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"Mom, meet my science-fiction club.",
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This review is from: Transformers: Prime - Season One (DVD)
If you've got a bone to pick with Michael Bay and his live-action, senses-shattering (but not in the best way) TRANSFORMERS film franchise, then why not tune in to Hub's marvelous CG-animated TRANSFORMERS: PRIME? The first season is out on DVD. It's a better reimagining than Bay's own robots in disguise.
This incarnation plonks the Autobots in the desert outskirts of Jasper, Nevada, as they make do with a remote bunker as their base of operations. The series opens with the five-part "Darkness Rising" arc as our heroic 'bots deal with the Decepticons' reappearance after three years of hunkering down. A driven Megatron, returned from years spent in outer space, is obsessed with harvesting dark energon, that bent element which creates zombie Transformers (the 'con leader means to raise an army of these undead). Megatron's quest is a recurring sub-plot which pays off huge in the season finale. But to demonstrate that this series isn't messing about, an Autobot falls very early on.
Fans of the original animated series, as well as of the intervening iterations, will recognize the affectionate nods this show bestows. I don't know that TRANSFORMERS PRIME deepens the mythology as much as reshuffles it around some. But it does well in establishing the lore of this current continuity. The characters are well-defined; the cast is kept to a relatively small core number. The Autobot crew is composed of five robots, few enough that the writers are able to invest in solid character development. Each Autobot gets showcased. Heck, on the opposing side, even lesser 'cons like Knockout and Breakdown get their moment in the sun. Two memorable characters are introduced in the shapes of the sadistic Aerachnid (Gina Torres) and the snarky Decepticon medic (and drag race enthusiast) Knockout. But the old hands are still well represented. The cowardly Starscream is still scheming away. Everyone's favorite muscle car, Bumblebee, still channels R2-D2. Peter Cullen again lends his awesome pipes to the noble Optimus Prime. He's reunited with his longtime foil, Frank Welker who once more voices Megatron.
As is its wont, the franchise recruits children to the Autobots' cause. In the first episode, three kids - Jack, Miko, and Raf - individually stumble onto the existence of these 30-foot-tall bio-mechanical aliens, leaving Optimus no choice but to appoint three of his warriors to act as their respective guardians. I've always enjoyed the inclusion of humans as they act as our point-of-view characters. Except that the impulsive Miko is really irritating, always scampering off against orders and getting underfoot. The Autobots' allies also number two human adults: the Autobots' liaison to the U.S. government, Special Agent Fowler (Ernie Hudson), and ***SPOILERS FOR THE REST OF THIS SENTENCE*** later, Jack's no-nonsense mom June Darby (Markie Post). I think a TRANSFORMERS show will always need humans, if nothing else, so as to establish a sense of scale.
The CG is amazing, a feast of sleek visual designs and thrilling robot-on-robot violence that is very well executed. In episode 4 of the "Darkness Rising" arc, there's a sequence in which the camera shoots from a human's P.O.V. while a robot melee rages on. This sequence really gets you a feel for how chaotic and scary a metal on metal scrap can be and how tiny and insignificant humans are compared to these giant battling robots. The stage direction of these combat scenes is exhilarating stuff. TRANSFORMERS PRIME treats us to storytelling that is rich and compelling and humorous and with an eye towards a grand scope. The majestic score only adds to the grandiose vibe. What's more, there's a clear emotional thru-line. The stories are darker and more violent than in past series. I love that the episodes tend to advance the overarching plot.
It's appreciated that the big bads don't simply consist of Decepticons. One of my favorite episodes is the hilarious "Scrapheap" which finds the Autobot headquarters infested with the metal-devouring Scraplets, touted by an apprehensive Ratchet as the "most dangerous vermin ever to crawl upon the face of Cybertron." It's massive fun watching these giant robot warriors turn into these jumpy, squealing pansies. The episode "Convoy" not only unveils the McGuffinish "Dingus" device (a prototype energy source) but also introduces M.E.C.H., a human mercenary organization headed by the opportunistic Silas (Clancy Brown, in fine sinister form). In my opinion, all the episodes are terrific, with this season bookended by the epic "Darkness Rising" and "One Shall Rise" arcs. "One Shall Rise" concerns the doom prophecy long ago proclaimed by the Cybetron Ancients. As the dreaded Chaos Bringer awakens from its eons of slumber, freakish global catastrophes threaten to devastate the world. Time for the Autobots to roll out. The "Oh hell no--!!" cliffhanger ending is frustrating but in a good way. In fact, the DVD set's 19 seconds of the Season 2 Preview had me wailing for Season 2 to arrive already (thank Primus it's already here). TRANSFORMERS PRIME has to be considered the best series yet in this long-enduring franchise. And I love Arcee.
This DVD set's bonus stuff:
- Original Making Of Special (00:11:01 minutes)
- Audio Commentaries by Cast & Crew on 15 episodes: "Darkness Rising" (Parts 1-5), "Masters and Students," "Scrapheap," "Convoy" (includes Peter Cullen), "Predatory," "Shadowzone" (includes Bumblebee), "Stronger, Faster," "One Shall Fall," and "One Shall Rise" (Parts 1-3)
- Toy Featurette - them folks at Hasbro get their two cents in as they talk about their influence in the making of the show and share their toy-making process (00:16:30 minutes)
- Season 2 Preview
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Showing 1-2 of 2 posts in this discussion
Initial post: May 2, 2012, 2:42:18 PM PDT
L. W. Swint says:
To H. Bala: Hello, I'm a big fan of the "Transformers Prime" TV series and wanted to compliment you on your well-written review of the show. I wrote a positive critique of the series, too, and have to say that so far, Season 2 is even better! The Hub channel produced a trio of promos for its premiere, and I must confess, when I saw the image of Jack Darby riding Arcee in a spacesuit, I got excited chills, thinking, "Jack and Arcee are on Cybertron!!" I'm really liking how heroic Jack is becoming. Optimus is truly inspiring those qualities in him, I think. I thought the Season 1 finale and Season 2 premiere episodes could only be described as epic! Hasbro plans on releasing the respective story arcs on their own single DVD. It will be interesting to see how those 7 episodes, including "One Shall Fall," are edited together. OK, enough gushing! Thank you for spending the time to write your impressions of the series' first season. I hope you're enjoying Season 2 and look forward to seeing your critique of it when the second season DVD/Blu-Ray is realeased. Long live Optimus Prime!
In reply to an earlier post on May 3, 2012, 12:30:15 AM PDT
H. Bala says:
Thanks so much. I have to say, I am really liking Season 2 as well. I really enjoyed its opening story arc.
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