) copy for ourselves. Indeed, a lot of us got into the habit of pirating copies back then, because it *was* the only way to watch our favourite anime at home. Somehow, part of the ritual to show just *how much* of a true anime fan one was came to be the repudiation the Americanized anime that got one interested in Japanese animation in the first place. Robotech - as Robotech, and not its individual components - quickly became a target for public bashing, even by those who went to the privacy of their homes and still considered themselves fans. That was the fashion; it was based in the same sort of exclusivity that distinguished the hard-core 'trekker' from the dilettante 'trekkie'.

But August 1986 was still the early days of the 'Golden Age'; the cynicism had yet to set in, and the climate was one of electric excitement. There was always something exciting and new to see at the cons. And Robotech was still in fashion.

Unto this, rode into the Metroplex our White Knight, Carl Macek, creator of Robotech. Remember that at this time, there was no Streamline, no Sentinels. Just Robotech, the 'original'. And Carl was sort of a hero. The fan community was abuzz with the news of the release of the Robotech Movie - I was downright restless. And on the 20th* of August, 1986, Macek came to the Forest Lane location of (then) Dallas' big comic-books/anime store, Lone Star Comics. I managed to elbow my way to the table where Carl was sitting, and managed to nearly monopolize him for the discussion period (a true coup for me, or so I then thought). We learned a fair amount about the making of the series, and the movie, but I will address those recollections in part two of this essay.

*That could be the 27th. I know it was a Wed., a couple of weeks before my 16th birthday (Sep. 3). Likewise, the actual premiere of the movie may be off as much as a week.

Then, on Friday, the 22th of August, 1986, we all went to Valley View mall in north Dallas. There were give-aways before the movie (I got an Macek-autographed Movie poster, and my brother got a toy - a Max Sterling-type egg-shaped Valkyrie caracature. Andy, bless his heart, got the Miriya Sterling action figure - gag! What was Matchbox thinking?). I sat about four rows in front of Macek, and we all quieted down to watch the movie.

In all, the movie wasn't really that bad. There were continuity problems (to be discussed in part two), as well as specific complaints against the Southern Cross footage. But, despite the legend to the contrary, there *was* *no* mass uproar against the movie. In the Lone Star Comics newsletter,The Lone Star Express, issue 5 (published mid-September 1986), Derek Wakefield wrote in his anime column BANZAI!:


In recent weeks, the big news locally has been the test market release of the ROBOTECH MOVIE - THE UNTOLD STORY. According to the majority of the fans I have spoken to, most enjoyed the movie, although there have been a few complaints. The main complaints centered around the Southern Cross scenes. Several fans would have liked to see more Megazone 23 segments or new animation instead of the rehashed Southern Cross scenes. It also didn't help that the Southern Cross scenes seemed blurry as the TV series was filmed in 16mm. Positive aspects outweigh the negative ones by a longshot. A beautiful soundtrack (including a piece by Three Dog Night), some wonderful new animation that was not painfully different from the original, and a good storyline that actually made one think! The ROBOTECH MOVIE has had several good reviews by critics, and it is to be hoped that it will succeed and convince others to bring Japanimation to the big screen in this country.

If you're used to the screams of agony and terror usually echoed (mindlessly, I might suggest) at the mere mention of the Robotech movie, then this review may surprise you. Was it an aberration? No. Derek had far more fan contacts than I (he was president of the EDC at the time), and his opinion should be taken as a reflection of the general fan reaction *at the time* to the movie. (BTW, Derek, if you're out there, and if you have that issue still, turn to the picture of Macek & company on page 24. I'm 'the unknown fan'. I hope that settles an old mystery for you!)

The movie stayed in the theater for around a month, and then was pulled. I managed to see it twice in that time, and several times since on a foreign PAL video. I still am of the opinion that the movie was okay, but was neither a disaster nor a masterpiece. I for one enjoyed it, and I am not ashamed to say that.

