If you’ve been here long enough you may be wondering why I’m making a bigger deal about the debut of G.I. Joe: The Movie in theaters thanks to Fathom Events when I didn’t do likewise for Transformers: The Movie finally returning, also thanks to Fathom Events, earlier this year. After all I’m more into our favorite robots in disguise than our favorite special mission force. With the first showing tomorrow night and the other Saturday afternoon (check your area for actual times and locations–some theaters here in the Connecticut area are only showing it once) it will be the first time the movie is getting a national theatrical release, though I’m sure some smalltime theater somewhere may have shown it at one point. That’s how I saw The NeverEnding Story in theaters during a ConnectiCon. When the aforementioned Transformers movie as well as one based on the My Little Pony show of the 1980s didn’t do well in the box office Hasbro and Sunbow sent it directly to home video in the hopes of at least recouping losses they didn’t think they could in a theatrical release.
However, that’s not the only significance of this movie versus the Cybertronians. There are a lot of things that in hindsight makes this movie important for 1980s kids. I’m not usually into war stories but the show had enough sci-fi elements (including a character named Sci-Fi) that I was on board for it. Looking back this past month at the various Saturday Night Showcase lead-ups I’ve picked up on something else that makes this more significant than the movie based on my favorite fictional franchise. Note that I’m kind of tired today so sorry if this reads more like a ramble.
First of all there’s actually a lead-in to the events of the movie. We saw it in “Arise, Serpentor, Arise“. Dr. Mindbender’s dream, the mention of the “Slaughterhouse” and rough new recruits–that’s answered in the movie. We also learn the origins of Cobra and why Cobra Commander wears that mask. (And if you think about it why he is such a bad leader.) Transformers: The Movie on the other hand just made a time jump so Hasbro could make new futuristic/Cybertronian vehicles without worrying about forcing a vehicle to look like that vehicle and deal with rights issues from the car manufacturer. Cobra Commander even mentions secrets of Cobra, which could well be Cobra-La.
However, the series itself holds merit. This is one of those shows that write it off as “a thirty minute toy commercial”, and while there is truth to that, think about toys based on existing shows at the time. Star Trek, The Man From UNCLE, The Six Million Dollar Man, SWAT, Emergency…all shows that had some kind of merchandise attached to it. Nobody complains about that, and it still happens today. Even Japan gets into that craze with their various Gundam and Kamen Rider series. The toys, especially when it comes to syndicated shows with no network dollars behind them, basically pay for the show. This why ThunderCats, Bravestarr, and Centurions all had toys but weren’t created by a toy company. Therefore it’s the writing, animation, and performance that sells the show, and thus makes the toys something kids want to buy. In other words if you want to sell toys your “thirty minute toy commercial” better be a good show.
G.I. Joe did this, with serious action, science-fiction elements, amazing characters, and most of the episodes having decent animation. (There was the occasional odd duck but not on the same level as The Transformers.) This drew in the kids but it’s one of those shows that hold up for adults without gore, violence (action, but not violence unless you’re a surface-viewing parent or member of a parent group which I’m believing aren’t always the same thing), or nudity. Compare to later shows with darker colors and pushing the envelope as much as possible. In fact I’d say G.I. Joe is less a kids show than it is an all-ages show, something that remember or even targets kids but doesn’t need to have as many adult jokes (though some comments only grown-ups would get) to entertain their parents. In this case probably dad but you also had a few romantic entanglements for mom.
I’m not declaring this the greatest show ever or anything but it is an example of a great show for kids that adults can enjoy. There wasn’t heavy continuity but there was enough to make it feel like they were paying attention. It also played nice with Transformers thanks to Cobra Commander and Flint & Lady Jaye’s daughter showing up in the 2006 period of Transformers, the girl who loved Powerglide also going after Lifeline, and recurring pain in numerous Hasbro shows (primarily Inhumanoids but the Joes, Autobots, and Jem & The Holograms all had to put up with him) and noted Geraldo Rivera analog Hector Ramirez showing up to cause trouble. The writing was fun but knew when to be serious, could be character focused and even a bit dark (just ask Shipwreck after he was tricked into thinking he had amnesia and a family), and at times a bit silly I grant you but even then the episode managed to entertain.
Of course the biggest reason is that this was a time when being patriotic and supporting the military was considered a good thing. International releases aside (because in the end Hasbro was just in this for the money), the Joes were “real American heroes”, held the banner of the USA up high, and fought for American ideals against a terrorist group would take all of that away. I think trying to downplay that is why some of the later series like Renegades or the anime-influence Sigma Six didn’t do as well and why when people think of G.I. Joe they think of the Real American Hero period or the original doll-sized action figures.
So all that is why I spent the last few Saturday Night Showcases with a refresher primer for the show, along with proving that Cobra-La is hardly the shark jump some fans says it is, in light of all the other weird elements like interdimensional travel, cloning dinosaurs, meeting Egyptian gods, basement Cthulhu, and synthetic people that had already shown up in the show. This would also end up being the finale for the series until DIC attempted to continue the continuity, with “Operation: Dragonfire”, a five-part intro miniseries pilot (keeping up the tradition) being the only story not bogged down by the sillier elements. (Just watch “The Head Man”, their attempt at an anti-drug episode that makes Snowflame look…still nuts but at least with a snorting buddy.) So give the movie a chance. If you miss it in the theaters (and looking over my funds I’m wondering if I can spare it), it’s available on home video and streaming.
Though it is still missing the greatest Cobra agent…Percy.