No matter what nostalgic attachment you have to old cartoons from the early 80s, 'The Transformers', they were corny as hell. I revisited them just a little while ago when the seasons started hitting DVD, and wondered why I ever liked them in the first place. Like the original 'X-Men' cartoons, 'The Transformers' is full of flat one-liners and flimsy storytelling. I remember loving them as a kid, but as an adult? Not so much.
That's why when I received 'Transformers: Prime' I wasn't all that excited to be starting in on yet a new reincarnation of the decades old franchise that was started because Hasbro wanted to advertise their line of robotic, transforming toys. There have been well over a dozen, or so, animated versions over the years depicting the struggle between the Autobots and the Decepticons. The war between Optimus Prime and Megatron seems endless. Each new time 'Transformers' is revitalized the war begins all over again. Add into that the fact that I've long been 'Transfomer'd out because the incessant onslaught of Michael Bay's live action 'Transformers' movies and you'll see why taking on yet another form of the hulking robot aliens left me feeling a tad bit underwhelmed, not expecting to like it at all.
Perhaps it was the low expectations I went into the show with, or maybe it's just that this embodiment of the 'Transformers' is actually good. I prefer to go with the latter as I think that's actually the case. I'm not saying that 'Transformers: Prime' is the perfect cartoon, it still suffers from its formulaic easily digestible Saturday-morning-cartoon approach, but I find it much more enjoyable than any of the previous 'Transformer' cartoons I can remember.
Airing on The Hub, 'Transformers: Prime' is a CGI-based cartoon featuring all of the well-known robotic organisms from Cybertron, along with some new ones. Optimus Prime (voiced by Peter Cullen, the very same guy who does the voice for Optimus in the live-action movies) and his band of Autobots find themselves on Earth searching for Energon, the Transformer's life force. Along with Prime we have the trusty warrior Bulkhead (Kevin Michael Richardson) who packs a wallop with his metal wrecking ball; Arcee (Sumalee Montano) is the lone female of the group, quick, agile and transforms into a motorcycle; Ratchet (Jeffery Combs) is the team medic and scientist, who mainly stays at the base to track Decepticons and figure out complex problems; rounding out the Autobot's cast is a familiar face in Bumblebee, an Autobot scout who yearns to be taken serious as a warrior robot.
The Autobots soon find themselves paired up with a group of young humans. Jack (Josh Keaton) first meets Arcee by accident in a parking lot, but the two of them soon strike up a strong bond after Arcee saves Jack from some pursuing Decepticons. Miko (Tania Gunadi) is the resident teenage emo-girl who readily believes in shape-shifting robotic creatures and soon becomes friends with Bulkhead. Raf (Andy Pessoa) is 12-years-old – even though he looks eight – and has an inexplicable knowledge of everything technological.
Like many of the 'Transformers' incarnations the humans here are the show's weak spot. Many of the first season's episode revolve around the kids traveling along with the Autobots when they're not supposed to and then the Autobots having to save them because of their own stupidity. Miko is the worst. Smartest robotic organisms in the universe but they can't keep a teenage girl from sneaking along on every adventure.
I think the aspect of 'Transformers: Prime' that I really enjoy is that not only are the Decpticons battling the Autobots, but inside their own ranks they are trying to usurp each other. This is something sorely missing in Bay's movies. I enjoy Starscream (Steven Blum) and his constant attempts to wrest power away from Megatron (Frank Welker). It adds in another story element creating a more complex environment for the characters.
The season spans numerous story ideas. The first five episodes deal with Megatron trying to obtain as much power as possible, but facing an ultimate double-cross from Starscream. After that five-part opening series, the show settles into a Problem of the Week type set-up that is fun, yet predictable. Almost every new episode features some ancient artifact/ship/weapon that both the Autobots and Decpticons have discovered at the same moment and now they must fight over it. How all of these things ended up on Earth is anyone's guess. Over time the fights become mundane because the show is afraid to kill off any of the main characters (it is a kid's show after all). The Decepticons have an endless number of minions who get killed over and over, which does become tiresome. However, the transforming, fighting and action are much more coherent than anything Bay has put on the screen in his live-action movies. I appreciated that. Less is more in this case.
I've actually found myself enjoying this cartoon and it's something that I'd like to share with my son once he's old enough to sit down and watch TV without trying to eat the remote. It provides for enjoyable 20 minute episodes with characters to care about. You can't ask for much more from a kid-centric cartoon.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
The top of the outer cardboard slipcase is emblazoned with the moniker "Limited Edition." As far as I can tell it's the only edition of this cartoon released on Blu-ray. The Blu-ray release does come complete with a 96-page graphic novel which acts as sort of a prologue to the show. There are 26 episodes in all. Each of the episodes runs roughly 20 to 21 minutes. This is a 4-disc with all four discs being 50GB Blu-ray Discs. The back of the case indicates a Region A only coding.
This is the disappointing part of the release. The inconsistency in the show's 1080p video presentation leaves a lot to be desired. Especially when high-definition usually makes computer animated movies and shows look better than just about anything else on the format.
The presentation has fleeting glimpses of brilliance. There are a couple scenic vista shots with a lone Autobot standing on the edge of a plateau that look great. Nevertheless, those are few and far between. Most of the time the animation here exhibits flatness. Shadows routinely eat up all the detail that they cover with a flat matte black that really wreaks havoc on the picture. Another constant annoyance is the incessant banding which never gets better. The worst of the banding can be seen surrounding bright lights like the sun, but it can also be seen in the black shading of outer space, and whenever gradient dust plumes up in front of the camera because of an Autobot/Decepticon tussle. Basically, whenever colors feature a gradient, banding is there, unmistakably mucking up the picture. Other technical no-no's appear in the form of jaggies which form in the shadows and on the edges of robot exoskeletons and aliasing which is apparent throughout the series. Honestly, the technical anomalies do hamper the overall enjoyment of the show, hence the low score.
It's a good thing that the DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround track offers up plenty of technically sound enjoyment. Even though the video disappoints, the audio tries to make up for it with a robot-rocking, metal-crunching soundtrack that is louder than you might think any Saturday morning cartoon has the right to be.
I was surprised by the quality of this audio presentation. I half expected a lossy, underwhelming audio track, but I'm glad I was wrong. Here we get a full-bodied surround sound environment that features intelligible audio and deeply immersive action scenes that feel like they're going on all around you.
Robot fights feature clanking, crushing and crunching that can be heard echoing through the front and rear channels. If a bot is thrown from one end of the frame to the other you hear the woosh of the metallic body passing through the air and then the directional crunch of whatever their gigantic bodies hit. Glass shatters, rocks crumble and alloy breaks as the Autobots and Decepticons wage their never-ending battle. The LFE contained here is enough to rumble your entertainment room and could rival many other action movies out there. Fans of the show will not only be impressed, but most likely delighted with this lossless audio presentation.
There is some entertainment to be found in this series. It's was surprising to me that I enjoyed the show as much as I did. The video problems do detract from the overall experience however. They're just too prevalent and obvious to ignore. The constant banding just about drove me bonkers. At times it's infuriating. The audio makes up for it somewhat, with thunderous metallic-skull-crushing. There's a large amount of special features, especially audio commentaries, which seem tailor-made for the fans of the show. If it weren't for the video problems I'd give this a hearty recommendation, as it sits right now the show is still very much worth a look.