Whence, then, did the party line come? Well, as I mentioned earlier, part of demonstrating how *true* an anime fan one was was the repudiation of Robotech (it still is on r.a.a). And the Robotech Movie became a focus for that. Also at the time, the climate was beginning to change. Fangroups were becoming increasingly mutually hostile and splitting up (at this time, the Ft. Worth EDC chapter split off and became the SDF-Ft. Worth), and personal infighting among fans was beginning to tear the community (in Texas at least) apart. In a large part, a lot of the vitriol against the Robotech Movie seemed to be coming out of the C/FO San Antonio, who were influential, but made (or so I have been told) a lot of enemies in the Dallas area. I doubt too many of them even saw the Robotech Movie.

It was not long after this that the Sentinels folded, and Robotech's future as an animated show came to an end. Many people (myself included) felt that the movie's poor performance at the box office contributed significantly to this demise, and there was some bitterness there (the contribution of Matchbox to that failure was not generally known at the time).

In all, I think the standard line about the Movie's quality needs to be revised. It's all too common to hate something one formerly liked, once it is in fashion to hate it. But the movie should be discussed on its own merits and failings, and not as a vehicle to avenge onself against Carl Macek, or to ingratiete onself with the 'real' anime fans. Likewise, I warn against voicing a 'received opinion' about the movie if one hasn't seen it; that opinion may be significantly colored. It is a shame that the movie isn't widely available, as then we could discuss the movie iteslf, and not bark calcified views (often not even ours) on a film few that even saw it remember well.

A Fly's View of the Tangled Web

Part II

In my previous essay, I detailed some of the context surrounding the premiere of the Robotech Movie, and some of my thoughts as to how its undeservedly bad reputation was acquired. In this essay, I reprint a synopsis of the film, add some of my thoughts on issues of continuity, and some recollections of Macek's comments regarding the film.

Robotech: The Movie - The Untold Story was created from footage from the TV series Super Dimensional Cavalry Southern Cross (originally filmed in 16mm) and the OVA Megazone 23, and new footage made in the Megazone style by the Megazone artists specifically for the movie (filmed in 35mm). Because of the different film types, and art styles, the two types of footage did not mesh particularly well. For one, the Megazone footage is of higher total quality, in both animation and artwork. In addition, the colors in Southern Cross are all dreary and matte, where the colors in Megazone 23 Part I were bright and glossy. This led to a general feeling of discontinuity in the film, and was generally distracting. On another note, the new animation can be found during the prologue of the dubbed version of Megazone 23 Part II, available in many comics stores.

The following synopsis is taken from _Robotech Art 3: The Sentinels_ by Carl Macek, published by Starblaze/Donning books. I suppose that makes it the most authoritative synopsis around. My comments and extentions are enclosed in brackets. The movie premiered at the theater in Valley View mall in Dallas on the 22nd of August, 1986 (or perhaps a week later), with no small amount of fanfare.

