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G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero — The Movie: Special Collector’s Edition (Blu-ray Review)

21 Jul, 2010 By: John Latchem

Street 7/27/10
Shout! Factory/Vivendi
$16.97 DVD, $26.97 Blu-ray
Not rated.
Voices of Don Johnson, Burgess Meredith, Sgt. Slaughter, Bill Ratner, Michael Bell, Chris Latta.

Thanks to “Star Wars,” the cross-promotion of toys and multimedia franchises is commonplace. But in the 1980s it was a relatively new concept, with television dominated by animated series based on the toys they were designed to promote.

Driven by the success of its “Transformers” and “G.I. Joe” cartoons, Hasbro decided to turn them into animated movies. Echoing the turnover in toy lines that usually comes with the new school year, these movies would take a bold step for a cartoon: actually killing off its characters.

And so was born the idea of killing off Duke in G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero — The Movie, the follow-up to the 1983-86 animated series. And that idea inspired the controversial move to kill off Optimus Prime in 1986's The Transformers: The Movie. When Transformers didn’t do well in theaters (unlike its live-action counterpart 20 years later), G.I. Joe became a direct-to-video project. And when kids reacted badly to Prime’s death, producers added a line that Duke was only in a coma. And that was that, though the original death scene is included with a printable screenplay on the DVD.

The plot of G.I. Joe: The Movie is another sore spot with fans, though the passage of time has given it a sheen of nostalgia. It involves the true origins of the terrorist Cobra organization, linked to an ancient race of humanoids who live in the Himalayas and plan to wipe out humanity with mutagenic spores. When they capture the old Joes, the new recruits must lead the effort to free them.

According to story consultant Buzz Dixon, who provides an excellent and amusing commentary for the DVD and Blu-ray, the storyline derived from the origin of Serpentor, the genetically engineered Cobra emperor introduced in the second season. In an anecdote that illustrates the difficulties of basing a cartoon on a toy line, Dixon explains that the writers wanted to give the military-themed show a more political flavor in season two, but were instructed by Hasbro to include the emperor character. Having to explain his origins derailed the writers’ plans and led to some bizarre plots, including the movie.

Apparently Hasbro also tacked on an action-packed opening sequence that has nothing to do with the rest of the story, but most fans recall this teaser more fondly than the film itself.

The best part about the Blu-ray is that it includes a DVD that can go in the allocated slot included with last year’s complete-series boxed set, which is perfect for people like me who don’t like to intermingle their DVD and Blu-ray collections. Both the DVD and Blu-ray also include the remaining “Knowing Is Half the Battle” PSAs not found with the earlier sets.

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