The Transformers brand has been around for nearly three decades now, starting life as a toy line that coincided with a long-running animated series, and then spawned its own feature length animated movie (complete with amazingly cheesy soundtrack that would later be featured in 'Boogie Nights'), the series expanded into several spin-off programs (as well as comic books and video games) and an inexplicably popular and insanely lucrative 'Transfomers' film franchise from director Michael Bay.
With that much going on and that many products under the same umbrella it's not difficult to see why any expansion of the brand would have to be ridiculously specific in it naming, to the point that somehow a green light would be given to the collision of mostly meaningless words that would combine (not unlike the other morphing mechanical monstrosity known as Voltron) to become 'Transformers Prime: Beast Hunters – Predacons Rising.' Now, aside from sounding like a late-'70s prog rock concept album, the question of how that title holds any meaning to anyone – even the program's target demographic – is really the most interesting question about the movie. And considering the level of bot on bot violence on display, wondering just who the target demographic is, would come in a close second.
Now, the Transformers legacy is not exactly one rife with powerful life-lessons, deep, analytical character arcs or a narrative that digs into anything deeper than shoot the bad guy, lest he do something bad. So clearly, the target demo has to be the highly prized pre-teen male (and, thanks to something called discretionary income, his nostalgic and adolescent-minded adult male counterpart). Basically, the audience is the same as it's always been, but being an animated program, it seems likely that 'Predacons Rising' will also appeal to a much younger audience, and, more specifically, parents who just want something to occupy their kid(s) while the day is washed away with a glass of merlot, craft beer, or other adult beverage of varying degrees of intensity.
At any rate, the level of violence depicted here as the cornerstone of the narrative is unlikely to garner much attention for the reasons listed above (and many others), but it is still something worth drawing attention to, especially considering violence in the media worthy of a watchdog group's outcry rarely seems to be related to actual children's programming. But the question of who 'Transformers Prime: Beast Hunters – Predacons Rising' is intended for is not merely related to questions of appropriateness, but also to concerns over the storyline itself, which is both too simplistic and one-note for older kids, and perhaps overly dark and aggressive for younger ones.
Still, considering the appeal of the similarly simplistic and explosion-heavy feature films, it's not too surprising to see this animated effort broadly shooting from the same franchise-minded hip. The difference here, though, is that while Bay's 'Transformers' movies have little room for actual Transformers to be characters within the framework of what is ostensibly their own story, leaving the majority of the characterization to be handed over to the human proxies (i.e., Sam Witwicky and the various vaguely people-like individuals hanging around him), while Prime, Megatron and the rest of the Autobots/Decepticons are comprised mostly of surface-level, good-versus-evil archetypes and various ethnic and cultural stereotypes, complete with catchphrases or quirks, 'Predacons Rising' is entirely reliant on the Transformers to guide the story. You might think this would require some kind of amalgam of the human characters and the robotic heroes of the live action films, and, in a sense, you'd be right.
In that regard, there are several familiar faces present in the 'Transformers Prime' series – even if their faces have been slightly altered from their original design – but the basic setup to the series is a core group of Autobots led by Optimus Prime (still voiced by Peter Cullen, thankfully) that consists of Ratchet, Arcee, Wheeljack, Smokescreen, Bulkhead, Ultra Magnus and, of course, Bumblebee – who takes on the role of nascent warrior and potential successor to Optimus. 'Predacons Rising' sees the group back on their home world of Cybertron, hoping to see it back to its former glory now that the eons-long war between the Autobots and Decepticons appears to have reached its conclusion with Bumblee's slaying of Megtron back on Earth. (It's assumed that these events occurred in the actual animated series, but for those, like me, who haven't seen any of it, there're plenty of flashbacks and exposition to get you caught up.)
At that point, the focus of 'Predacons Rising' becomes three – maybe fourfold: Prime is determined to get Cybertron up and running, but the wars have left it abandoned, and since none of the refugee Transformers have answered the call to return, it's up to the remaining Autobots to repopulate the supposedly barren planet. Now before you get any weird ideas, all Transfomer life comes from something call the Allspark, rather than…well, you know. Unfortunately, the Allspark is in some distant quadrant of the galaxy, so Prime heads off in search of that, while the other Autobots look for things to shoot. Meanwhile, back on Earth, Megatron is resurrected by the sprit of Unicron, so that he can one again rein chaos down on the mechanized world of the Transformers.
As luck would have it, Cybertron isn't nearly as deserted as the Autobots would believe. Two Decepticons, Starscream and Shockwave, have also taken up residence there and have begun cloning ancient Transformers known as – you guessed it! – Predacons. Concerns about cloning dead machines from their bones aside, the Predacons, led by the gigantic Predaking (how is this something I am actually typing?) are rather fearsome beasts who further defy the logic of Transformers by managing to grow ten times their robotic size when they take on the form of vaguely mythological (albeit, robotic) beasts.