SYNOPSIS: The year is 2027. The Earth is rebuilding following the unsuccessful alien invasion that took place fifteen years earlier. The United Earth Government has begun research on a miraculous alien science known as "Robotechnology". As far as the world leaders are concerned, the Earth is safe from any further threat of alien invasion. Unfortunately, these world leaders are not aware of a second alien armada which has made the journey to Earth from hyperspace and now plans to avenge the destruction of their original fleet and recapture the secrets of their lost technology. To do this these aliens, calling themselves the Robotech Masters, devise a plan to infiltrate the ranks of the military branch of the United Earth Government and catch their enemies off guard. Their plan is simple. Bioroid warriors capture Colonel B.D. Andrews, a high-ranking military officer assigned to the Northern Province of the Far East Sector of the newly reconstructed Earth - the home of the Robotech Research Center. By a sophisticated method of bio-genetic engineering, the Robotech Masters construct a clone of Colonel Andrews. [The footage for these scenes are the same scenes from Southern Cross where the all-too-human soldier Seifrietti Weisse (who became Zor Prime in Robotech) is originally captured and brain-washed by the Zor Lords (the Robotech Masters in Robotech). Never mind that Seifrietti and Megazone 23's B.D. look nothing alike.] This clone will return to Earth and be the means by which the Robotech Masters gather information and ultimately forma a strategy to defeat the forces of the United Earth Government. The simulagent of Andrews succeeds in taking over the Robotech Research Center [in reconstructed Tokyo] and begins subspace transmission of information from data banks salvaged from the original alien ship which crashed on Earth and began the whole inter-galactic war. The Robotech Masters' plan would have gone without a hitch if it weren't for Todd Harris, a soldier involved in the initial battle where Andrews is captured. Todd does not buy Andrews' explanation of the battle in the Northern Province of the Far East Sector. Todd feels as though Andrews is concealing something. He goes A.W.O.L. and steals a powerful mobile database terminal, the MODAT 5. Todd's only hope for getting to the bottom of this mystery is his best friend Mark Landry and a shadowy figure known only as Eve. Agents working for Colonel Andrews break up a meeting between Todd and Mark. Mark manages to get away on the MODAT 5. Todd is not so lucky. And now what started out as a reunion with an old friend turns into a nightmare of intrigue and danger for Mark Landry. Mark's search to find out what has happened to Todd leads him into a maze of confusion and an ultimate rendezvous with Eve. Mark is told by his girlfriend Becky Franklin that the only Eve she knows is a popular rock star who hosts a television program. Mark attempts to contact Eve and get to the bottom of the mystery of Todd Harris and the Modat 5. Unknown to Mark, Andrews' agents are able to track down the Modat 5 with the help of Eve. They stage an ambush for the unsuspecting youth. Mark manages to elude the trap [and discovers the transformable nature of the Modat in the process]. His search for the truth leads him to a meeting with Eve. What he discovers when he comes face to face with Eve confuses him even more. [In actuality, Mark sneaks into the studio where an Eve video is being filmed, and discovers that the star is a computer program.] It turns out that Eve is nothing more than a holographic projection--a computer-generated image which everyone thinks is real. Mark's entire world is crumbling around him. Eventually Eve contacts Mark and gives him information concerning the threat posed by the Robotech Masters. She tries to enlist Mark's aid in exposing this secret invasion. She lead him to the Robotech Research Center and the massive super-computer which generates Enhanced Video Emulation (E.V.E.). Here, following an attack by sophisticated Robotech weapons systems, Mark succeeds in defeating Andrews [in a Modat vs. Hargun duel]. The alien simulagent takes this opportunity to confuse the issues. After this impromptu meeting Mark is even less sure of the truth. He is told by Andrews that Todd is wanted for questioning. He is told that Todd has gone over the edge and suffers from paranoia. The entire story about the supposed alien invasion was merely a fabrication constructed by the E.V.E. Computer to bring the Modat 5 back to the Robotech Research Center. Mark does not believe Andrews. It all seems too convenient, too neat to be the truth. Mark leaves, taking the Modat 5 with him. He warns Andrews to stay away or he will expose what he and his friends know about the "alien invasion" to the media. Unknown to Mark, General