Monday, November 29, 2010

Review: Beast Machines - Transformers: The Complete Series

The new series Transformers Prime officially premiered on The Hub (formerly Discovery Kids) in November 2010, and advance hype for the series used such buzzwords as "groundbreaking," "cutting edge," and "epic." Hasbro also described the show as an "intense... drama" with "heavy metal action" and "nail-biting suspense." Time will tell whether the series genuinely delivers such a big bag of promises, but I'll grant it's been entertaining so far. I'll review the 5-part mini-series event once the other three episodes have aired.

In the meantime, I thought I'd take a look back at an earlier Transformers' series which delivered all of the above in what I believe to be the most unique series in TF history since the original "Generation 1" (or "G1", as the fans call it) animated series first premiered back in 1984: Beast Machines, the continuation of the fan-favorite Beast Wars saga which helped to revive the Transformers franchise in the 90s.

This is one of my capsule reviews I pulled from Netflix after they dumped their community features. I might expand this review later with individual episode reviews, but the following is an opinion I find myself repeating often on Transformers fan forums -- trying to persuade both passive and devoted G1 fans to at least give the series a try. So many fans have dismissed it and even criticize it openly without having watched it, and some outright refuse to watch it which I find a little ridiculous. Like the saying goes, "Don't knock it until you've tried it."

Beast Machines - Transformers: The Complete Series (1999) **** out of 5 asterisks
Produced by Hasbro/YTV/Mainframe Entertainment
Voice Cast: Garry Chalk, David Kaye, Scott McNeil, Ian James Corlett, Venus Terzo

You'll find mixed opinions on this series among Transformers fans, and unfortunately they tend to be largely negative. But as both a Transformers fan and long-time animation critic, I believe this series to be a shining example of great storytelling and characterization, and also possibly the darkest cartoon series ever produced for kids. It was, in fact, the most adult show I've ever seen made for kids as it included rich character development, philosophical themes, an overall dark tone, and it's an all-around high-quality production in terms of the voice cast, writing, and animation.

While there were elements of the show I didn't care for -- like the annoyance of Nightscream (TF's first emo character), a transforming flower (I'm not kidding!), and an ending that left my inner child dissatisfied and disappointed -- this series still captured my attention and kept me in eager anticipation all the way to the end. If you're a hardcore Transformers fan (aka "G1-er") AND you're a nitpicker, you probably won't like it. But I believe if you watch it as I did with an open mind as a stand-alone series, you'll find it epically entertaining. And even a decade later the CG animation still holds up too.

I've read many fan opinions on Beast Machines, and the other most common complaint (besides something in Cybertron's past that, to reveal it here, would spoil a major plot point for those who haven't seen the series) is that fans felt betrayed and confused that just within the first few minutes of its premiere Beast Machines changed... nay, challenged, revolutionized and even shattered EVERYTHING fans loved about Beast Wars. After all, the show's epic third season was incredible and a very tough act to follow.

And initially I dismissed Beast Machines for the very same reasons.

But then years later I found the DVD box set pre-owned for $12. Even though I didn't like what I'd seen of the show, it was too good of a deal to pass up. So I decided to give the series another chance, and this time try to view it objectively as if it were some sort of "Elseworlds" alternate-universe story that was connected to Transformers by name only.

And I was pleasantly surprised to find that -- despite its flaws and my fanboy tendency to nitpick -- it was really entertaining. I hope that other Transformers fans do too. If you can look beyond what fans have long perceived to be the series' core continuity problems, inconsistencies and character flaws, you might just be able to see the series for its compelling storyline, deep character development and overall entertainment value.

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