Basically, these disparate robotic ideologies (Autobot, Decepticon, Predacon and the eternally cranky Unicron) wind up competing for the future of Cyberton and wind up making things eerily reminiscent of what made it such a crappy world in the first place – i.e., these damned robots won't stop shooting at one another! Frankly, it's all just a bit of history repeating itself, with the added information that apparently, before Transformers were cars and trucks and airplanes, they were giant, fire-breathing birds – which begs the question: What idiot decided turning into Honda Accord was a better look than giant, fire-breathing bird? The tragic and inadvertent lesson learned from 'Transformers Prime: Beast Hunters – Predacons Rising' is that the evolution of Transformers was horribly thought out, and possibly even completely backwards. If this trend continues, the next generation will turn into word processors, fax machines, and maybe a rotary phone.
In the end, none of it really makes any sense; this is a 66-minute fight scene running on the thinnest of plots. I bet if you asked the writers what everyone was fighting about they'd have to look at some notes, or simply read the synopsis on the back of the box to tell you. Yes, it's intended for younger audiences, but if we don't teach kids early on that stories should make sense and at least try to be good, they'll grow up and buy tickets to movies like 'Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen' and 'G.I. Joe: Retaliation,' thereby completing the circle of indifference.
But you still have to hand it to the writers: They start with an indistinct plot and just go with it, because the characters they're working with have lasted so long and endured so much in terms of repeatedly bottoming out in creative potholes that it's totally fine if they drive them around recklessly like a heavily insured rental car, right? That would certainly explain why the story culminates in a bizarre and incomprehensibly existential moment, which tries to combine sacrifice and forfeit, but only comes up with the kind of head-scratcher the Transformers franchise has sadly become known for.
So, if you're a Transformers fan (or just a child ages 5-12) who is looking for a slickly animated version of your favorite characters with semi-recognizable voices (Australian-born John Noble lends Unicron a strange, vaguely Irish-sounding accent) then 'Transformers Prime: Beast Hunters – Predacons Rising' is the perfect way to spend 66 mindless minutes.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
'Transformers Prime: Beast Hunters – Predacons Rising' is a two disc 25GB Blu-ray + DVD combo pack that comes in the standard slim keepcase. There are no previews and no settings available at the top menu.
As you might expect from a CGI cartoon, 'Transformers Prime: Beast Hunters – Predacons Rising' makes the most of its 1080p AVC/MPEG-4 codec by showing a clean animated feature that is as pristine as anything you could ever want. Sadly, it's also about as sterile and empty of life as the depths of space. Now most of this probably has to do with the aesthetics and color palette of the Transformers universe, but it also has to do with the style of animation (I recall 'Green Lantern: The Animated Series' having much the same issue – whether it's a problem or not, likely has to do with your tastes when it comes to color in animation).
As this style of animation is to produce a consistent product quickly, there typically isn't a whole lot in the way of intricate details or elaborate textures, and the backgrounds tend to be a single color. In terms of the image as it's presented here, though, those monochromatic backgrounds manage to be remarkably solid, with zero evidence of banding or other unwanted elements anywhere. In fact, the contrast levels here are so consistent that the image is able to create a relatively dark environment and still have plenty of easily recognizable figures stand against it, without being absorbed by the darkness, or looking like they're not a part of it.
And while there is a noticeable dearth of texture (most surfaces are incredibly flat and smooth), the animators have done a nice job in creating the angular shapes of these robots we've become so familiar with, and the closer the character gets to the screen, the more slight variations we see in his or her metallic structure. However, the detail tends to disappear completely in wider shots.
All in all, this is a good, but not great looking image. The picture is pristine, but borderline sterile and although images are recognizable through a darker palette, it would have been nice to see it brighten up a bit and focus more on capturing detail in every shot.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track is a lot like the image, in that it delivers everything it should, but seems to come up short because it is simply not given enough to do. For the most part, the sound is very clear, dialogue is easily understood and character voices are distinct. The same can be said for the sound effects, which readily bounce from channel to channel, giving a nice sense of atmosphere and using directionality to great effect. The only problem is, the moments in between these examples typically sound rather desolate and sometimes tinny – which actually isn't a pun considering what characters we're talking about.
Most of the time, the mix is able to combat this by filling the space with musical score, but that doesn't sound much better. The score here is slightly weak; it doesn't have the same energy as everything else, and it sounds as though it's struggling to keep pace with the action that is presented on-screen. If there were a weak link in this mix it would be the music, but combined with the occasionally sharp sounds of the effects, it tends to weaken the overall sound even more.
There are few surprises here regarding 'Transformers Prime: Beast Hunters – Predacons Rising.' It's simply a bit of product placement dressed up to look like entertainment. There's a certain amount of leeway given to products such as this that typically sounds like, "Enjoy it for what it is!" or "It's a kids movie, what'd'ya expect?" Anyone expecting greatness will surely be disappointed, but maybe more disappointing is the kind of uninspired and bland entertainment that's being passed off as intended for, or even suitable for children. It's by no means horrific, but if you can find something else for your kids to watch, you should do so. This one is for die-hard Transformers fans only.