Rolf Emerson under direct orders from the Supreme Command of the United Earth Government is engaging the alien fleet in space. They attack using a battle plan devised by the E.V.E. computer programmed by Col. Andrews. The results of the battle leave the Earth forces crippled and virtually helpless if the aliens should decide to stage a full scale invasion. Mark tries to explain his problem to Becky, but they fall on deaf ears. Becky is trying to pursue her career as a dancer and she feels that Mark has been drifting out of her life. Mark cannot convince her of the danger he senses. He tries to put it all behind him and accompanies Becky to a to a rehearsal only to be out-maneuvered by Roger Burke, the sly director of Becky's musical. Mark's life has become a total mess. He manages to redeem his self-respect when he saves Becky from a compromising situation with Roger. [He bursts in the hotel room in Battloid mode, snatches her, and with Roger agawk, leaps out.] Becky doesn't appreciate Mark's interference [and gives him a good slap to show it] and tells him to leave her alone [leaving Becky to march stoically home, wearing only a hotel bed sheet]. The alien plan is getting closer to completion. Programmers in the Robotech Research Center feel that the broadcasts ordered by Andrews are not correct. [What Macek has failed to mention in his synopsis is essential plot element that the Andrews simulagent's main mission was to download the contents of the E.V.E. computer, which arrived on Zor's battlefortress in 1999, back to the Masters; E.V.E contained data vital to the survival of their civilization. As soon as the simulagent replaced Andrews, he immediately set to this task, while simultaneously developing the flawed battle plans for the Southern Cross forces.] They contact Daryl Embrey, the minister of computer science, and tell him of Andrews' mysterious transmission [into an ostensibly dead satellite - really the Masters' ship]. Embrey orders the transmissions to stop. This forces Andrews to take matters into his own hands. [While the preoccupied Mark and Becky are doing the horizontal hip shuffle in a local hotel, Andrews] stages a military take-over of the provisional government of the Far East Sector. He uses the take-over to initiate martial law and track down the Modat 5. He succeeds in finding and killing Kelley Stevens, a twenty-year old film-student who along with Becky, Mark and Stacey Embrey have made a film of the Modat. When Mark discovers this brutal act, it turns him into an impassioned avenger. He vows to find those responsible and make them pay. His first stop is the massive underground computer complex. Following a battle with Andrews' forces, Mark eventually comes face to face with the alien simulagent. Andrews defeats him and leaves him for dead. Andrews' only concern is Minister Embrey. He is the only factor standing in the way of the Robotech Masters' plan to defeat the Earth. [Embrey is on the way to the airport to leave the sector to inform Supreme Command of his concerns about Andrews' activities and to obtain their intervention.] Eve revives the fallen youth and implores him to fight for his world. He is the only one who can stop Andrews and save the Earth. He makes a supreme sacrifice and drags his battered body into battle once again. Eve promises to help the Robotech Defense Force [oops. . . Macek must have meant the Southern Cross] defeat the Robotech Masters. Together they might succeed in saving the planet from destruction. [From this point on, all the footage is either comprised of new animation, or that from Southern Cross. The Southern Cross footage is almost entirely taken from the Robotech episode "Danger Zone", where the 15th ATAC downs a Robotech Master flagship. However, the voices in the animation are not those of Dana's squad - this movie is totally unconnected to the particular events of the TV series.] Mark appropriates a powerful weapon system [a "Puruuto" or Pirate(?) from Megazone - a slender fighter with barrel-shaped engines on the wings that, for the Robotech Movie only, apparently has a Hargun Battloid as an escape pod] and stages an all-out attack on Andrews' troops [a motley assortment of tanks, Harguns, Space Harguns, and perhaps even a speculative design or two found only in the back of the Megazone 23 artbook]. While he battles for the lives of his friends [Stacey and her father, who are in an airplane that's being shelled], Rolf Emerson, with the aid of the E.V.E. computer, defeats the armada of the Robotech Masters [they down one ship of many in the footage]. Mark must face Andrews for a third time [his fighter is hit, and he ejects in his Hargun life pod, and dukes it out with Andrews' Space Hargun]. Driven by courage and fueled by vengeance, Mark defeats Andrews. The world is safe--for the moment.

