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Go Bots and Rock Lords

Pictured, clipped from the online archives at JG-TC.com, movie listings from the April 5, 1986, Journal Gazette featuring matinee-only screenings of "Go-Bots: Battle of the Rock Lords," along with “The Money Pit” (that bathtub scene is still funny), Ralph Macchio not doing Karate but playing guitar in “Crossroads,” and  “Women at Play,” an X-rated movie playing at the Will Rogers that, according to the Internet Movie Database, may or may not have been Swedish.

Part of the joy of the Throwback Machine is finding visual proof of certain cultural events from my youth in our old papers, just so I can say, “yes, I was there for this.”

And here’s a big one, from the April 5, 1986, Journal Gazette, page C2.

I bring you one of the only two actual promotional items for “Go-Bots: Battle of the Rock Lords” that appeared in the paper, an animated film based off the cartoon series which was, in turn, based off the once popular toys from the fine folks at Tonka.

THE THROWBACK MACHINE: Even in 2019, the good guys always win…in the ‘80s

According to a quick scan through some papers around the same time, the film played for only one week at the long departed Cinema 3 in Mattoon, at the ever-so-convenient times of 1:30 and 3:15 p.m., Saturday and Sunday only. And even though it doesn’t say so in that tiny little picture you see here, it played in the extra-narrow screening room that was on the far east side of the building.

I know this because, yes, I was there. Well, so was my mom, and trust me, if you say the name of this film out loud around her, to this day she’ll shudder and shake her head as if she still mourns the Saturday afternoon she lost by taking me to see this particular motion picture.

Where to start? I mean, do I really have to explain Go-Bots to you? Part of me feels like I shouldn’t have to. When it comes to '80s toys/cartoons, we’re not talking B-level stuff like Wheeled Warriors, Inhumanoids, Sectaurs, Centurions, Visionaries, Starriors, or Maxx Steele’s Robo Force, are we? Now those I’d have to walk you through for sure. But space constraints force me to limit this discussion to the Go-Bots, who were the only real competition The Transformers had during this time when it came to transformable robot toys, although it wasn’t much of a contest.

They were pretty much the same idea -- good robots and bad robots, they both turn into other stuff. The Go-Bots were also, it must be said, just plain cheaper than Transformers. Each Go-Bot was about the size of a G.I. Joe guy…or G.I. Joe gal, I guess because let's not forget foxy redhead counter-intelligence agent "Scarlett", after all; one of only four dolls…errr…action figures, I had that were women. The others being Teela and Evil-Lyn from Masters of the Universe, and Princess Leia in her Empire Strikes Back Hoth winter-wear. Oh yeah, five if you count Leia once again in her Return of the Jedi “Boushh-Bounty Hunter” outfit. Ahem, I digress.

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So yeah, Go-Bots were smaller, and their transformation schemes were often far easier to pull off than their Transformer counterparts -- some of whom had a Rubik’s Cube level of difficulty to them. Go-Bots? Most of their transformations involved sliding their legs and arms into their bodies and pulling a wing out of a slot. No lie, one of them, “Tank,” simply transformed by doing the robot equivalent of a sit-up.

Give the Go-Bots this much credit at least, they got their movie out before Transformers (by about five months), a 75-minute feature film which, if I can remember correctly (and this is purely by memory, folks), featured the “good” and “bad” Go-Bots getting in the middle of a power struggle between the “Rock Lords” which was Tonka’s next wave of Go-Bot merchandising. Just imagine a Go-Bot that instead of turning into a vehicle, turned into a rock. Yes, you heard me, a rock. Because every kid wanted to roll up to the playground and impress his classmates with a piece of soapstone.

The Rock Lord line included figures such as “Boulder” and “Magmar” (he’s the one you see represented by the little drawing), and yes, you guessed it, “Nugget.” He was the movie’s “cute” robot who had a front panel that kept opening up unexpectedly with a bunch of buttons and mechanisms under it that he didn’t know how to work. Don’t we all.

And yet, I can’t recall too much more about the film and, if I’m being honest, why Mom even agreed to take me. I must have done something to merit the trip. I reason it was a surprise of some kind, because I certainly don’t recall ever seeing an ad for it on television. Maybe my mom just saw the above ad in the newspaper one morning and thought, "Hey, anything for my little guy." Right? Either that or she was desperate to pry me away from my Nintendo for one afternoon. Fair enough.

As mentioned, I do remember just how long and narrow screening room number one at the Cinema 3 was, a realization made even more obvious by the fact that me and my mother were two of only about, I’d say, eight other people there that afternoon.

I do remember enjoying the film. It had spaceships and lasers and rock people. It doesn’t take much when you’re eight. But I do remember also feeling sad that there were so few people there, almost as if the film was a real living thing that was getting its feelings hurt by not playing to a full house. And as mentioned, I remember quite clearly my mother’s disapproval with the film after it was over, mostly that it seemed like it went on forever. I will concede there is some merit to that argument after I rewatched the film when I bought a used VHS copy at the now closed video store in Wal-Mart around 1996. The space battles were still pretty cool though.

If only she had waited one lousy week. The sci-fi/horror film "Critters," featuring a family defending their farmhouse from an invasion by toothy, spiny creatures the size of soccer balls with some help from sorta-friendly alien bounty hunters, opened just one Friday later. with screenings as late at 9:10 p.m.! Oh well, that's what Stars and Stripes Video was for, right?

Oh, and if you’d like to know more about Max Steele’s Robo Force or Starriors, email me at the address below.

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"The Throwback Machine" is a weekly feature taking a look back at items of interest found in the JG-TC online archives. For questions, suggestions, or his "Song of the Day" recommendation, contact him at cwalker@jg-tc.com.

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