Earlier this week I ran an interview with Peter Cullen, the voice of Optimus Prime in the Transformers cartoon as well as the new Michael Bay movie. In the intro to that interview, I said this:
Well, guess who was reading. The next day I got an email from Megatron himself, voice actor Frank Welker, taking polite issue with what I wrote. That began a small email exchange between he and I. Here’s what he said:
Just read your great interview with my old friend and arch nemesis (Optimus Prime) Peter Cullen. You can see why Peter is so well liked and does such great service to his character…he is a class act!
I wanted to let you know a little bit about my voice as Megatron. When I designed the voice, I was intentionally trying to make it different from all of the typical villains, robotic or otherwise, that I had heard and played in the past. With that in mind and considering the metallic quality and his rage, I was pleased along with the producers and the toy company with the end result. Also, we seemed to have satisfied and inspired a very large and vocal fan base. Of course when you do something that is different you will always run the risk of being over the edge but hopefully you achieve what the
audience responds to viscerally and you get a following. I was overwhelmed with the fabulous response from the fans.
I understand your opinion and respect you for stating it, however I am disappointed that you found the voice silly. That was never a goal…over the top, maybe, but silly no…gulp, that was the last thing on my mind.
Thanks for keeping your eye on the "Transformers." Enjoy the movie, and the game. Hopefully, we can continue to entertain you….but without you laughing in all the wrong places.
Megatron "Leader of the Deceptions"
Floored to hear from Megatron, I dropped a line back to Frank. He replied, quoting my email to him. Those segments are in bold.
Thanks for taking the time to drop a line.
Not at all, I appreciate the dialog.
As a writer, the worst thing I can do is not make myself clear, which is what happened with the intro to my interview with Peter Cullen. I didn’t intend to disparage your work but to merely say that the voice you gave Megatron, while appropriate for the conext and setting of a cartoon, doesn’t sound – to me – like one that would translate to a live action film. To me it’s similar to the way certain aspects of comic books can’t be properly translated to the film versions, but that doesn’t take away from how much those elements work in their original medium.
No problem. I think I understand but I am not sure I totally agree with your analogy.
My impression – and this is just coming from my point of view as a film fan and critic – is that much of the work you did on Megatron would need to be scaled back and toned down to fit the more realistic world Michael Bay was creating, whereas in the cartoon you could be more dramatic. A toned down Megatron wouldn’t, in the end, be the Megatron that the fans of the original series had come to know.
Yes, I think you are right there is a film technique that might require vocal changes and nuances but these are well within "Megs" range and the end result the voice would still be Megatron. As to a toned down Megatron not sounding the same , I couldn’t disagree with you more. I would hope any actor worth their salt would be able to maneuver comfortably in and around a character especially one they established and be able to transcend whatever was objectionable. I suppose you could argue that after 25 years of acting experience between the original series production and now, plus over 90 motion pictures in which my sole job was to create sound and emotion to what I saw on screen, I would find it surprising and hugely disappointing if I couldn’t take a character I created and make it transfer to any media let alone film. There would be much self flagellation and I know my agent would take away my parking space!
My goal would have been to make it believable but more importantly…memorable. I think memorable would be of high value. Darth Vader, I remember….King Lear, all I remember was he had an English accent and wore a long coat!
Devin, I think it is just one of those voices you either like or you don’t like but the fact there are strong opinions means, in my mind, I’ve done my job. However, I do truly believe a lot of fans will miss hearing that scraggly, scratchy, but very identifiable voice.
That being said, the production team of this film has worked very hard to bring out a product that will satisfy the old time fans and create a new generation of "Transfans." I think the feature will do very well and in the end, with all the technology, sound, and voice enhancement; even Mel Brooks would have made a good Megatron. Now that would be, "silly" but worth the price of admission and the cholesterol from the popcorn!
One side note, apparently their are folks who believe sticking with the tired and true is a good thing. I am happy to say that Peter Cullen and I did "Transformers the Game" for Activison which will be co-released with the feature. Again, the work that went into making this a "fan blast" is really something. There is a lot of material from the feature including the live actors!
Working with my old partner Peter was a blast. With the game and the movie, toys etc., Peter is a very busy man and I couldn’t be happier for him. Though it pains me to say this….I will say it in his honor:
MEGATRON: " Roll out Optimus Prime!"
Megatron, Leader of the Decepticons.
PS: Here is a current version of Megatron and Optimus Prime posted on YouTube. Enjoy…
Thanks to Frank Welker, a man at least as classy as his nemesis Peter Cullen, for taking the time to reach out.