I’ve had the Transformers Prime theme song running through my head lately, because I’ve been catching up on Season 1. Shout Factory provided me a with an early review copy of the DVDs, and I’ve been going through the 4-disc set in the evenings. We ran a few clips as a teaser recently, and the season goes on sale today. The whole thing runs about 10 hours (26 episodes, including the original Darkness Rising miniseries), and some of the episodes have commentary tracks by various people associated with the project. Also included are a short making-of featurette, and a bit about creating the toys which I found pretty fascinating. The process of creating a real transformable toy based on not-yet-finalized animation art is incredibly difficult, and it sounds like a huge challenge. (Plus, the Hasbro guys talked about their own favorite characters from the past, accompanied by clips from the old shows.)
My original assessment, based on just watching the miniseries, still holds: this series is a lot of fun, and to me it finally feels like Transformers done right. Yeah, they still look more like the Michael Bay movie versions: Bumblebee is a muscle car, Optimus is a Peterbilt-style semi, and Megatron is some sort of spaceship instead of a gun. But the transformations use a familiar chee-choo-chee-choo sound, and somehow the fact that it’s a cartoon makes some of the cheesy lines seem okay. Sure, the teenage Jack Darby wants to impress the girl with his new motorcycle (in reality Autobot Arcee) but it’s a far cry from Shia LaBeouf and Megan Fox (or the other eye candy replacement). And there’s a girl kid (not the love interest), Miko, who might need rescuing from time to time but is certainly no damsel in distress. She’s an adrenaline junkie and is keen on being out in the action with the Autobots, and it’s a lot of fun to have her enthusiasm in the mix.
The show is rated Y7, though I’ll warn parents that it is a bit darker and grittier than the original cartoon series (at least as I remember it). Right up front there’s a main character that gets killed off. Later on, there are flashback scenes from the great war (reminds me a bit of old scenes of Mal and Zoe in Firefly), but these include some scenes of a particularly nasty Decepticon torturing and killing Autobots. One episode in particular has Arcee experiencing some PTSD and flashbacks; despite Optimus’ frequent statement that “Revenge will not bring back the dead,” Arcee is bent on vengeance and it can get quite violent. Megatron is also deliciously creepy, and you never know what dastardly plan he has up his sleeve — but, again, I could see him giving nightmares to younger (or more sensitive) kids. I’m personally holding off a little bit for my daughters because the older one scares easily, and I don’t need her waking up in the middle of the night thinking about zombie robots. Yep, you read that right.
Still, if you’re an adult who grew up with Transformers, Transformers Prime feels like a nice extension of the series. In the first season there are a few new faces that show up (and some leave pretty soon after), but the overall cast of characters — Autobots, Decepticons, and humans — is pretty small and you get to know them pretty well. There’s also a new threat: Mech, a group of human mercenaries with advanced technology who would really like to get their hands on Transformers intelligence. There’s a lot of hokey science that goes on, but we’re talking about living robots, so … not gonna complain too much.
I like the mix of humor, drama, and action. One early episode, “Masters and Students,” echoed Garth Sundem’s post about helping kids with their homework — the three kids have a science fair to prepare for, but Ratchet (a bit of a control freak) insists on “helping” them … with predictable, but funny, results. Starscream is still his old, despicable self, simpering and groveling when Megatron is around, arrogant and plotting when he’s not.