[SPOILER ALERT!] If you haven’t watched the five part Transformers: Prime story “Darkness Rising” and you happen to be into the whole robots in disguise thing, well, you may not want to read this yet. Plot points will be discussed that can be considered all spoilery and stuff. Consider yourself warned.
Here we go.
According to Google Analytics, my blog attracts a decent amount of traffic from people who read my posts about conventions, food, travelling and other nick nacks of personal knowledge. The one topic that seems to work as a lightning rod to attract a pretty hefty number of clicks, though, is the fictional(?) war between the heroic Autobots and the evil Decepticons.
That’s right: I’m a Transformers geek.
My friend Joey Snackpants (and occasional guest host Tentacle Chris) and I present the (in)famous event “DARE! The Transformers Panel Ultimate” at a number of popular fan conventions. Thus, I try to stay up to date on the new shows that get churned out every couple of years.
This time around, Hasbro hooked up with The Discovery Channel to create a new cable station called “The Hub“. In a move reminiscent of the UPN/Star Trek: Voyager days – Hasbro took their flagship property and created an exclusive new show for their new television station:
Here, in no particular order, are the elements I took note of while watching the show. In true Interwebz fashion, I’ve labelled each with a “WIN,” “FAIL,” or “HUH?”. (The last one being not a good or bad observation; just an observation of interest.)
[WIN] THE WRITING
In the “DARE!” panel, we often remind some of the more ravenous fanboys that they remember their beloved childhood cartoons through rose colored glasses. The Autobots were the good guys; the Decepticons were the bad guys; and much of the story was guilty pleasure flavored cheese. There’s nothing wrong with that. Good cheesy writing is still good writing – just don’t look too deep for any substance beyond what’s there. Regardless of what a bunch of thirty-something year olds would have you believe, Transformers is a designed to be a kid’s cartoon.
That’s okay, though, because I love watching it with my “kid glasses” on.
In the original series, Spike and his dad were befriended by Optimus and the Autobots during a Decepticon attack in the ocean where they swam to safety. That’s right: Optimus Prime could swim. And surf.
But I digress… In Transformers: Prime, the writers did a great job of justifying story elements instead of just making them happen. How do the Autobots get saddled with three kids? The Decepticon drones see anyone allied with the ‘Bots as a potential threat who must be exterminated; they’re not in the business of trying to distinguish between robot and human for the sake of saving the human race. They’re the bad guys. (Duh!) Thus Arcee, Bulkhead and Bumblebee are assigned to protect the children who are now in harm’s way BECAUSE of the Autobots.
Kudos to the writing team.
[WIN] THE DIALOG
The best writing for children’s entertainment effectively balances storytelling that also caters to adults who are watching along. Just ask Pixar.
The dialog in the show is clever in two fronts. FIRST: There are lines that refer to adult topics and pop culture elements that kids might miss.
The first rule about robot fight club is that you don’t talk about robot fight club -Jack Darby
The series is peppered with a number of little nuggets thrown in there from time to time. Ten year olds aren’t going to necessarily giggle at the quote’s reference to a violent film about multiple personalities and soap – but parents and thirty-something year old fanboys will.
Writing bonus points go out, too, for the chuckle-worthy use of “scrap” as a Transformers swear word.
SECOND: There is a lot of fanboy placation going on in the show. Transformers Animated did this, too, but Transformers: Prime gets to do it with heavier guns in the form of the voice actors.
One shall stand. One shall fall. -Optimus Prime
Nope, I’m note quoting the awesometastic eighties cartoon movie; nor and I referencing Bayformers. That’s a quote from the fifth episode of Transformers: Prime.
[WIN, WIN and (did I mention?) WIN] THE VOICES
Peter Cullen is Optimus Prime.
Frank Welker is Megatron.
AND THEY BOTH SOUND AMAZING. Mr. Cullen could read a phone book with that intimidating bass in his voice and I am pretty sure he would keep a packed room captivated.
The other performances are all solid, too. Special kudos should go out to Steve Blum for creating an effective combination in the whiny/devious tone of Starscream’s performance.
Which leads me to:
Cliffjumper was only in the first couple of episodes, but he SOUNDED familiar. By the end of the five part mini-series though, I was still on a Cullen/Welker high so I never noticed who did the voice acting.
Once I looked it up, it all made sense: the grabbing of the horns comments; the bravado of a man ready for a fight; the sheer personality just oozing out of the larger than life attitude.
Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson was the voice of Cliffjumper. Old school wrestling fans who watch the episodes should enjoy remembering The Rock’s logo and the connection to the character. Check out the tattoo on his arm:
When did Bumblebee become the astromech droid of the Transformers universe? I’m not to sure how I feel about the beeping voice thingy they are doing with him.