Macek then follows with a character list, which I omit, the majority of the information contained therein being redundant.

There were a number of story and continuity problems with the movie. Firstly, no mention is ever made of the Zentraedi, the Macross (even as the SDF-1 - merely as the battlefortress), or (most astonishingly) protoculture. Likewise, the events that began in 1999 and proceeded up until the movie were only treated in the sketchiest fashion. I will discuss the reasons why somewhat later.

Another minor quibble is the believability of Andrews. Firstly, why would an officer in charge of this huge research center be doing double duty as a hovertank driver? (That's how Andrews was captured.) And why would he be accepted without serious question upon his return? Another problem has to do with his declaration of martial law and the violence his goons used on other humans. In the original, B.D. was the head of the military on the Megazone spaceship. But in the Robotech version, he was an officer beholden to a higher command. I know the GMP were somewhat autonomous, but this sort of assassination? Tanks rolling through the street? Wouldn't somebody have called Supreme Commander Leonard?

In addition, why was Eve's sentience not known by the UEG, and why, if she wanted to help the Earth forces, didn't she simply feed Andrews false information and give Emerson good battle plans in the first place? If she can direct Mark to a fighter plane and come up with the final battle plans of her own initiative, what held her back earlier? Also, in Megazone, Eve is responsible for keeping the population in the dark about the fact they are really on a generation ship in the far future. In the Robotech version, her role is more ambiguous, and her presence has no real logical justification.

The biggest continuity problem I saw was the failure of the movie to connect itself to the events of the show. The movie takes place before "Dana's Story", but in the TV show, Earth's first encounter with the Robotech Masters occurs in that episode. We certainly have no indication that the Southern Cross managed to shoot down a flagship before "Danger Zone", the episode from which the final space battle footage was cribbed.

I feel strongly that the movie could have been much better if it had run concurrently with the TV series - the events would be simultaneous. Likewise, the grand finale at the end where the ATAC squadron downs the Robotech Masters' flagship, using E.V.E.'s detailed instructions, could have been tied to the episode "Danger Zone" itself, with Dana's squadron performing the actual action, as seen in the show. That, in my opinion, would have linked the movie to the show in a most satisfactory fashion, and eliminated almost all the major continuity problems.

Two days before the premiere, Carl Macek came to the Forest lane location of Lone Star Comics, to answer fans' questions. Many questions centered around the movie. Macek explained that his original intent was to portray in the Robotech Movie (using the Megazone footage) the events going on back on Earth while the SDF-1 tried to make it back home from its initial misfold. Presumably, Andrews would have been a real human, part of a government conspiracy to cover up the truth about the disappearance of the SDF-1 (as alluded to in the episode "Homecoming". This might have made for a better story than Andrews as a simulagent, and a more poignant statement - one closer to that of the original Megazone. But alas, it was not to be. Apparently Tatsunoko (the company that produced Macross) was intent on retaining the movie rights to all Macross-related properties. The apparent reason for this was the off-hand chance that Tatsunoko might consider a general theatrical release of a translated version of the Macross Movie (Macross: Ai oboete imasu ka?) in the United States. Of course, this never came to pass, but it was enough to prevent Macek's original plan, and it was also enough to prevent the reference to any Macross properties (protoculture, the SDF-1, and the Zentraedi) in the final cut of the Robotech Movie.

The Robotech Movie received a lukewarm to fair reception among the fans in Dallas. But for a variety of reasons, it became the focus of dissatisfaction with Macek's handling of a lot of things, and it's still rare to see a reference to Streamline without some sort of disparaging reference to the Robotech Movie. Many see this movie as a beginning of a trend of irredeemable translations/adaptations by Macek of other anime. (c.f. "A Christmas Carl", a satire posted several months back to rec.arts.anime. In it, the ghosts of anime past, present, and future haunt Macek for his 'butchery' of the noble art of anime. I thought the use of Vampire Hunter D as the Ghost of Anime Future was a clever touch.) I think this interpretation is extremely naive and inaccurate. Hindsight may be 20/20, but often that improvement in vision is accomplished by the donning of colored lenses. Many things have happened between now and then, and had the Sentinels been a brilliant success (which I doubt - the premise was fairly sophomoric), we would at worst be seeing the Robotech Movie as an aberration, if not actually lauding it as a force for bringing theatrical anime to America.

But it's useless to speculate on what might have been. For now, I am satisfied trying to present a more balanced, objective, and detailed account of the movie than to which one has had general access in the last few years.

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