Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Transformers Prime: The Complete Season One Blu-ray Review

Reviewed by Sean Ferguson
The Transformers saga starts a new chapter as old foes return, legendary heroes rise, and new ones are found in unlikely places. This visually stunning five-part miniseries started out on The HUB and led to an Emmy winning show. Fan favorites Optimus Prime, Bumblebee, Arcee, Ratchet, Bulkhead, and many others are back to “roll out” against Megatron’s latest attempt to conquer Earth.  And Megatron proves to be more powerful than ever, having acquired a rare element that allows him mastery over life itself. Optimus Prime and the Autbots may be few against the Decepticon hordes, but they find increased strength through bonds forged with three human teenagers.  Season One of Transformers Prime boasts an all-star voice cast, including Peter Cullen, Frank Welker, Steve Blum, Jeffrey Combs, Adam Baldwin, Markie Post, Ernie Hudson, among other notables.  Transformers Prime is produced by Hasbro Studios, with Alex Kurtzman, Roberto Orci and Jeff Kline serving as executive producers. Kurtzman and Orci served as writers for the feature films Transformers andTransformers: Revenge of the Fallen.

Show (4 out of 5 stars) 

Transformers Prime is the best series to follow the original G1 series and this series is a blend of that original series and Michael Bay’s movies.  We get the deeper characterization and plots from the series and Bay’s kinetic action which fuse together to make an excellent new series.  Some of the previous complaints from earlier incarnations has been resolved, while others still remain notably the lack of any worthwhile humans counterparts. One of the best aspects to carryover to this new series is having the original voices of Optimus Prime (Peter Cullen) and Megatron (Frank Welker) return to reprise their legenday roles.  Their voices are so indelible in those roles, that I couldn’t imagine anyone else doing them justice (although Hugo Weaver did a nice job as Megatron in the movies).
The show begins with Optimus Prime and his five remaining Autobots protecting the Earth since they have nowhere else to go since their homeworld of Cybertron is lifeless after centuries of war.  The Decepticons are also stuck on Earth but their intentions a lot less benevolent as they are seeking the Earth’s Energon deposits.  Megatron has been absent for awhile having left to search the cosmos to acheive his hidden plans, which leaves the ruthless and megamaniacal Starscream in charge which is how he likes it.  When Megatron returns, he brings with him the blood of Unicron known as Dark Energon, which is said to give the power to control other transformers.  Never one for caution, Megatron mixes the Dark Energon with his own body and is given the ability to resurrect dead autobots and decepticons.
It’s up to Optimus Prime, his autobots, and the lameass humans to stop Megatron’s mechanical zombie army from taking over the universe.  While having a tacit agreement with the humans to work as a team, it’s easy to see that the Autobots got the short end of the stick with that agreeement since pretty much every human in this show is extrememly annoying and generally not worth the trouble to keep around.  For their liaison with the military, they deal with the overweight Agent Fowler (Ernie Hudson) whose main skill is resisting interrogation once he’s been captured.  I don’t know if it’s a budget issue or a creative decision to have Fowler being the sole point of contact between the humans and the Autobots, but I wish they would bring in someone like the G.I. Joe team for a crossover teamup.
He’s still a lot better than the three kids(!) who get to hang out at the autobot base whose sole purpose is to annoy the hell out of the Autobots and the viewers.  There’s Jack, a rebellious teenager who reluctantly joins the war after walking away scared several times, then there’s Raf the requistite twelve year old computer genius, who’s smarter than everyone else, and finally there’s the absolute personification of annoyance – a teenage girl named Miko who is eitehr talking nonstop or putting herself or others into danger, or doing something else equally stupid.  She is so vacuous and annoying that I’m constantly cheering for the Decepticons to step on her.
I’ve never understood why the humans always have to suck in anything Transformers related.  All the way back to the G1 series, the humans have been portrayed as nothing but whiny meatbags of trouble, and I honestly don’t know why Optimus keeps protecting us.  This series also offers a new human terrorist group called M.E.C.H. and even they are lame.  The Decepticons have no need for humans but their backstabbing ways with each other achieves the same result.  Starscream still dreams of being the leader and he has no hesitation in sacrificing Megatron to achieve that goal if he can get away with it.  One of the scenes that made me laugh out loud was watching Soundwave send laserbeak to spy on Starscream after the latter’s less than convinving show of concern for Megatron.  It was something straight out of G1 and it was brilliant continuation of the character’s true personalities.
The animation is very good and I especially like the kinetic flow of the action which always remains understandable, which is something I’ve never liked about Bay’s films since you never know who is fighting unless it’s someone easy to spot like Optimus or Bumblebee.  The show also gives a real sense of scale between the giant robots and their human counterparts.  The scripts for the shows are also a lot better than earlier editions and they’ve raised the stakes higher too.  There’s a lot more violence in this series too which surprised me and made me wonder if I should be letting my almost four year old son watch it.   The zombie Decepticons seemed to unnerve him the most but he was happy to see Optimus kick their butt.  My last complaint is the fact that they’ve added mouths to the robots which looks terrible and detracts from their coolness.  Seeing Optimus without his faceplate just so we can see his tiny little mouth talk is ridiculous.  I have two big requests on my wishlist for the show’s future: one, lose the humans and two, get rid of the robot mouths that make them look like fish.  Other than those gripes this is a great show and a worthy addition to the Transformers canon.

