Cartoon Network // 2008 // 88 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Appellate Judge Mac McEntire // April 7th, 2009
"Alien X! Seconded!"
New math: This disc is "Volume Three" of Ben 10 Alien Force, which concludes the show's first season, following four seasons of its predecessor Ben 10. Normally, I'd complain about getting only four episodes at a time instead of an only-slightly-less-expensive complete season release, but this show serves up so much well-crafted superhero excitement, I don't mind so much.
Fifteen-year-old Ben Tennyson (Yuri Lowenthal, Naruto) is the wearer of the Omnitrix, which allows him to transform into any one of 10 different aliens. Good thing, too, because he and his friends have stumbled onto an alien conspiracy that threatens the whole world. Joining Ben in his struggles are his energy-controlling cousin Gwen (Ashley Johnson, Phenom) and his metal-absorbing pal Kevin (Greg Cipes, Teen Titans).
This episode list emerged from the depths of space:
Suddenly the series becomes a Dr. Who pastiche -- not that I'm complaining -- when Ben and company meet a wayward time-traveling genius do-gooder, and even do a little decade-hopping themselves.
Side villains the Forever Knights believe they have developed a weapon to slay an unslayable dragon in their captivity. When the dragon escapes, Ben and friends are enlisted into an uneasy alliance with the knights to help find the monster.
* "Plumber's Helpers"
A pair of alien hunters set their sights on our heroes. But just who are these hunters, what is their real goal, and what have they done with others they have captured?
* "X = Ben + 2"
A kidnapping plot involving an alien princess comes to Earth, with an evil overlord threatening mass destruction. The stakes have never been higher, so Ben decides to turn into the mysterious Alien X for the first time. The results are not what anyone expected.
These days, most, if not all, science fiction fans are all about the realism. If there is any part of any speculative story that does not jibe with existing technology or known laws of physics, then every fan is on the Internet within seconds with cries of "fake!" or "impossible!" or much worse. Me, though? While I'm not against using real science or real tech as part of a story when appropriate, my personal favorite sci-fi tales are the far-out "What if?" variety, in which space is not an empty void populated only with lifeless rocks, but an endless source of mystery and wonder. Ben 10 Alien Force takes place at the heart of this "infinite possibilities" setting, and that's why Alien X is the show's most intriguing creation to date.
With a single wave of its hand, Alien X can alter all the laws of time and space to its whim, basically shaping reality itself into whatever it wants. That's the good news. The bad news is that, upon transforming into Alien X, Ben finds himself somewhere out in space, as part of a triumvirate of heavenly beings, who dictate Alien X's every move. Because the alien is so powerful, every one of its actions must be approved by a vote. Because the other two members cannot agree on anything, it's up to Ben to get them to see eye to eye so that Alien X can jump into action. Once again, Ben is in a position to use his wits to get out of a problem, rather than his various monstrous powers. Keep in mind that while all this is happening, Gwen and Kevin keep the action moving by duking it out with an alien bounty hunter and an army of lizard monsters. Now, none of this is "realistic" sci-fi, I know, but in the wider view of "speculative" sci-fi, it's absolutely brilliant, in that it posits outrageous concepts and ideas. That it does all this with light humor and colorful action makes the story all the better.
Aside from Alien X's big debut, how is the rest of the disc? "Paradox," with its sly take on Dr. Who, is a fun little time travel escapade with an interesting monster design for the antagonist. "Plumber's Helpers" is an action-intensive episode introducing two new characters. Fans already know that this episode lays ground for some huge reveals in the next season. "Be-Knighted" gives another look inside the world of the Forever Knights, the show's main Earth-bound baddies. It's another heroes-and-villains-have-to-work-together-against-a-common-enemy plot, and the dragon's origin is fairly predictable, but dragons are cool, so it's all good.
Video and audio on these releases continue to be stellar, with bright vivid colors and booming sound. The only extra is a short "Villains Database" featurette, which lays out the basics of some of the show's prominent bad guys.
The main invasion plotline, featuring the sinister Highbreed, barely appears in these four episodes. Sure, not every outing has to be arc-intensive, but the momentum of Ben and company's struggles with the Highbreed slows down after building so much in the previous two volumes.
Cartoon Network recently announced that the show is about to be retooled for a third time, allegedly with new episodes taking place with an even older Ben, and possibly having Ben's ten secret identities revealed to the world. Whether that will be a success remains to be seen of course, but for now, know that Ben 10 Alien Force is the best superhero show currently on TV, and this disc contains one of its finest episodes.
X = not guilty.
Review content copyright © 2009 Mac McEntire; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Cartoon Network
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 88 Minutes
Release Year: 2008
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Official Site
* Theme Song!