[FAIL... MOSTLY] ANIMATION
In a sure sign that age is catching up with me, I really miss old fashion animation. Transformers: Prime would have, in my opinion, been better if it were a cartoon. Instead, the powers that be opted to go with computer animation.
The problem with computer animation in today’s age is that George Lucas put his McMillions of dollars into making Star Wars: The Clones Wars on Cartoon Network. That series is REALLY REALLY PRETTY and, as a result, any CGI television show is immediately going to be compared to it.
The animation in Transformers: Prime really bothered me for the first two episodes. By the third, though, I no longer noticed it. I became used to it.
Being used to something and liking something, though, are two different things. To the show’s credit the animation is watchable and has some great looking moments (usually NOT involving the human characters) Also, it’s nowhere near the level of headache inducing visuals that Beast Wars was.
Beast Wars sucks -Tom Croom
Just a reminder.
With that all said, I understand why it’s computer animated. It makes the robots looks cool; kids today, they love the computer animated stuff; and it links the series closer to the look of the Bayformers movie. There’s some solid work in the character design. This old man just misses his childhood cartoons that were “cartoons”.
[HUH?] THE AUTOBOT BASE
I like the moving of the Autobots away from Detroit (one of less than stellar decisions in Transformers: Animated) and into Arizona. That said, how the hell did they score Airwolf‘s old hiding spot?
I’ll be watching for a heavily armed black helicopter to appear in future episodes. Cool points shall be earned by the production staff if the damn thing turns into a robot.
[WIN] NO ORIGIN STORY
If you’ve ever talked to my pal Joey Snackpants about the LONG list of things that annoy him in storytelling then you know that one of the main elements of his frustration is the constant need for writers to feel like they are required to feed an audience an origin story. How many different ways do you need hear about how Batman became Batman? With comics, cartoons and movies the tale has been told a dozen times.
If you don’t it know by now, reference one of the numerous previous works to learn the story.
Transformers: Prime immediately passes go and collects the $200. How did the Autobots get stuck on Earth in Transformers: Prime? WHO CARES? We’re never told. We don’t need to know. We’re told only what is required to move the story forward:
-There are only a few Autobots on Earth.
-The Decepticons have been off the radar for a few years.
-The government knows about the Transformers.
No long, drawn out episodes retelling the story; just smart dialog and scenes to move the narrative along while educating the viewer about the mythology. Great move.
[WIN] MEGATRON’S GUN
For those of you that have been to a “DARE!” panel you know that my number one complaint that could have EASILY been fixed in the Michael Bay versions of Transformers was the lack of a B.F.G. on Megatron’s arm.
How hard would it have been to just slap a giant gun on top of Megatron’s space jet mode? I, mean, it’s an alien vehicle so it could look like anything -me bitching during DARE! The Transformers Panel Ultimate
I think someone from the Transformers: Prime production team must have sat in one of the panels.
MEGATRON HAS A BIG F***ING GUN ON THE TOP OF HIS JET MODE THAT RESTS ON HIS ARM IN ROBOT MODE IN TRANSFORMERS: PRIME.
Pay attention, Mr. Bay. You could learn from this show.
[HUH?] BATTLESTAR DECEPTICONS
So, if the Decepticon drones are Cylons – does this mean we get a hot blonde character and Al from Quantum Leap in later episodes?
In case you missed it, look at the the Decepticon drone’s faces and look at the modern Battlestar Galactica series. This is either a clever nod to a fellow science fiction franchise or just the lazy borrowing of another show’s character design. I’d prefer to think it’s the first one.
[HUH?] EVA UNIT 01
Since we’re on the topic of character design – is it me, or does Soundwave look like a mech from Neon Genesis Evangelion?
[HUH?] DECEPTICON ZOMBIES
“The Simpsons Already Did It.”
Okay – not the Simpsons, but the Decepticons have created a zombie army before. In Transformers: Masterforce (never aired in America) the ‘Cons reanimated a bunch of human corpses as a makeshift army in their unending need to wreak havoc on Earth. The zombies all wore Decepticon logo t-shirts. I’ve joked for YEARS about doing an obscure costume of this at a convention. My friend Lyn beat me to it and recently wore the shirt for our “DARE!” panel at Anime Weekend Atlanta 2010.
So it seems that the Transformers are jumping on the zombie bandwagon, too. I’ll keep an eye out for the episode titled “The Walking Robotic Dead” to air on AMC.
This could very well be the best Transformers series to get churned out of the Hasbo universe since G1. It’s following all the elements of the formula that worked in the eighties:
-The Autobots are the good guys.
-The Decepticons are the bad guys.
-Optimus Prime is the leader (and not working on some scavenger ship or something.)
-Peter Cullen and Frank Welker are the voices.
-The robots turn into cars and planes and stuff and they’re IN DISGUISE.
I’ll be tuning back in to The Hub in February. Let’s hope the series stays as good as these first five episodes.