Video (4 out of 5 stars) 

This 1080p (1.78:1) transfer looks pretty good but it’s not without some flaws.  While the colors are vivid and look amazing in many shots, there’s also some mild aliasing and jagged edges here and there through the series.  It’s not bad enough that it will greatly detract from the show, but it is noticeable and worth mentioning.  Detail is very strong and the robots generally look better than the humans who look far too cartoony for my tastes. They kind of look like Wii or Xbox 360 avatars and it’s just another reason why I hate seening humans in the show.  The black levels are incredibly dark and I was very happy to see how black and inky they are which makes for excellent shadow effects.  This is a very nice transfer for the most part and fans will be happy.

Audio (4 out of 5 stars) 

Transformers Prime offers both a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix and a LPCM 2.0 mix and they both sound very good. The front channels offer clear and understandble dialogue for both the humans and the robots, while the rear channels deliver some excellent surround effects with accurate directionality.  The music also is well presented along with the rest of the mix and it never overwhelms the dialogue.  There’s no sound defects to mention as both of these are excellent sound mixes that won’t disappoint the show’s fans.

Extras (4 out of 5 stars) 

This set is packed with extras with a huge amount of commentaries and there’s some behind the scenes featurettes too.  What’s also nice is that all of the extras are in high definition. There’s also a nice comic book included that’s pretty good sized as well!
  • Audio Commentaries – There’s a ton of commentaries on here full of interesting information from the writers, producers, executives, actors, and more.  Each of these commentaries offer a good mix of people from different professions that combined give you a good idea of what it takes to make the show.  From the viewpoint of the toy makers all the way to the actors performing their parts, these commentaries offer a wealth of information for fans of the show.  These episodes offer a commentary with the following people:
    • Darkness Rising Part 1 – Executive Producer Jeff Kline, Hasbro Studios Developer Mike Vogel, Animation Producer Therese Trujillo, and Art Director David Hartman
    • Darkness Rising Part 2 – Jeff Kline, Mike Vogel, Therese Trujillo, and David Hartman
    • Darkness Rising Part 3 –  Hasbro Studios Executive Director Brian Lenard, Tania Gunadi and Ernie Hudson, and Art Director José Lopez
    • Darkness Rising Part 4 – Brian Lenard, Tania Gunadi, Ernie Hudson, and José Lopez
    • Darkness Rising Part 5 – Composer Brian Tyler
    • Masters and Students – Production Manager Mathias Dougherty, Animatic Artist Meghan Burleson, and Production Assistants Nathan Johnson and Jacob Rivera
    • Scrapheap – Production Manager Sonya Park, Production Coordinator Meredith Rogers, Production Assistant Kathy Cavanaugh, and Post Supervisor Austin Block.
    • Convoy – Actor Peter Cullen, President of Hasbro Studios Steve Davis, and Producer Rafi Ruthchild
    • Predatory – Director Todd Waterman and Actors Sumalee Montano and Josh Keaton.
    • Shadowzone – Supervising Director David Hartman, Andy Pessoa, and Editor Mike Miles.
    • Stronger, Faster – Actor Jeffrey Combs, Writer Mairghread Scott, and Director Shaunt Nigoghossian
    • One Shall Fall – Writers Joseph Kuhr and Nicole Dubuc, Director Vinton Heuck, and Character Designer/Prop Designer/Colorist Augusto Barranco
    • One Shall Rise Part 1 – Nicole Dubuc, Jospeh Kuhr, Vinton Heuck, and Augusto Barranco
    • One Shall Rise Part 2 – Supervising Producer/Head Writer Duane Capizzi, Staff Writer Marsha Griffin, Supervising Color Designer Christophe Vacher, and Background Design Supervisor Vince Toyama
    • One Shall Rise Part 3 – Duane Capizi, Staff Writer Steven Melching, Christophe Vacher, and Vince Toyama.
  • Making-Of Transformers: Prime – A short look a the history of the franchise and how they are gearing it for modern audiences.  This featurette briefly covers the gamut of behind the scenes efforts to create the show.
  • Toy Featurette – This featurette runs over sixteen minutes and covers the toy angle of the show as we hear about the evolving toy line and the reason behind why some characters were included and others that weren’t, including characters that they wished were in the show.
  • Season 2 Teaser

Summary (4 out of 5 stars) 

I’m going to pretend that the other Transformers shows that followed G1 never happened and that this show picked up from there.  I can only take so much of Waspinator and the other less than iconic robots.  This show is probably the best one overall but it suffers from the same flaw as the previous ones when it comes to the plucky humans.  I seriously hope that the kids are removed from the show even though I know that is highly unlikely to happen.  The good news is that this set has fairly good audio/visual quality and a lot of extras than fans will enjoy.  As long as Peter Cullen and Frank Welker continue to voice their roles (even if Optimus has gotten a little preachy), I’ll be happy to watch them battle it out.
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