|For much of its core 20- and 30-something male audience, Michael Bay's "Transformers" film is more than just a reason to go to the movies on a hot, summer night. It's also an excuse for a grown man to head to the toy store.
Nostalgia for the shape-shifting cars, planes and robots that many of today's men played with as boys might provide an unexpected boost to toymaker Hasbro Inc.'s bottom line.
"There are still no toys that are like the Transformers," said Malik Nicholas, a 27-year-old computer technician at Deutsche Bank.
"The most interesting thing about Transformers as a kid was the idea you could drive a car and turn it into a robot," said Nicholas, who plans to buy the new Optimus Prime toy, transform it into a big rig from a robot, and park it on his desk at work.
The toys are the foundation for a tale of warring alien robots that come to earth from the planet Cybertron in search of new forms of energy. The robots disguise themselves as man-made machinery, including cars and jets.
They're divided into two factions: the peaceful Autobots led by Optimus Prime, who are content to live hidden in plain sight among mankind; and the evil Decepticons, headed by the diabolical Megatron, who see humans as a useless energy source, fit for nothing more than destruction.
For 32-year-old collector Pete Sinclair, the challenge of transforming the robots, combined with a mature subject matter dealing not only with good and evil, but also death, hooked him as a child and keeps him coming back as an adult.
"When I was a kid I remember getting ones that were very difficult to transform and you felt that much better when you were finally able to do it," Sinclair said while attending BotCon in Pawtucket, Rhode Island, an annual gathering of Transformers fans and collectors.
Transformers come in four levels of difficulty, with the puzzle-like level-four toys being the most difficult to transform.
And while the new, sleeker Transformers toys are a far cry from their larger, more cumbersome predecessors, Sinclair said he won't hesitate to add the next generation of robots to his collection.
"Everybody ... was hesitant when they first saw the initial designs because your gut reaction is 'these don't really look like the original toys. They don't really remind me as much,' but you see how it has to translate to the big screen."
NOT YOUR FATHER'S TRANSFORMERS
For some collectors, Hasbro's updates of the popular 1980s toys -- while aesthetically pleasing -- ultimately fall short.
"The toy's manufacturing was pretty light," said 38-year-old David Silberman, chief technology officer of a Jersey City, New Jersey-based private equity fund.
"When you're looking at them on the big screen, you see there's a motion to them, a tension to them ... I felt like I had to be gentle because I didn't want to break any of the pieces off," added Silberman, who nonetheless said he'd buy Hasbro's Mr. Potato Head spin-off toy, "Optimash" Prime.
"They just don't make them like they used to, that's the bottom line," 29-year-old computer technology student Anthony Toledo said after struggling with, and then accidentally breaking, Optimus Prime's gun during a demonstration.
But with an appeal that stretches across generations, Transformers are expected by some to be the hottest-selling toys based on this year's summer movies.
Between 30 percent and 40 percent of all Transformers sold this year will be bought by adults, independent toy industry consultant Christopher Byrne said.
"This," he said, "is the toy movie of the summer."