Last year about this time, a new Transformers show premiered on The Hub: Transformers Prime. It started with a 5-part miniseries entitled Darkness Rising, and then in February of this year the Transformers Prime: Animated Series started its first season. Season 2 is slated to start up sometime in 2012. Now the miniseries is coming out on DVD, and Shout! Factory is providing 5 copies for GeekDad to give away just in time for its release on December 6. I’ll start with a review of the miniseries, but be sure to fill out the form at the end to enter to win!
I hadn’t caught the show when it was on the air, but I got the pilot on iTunes recently and was pretty intrigued. Shout! Factory sent me a copy of the DVD so I could get a peek at it before release, and it’s pretty good. The plot is set in today’s world, and the Autobots have been reduced to a paltry half-dozen, hiding out in a secret base in Arizona. The Decepticons haven’t been seen for years, and nobody really knows where Megatron went. But there’s a reason it’s called Darkness Rising, of course: the Decepticons are back in action, and Megatron returns to Earth with a dastardly plan.
It’s darker and grittier than the original: the ‘bots have been nearly wiped out, and (minor spoiler) there is more death to come. Optimus Prime is still around, of course, as well as Ratchet and Bumblebee. There are a couple I don’t recognize from the original (or maybe I’ve just forgotten): Bulkhead, Arcee, and Cliffjumper. The Decepticons are down to a skeleton crew as well: Starscream and Soundwave are still alive and kicking, but the rest are sort of foot-soldier clones that don’t really do much talking.
And, of course, there are some humans. The first part of the miniseries introduces them: Raf, a twelve-year-old computer genius; Jack, a teenager who’s not really sure about himself; Miko, the Japanese exchange student who thinks these transforming robots are totally awesome. At this point, the presence of the Transformers isn’t widely known among humans (except for some government agents, we soon discover), but due to some circumstances the three kids see the Transformers in action, and the Autobots bring them back to their base for their protection.
Transformers Prime is an interesting mix, pulling a little bit from the live-action movies but also introducing its own flavor. As you can see from the images, Optimus Prime and Bumblebee look more like their movie counterparts than the original cartoons (Prime is a Peterbilt-style truck, not the snub-nose semi — though without the flames — and Bumblee turns into a muscle car instead of a Beetle). And, as in the movie, Megatron turns into a spaceship rather than a gun. However, both Megatron and Starscream look a bit different than their movie counterparts, and Transformers Prime isn’t tied to the continuity of the movies. (That’s a good thing, in my opinion.)
There’s still a good bit of humor in the cartoon, particularly with the interactions between the ‘bots and the kids. Each of the robots has pretty distinct personalities: Bulkhead is the big friendly giant, whereas Ratchet is a bit of a grouch and doesn’t want the kids around. On the flip side, the battles and fighting get pretty dark. Starscream is still the same sniveling servant to Megatron, with not-so-secret ambitions, but Megatron has gotten a lot creepier.
The cartoon also borrows from modern cinematic techniques: action scenes have that slo-mo/speed-up jerkiness to them, which can be a little grating at times but makes it feel like big-screen entertainment. It’s a bit melodramatic, as these things tend to be, but no more so than the original cartoons that we watched when we were kids — if it seems cheesy, it’s simply because we’ve grown up ourselves. Optimus Prime (voiced, as always, by the legendary Peter Cullen) manages to deliver cliched lines (“One shall rise. One shall fall.”) with gravitas and sincerity, which is quite an impressive feat in itself.
Watching it was a lot of fun — part of me wanted to groan at the parts that were predictable or cheesy, but the bigger part of me just reveled in the joy of watching robots transform and fight each other. That’s the part that I really missed from the live-action movies: all those tight close-ups and quick cuts never let you see the robots actually transforming. Of course, these new ones don’t transform in such a way that you could probably make a toy directly from the cartoon (as you could with the originals), they at least look like they could. Sure, sometimes they seem to play a little fast and loose with the whole “conservation of mass” thing, but in the original Megatron turned into a human-sized handgun, so I’m not complaining too much.
Here’s a brief clip to give you a bit of the flavor. (There are several more available on YouTube.)
If you’re nostalgic for the old Transformers series and you want something a little more grown-up, forget Michael Bay. Transformers Prime is an excellent place to start. The DVD releases on Tuesday, December 6, and you can pre-order it on Amazon now.
But wait! Before you do that, fill out this entry form first. We’ll take entries until 11:59pm EST on Wednesday, November 30. I’ll pick five winners at random and announce them by Friday, December 2, so you’ll know before release day whether or not you’ve won a copy.
If you’re unable to see the form below, you can also fill it out here.