Case Number 23449


Shout! Factory // 2010 // 600 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Kent Dixon (Retired) // March 6th, 2012

The Charge

"My name is Optimus Prime and I send this message: though we did not choose to be of Earth, it would seem that we are here to stay. If you approach this planet with hostile intent, know this: we will defend ourselves, we will defend humanity, we will defend our home."

Opening Statement

Over the history of the Transformers intellectual property, there have been numerous interpretations of the concept and characters on the small screen. So how can Transformers Prime possibly offer anything new or interesting?

Facts of the Case

After battling each other for centuries, the intelligent cybernetic organisms of the planet Cybertron finally destroyed their own planet, but the war raged on. With the peace-loving Autobots on one side and the malevolent and destructive Decepticons on the other, the battle eventually found its way to Earth. Hopelessly outgunned and outnumbered, the Autobots strive to defend not only themselves, but the Earth and its people. Little do they know that some valuable brothers-in-arms and allies would come in such small and unexpected packages.

The Evidence

Transformers Prime: Season 1 marks the home video debut of the latest animated incarnation of the beloved '80s property. While much of the content and approach is familiar in a good way, this series takes a bold, new approach to a franchise that is now more than 25 years old.

All 26 episodes of the show's groundbreaking first season are now available for glorious HD home viewing with the release of Transformers Prime: Season 1, spread over four discs as follows:

Disc One
* "Darkness Rising, Part 1"
* "Darkness Rising, Part 2"
* "Darkness Rising, Part 3"
* "Darkness Rising, Part 4"
* "Darkness Rising, Part 5"
* "Masters and Students"
* "Scrapheap"

Disc Two
* "Con Job"
* "Convoy"
* "Deus Ex Machina"
* "Speed Metal"
* "Predatory"
* "Sick Mind"

Disc Three
* "Out of His Head"
* "Shadowzone"
* "Operation: Breakdown"
* "Crisscross"
* "Metal Attraction"
* "Rock Bottom"
* "Partners"

Disc Four
* "T.M.I."
* "Stronger, Faster"
* "One Shall Fall"
* "One Shall Rise, Part 1"
* "One Shall Rise, Part 2"
* "One Shall Rise, Part 3"

In late summer 2009, executive producer Jeff Kline met with writer/producer/wunderkind team Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci to discuss a new project: a brand new take on an animated Transformers series for TV. The show would need to be the most advanced CG animated series ever created, developed for the launch of a network called "The Hub" and best of all, Klein was given less than a year to make that happen. While he was immediately excited about the challenge, Klein quickly began to engage the key team that would be necessary to make such a project possible, if it even was possible at all. Klein brought industry vet Therese Trujillo on board as supervising animation producer and it was Trujillo's reputation, the power of the Transformers brand, and the opportunity to create something for a new generation of fans that secured Japan's Polygon Pictures as the animators for the series. With Transformers Prime slated to debut with the launch of The Hub network on October 10, 2010, the team behind the show had their work cut out for them. While artificial deadlines and rushed production could easily have spelled disaster for the new series featuring our beloved Bots and Cons, fortunately for fans, the tight timeframe generated a perfect storm of creative energy that resulted in what might be the best TV series of the Transformers ever created.

What director Michael Bay seems to have forgotten is that there is more to storytelling than deafening your audience with explosions and blinding them with a non-stop barrage of CG wizardry. Granted, the Transformers film franchise has done exceptionally well by box office standards, so much so that a fourth feature film has recently been announced. But for many fans of the Transformers brand and its TV and film versions , a great show or film needs to be grounded in solid writing and characterization. Unusual for an animated series such as Transformers Prime, the series has boasted a full-time writing team from the moment it began, and their presence is definitely felt in every episode. From the first episode, it became easy to engage with the characters, rooting for the heroes and booing the villains, feeling invested in their actions and choices at every turn. Nothing will lose viewers faster than bad writing, especially when it comes to beloved characters with rich back stories and traits that were familiar to fans before the series aired. There is love and respect evident in this series, both for the characters and the fans, creating a level of loyalty and engagement that is rare in animated TV fare these days. Another interesting element in the show's development was the choice to include three teenaged characters who quickly bonded with the Autobots and, surprisingly, added their humanity and unique skills to the team. It's easy to believe in these characters and their motivations, making it hard to believe at times that this is "just" an animated series.

Always close on the heels of strong writing on any series is the skill of the actors who are not just reciting words from a page, but bringing life to characters that would otherwise have very little to offer. Transformers Prime marks an historic event for Transformers fans, as the series features not only veteran voice actor Peter Cullen returning as the iconic voice of Autobot leader Optimus Prime, but also the long-awaited return of actor Frank Welker as the voice of Decepticon leader Megatron. Welker was not chosen to voice Megatron in the film franchise and for many fans, this was disappointing. Anchored firmly by Cullen and Welker, the voice cast is fleshed out by skilled voice actors Steve Blum (Wolverine and the X-Men), Jeffrey Combs (Star Trek: Deep Space Nine), Sumalee Montano (Minority Report), Kevin Michael Richardson (The Cleveland Show), Gina Torres (Firefly) and a host of others. The acting caliber of the series is high, creating realism and elevating the production to a level that is relatively unusual for a contemporary animated series.

In a word, Transformers Prime: Season 1 is breathtaking. The producers set out to create something special that was cinematic, treating the material more as live action than a traditional CG animated series, and they succeeded in spades! While CG animation in film is generally of the highest caliber, CG on TV doesn't always fare as well. Groundbreaking series like Reboot may stand out from the crowd, but computer animation on the small screen has been generally unremarkable until more recently. From the scuffs and scrapes on robot surfaces to cloth textures, gorgeous vistas, lens flares, and even dust particles lazily floating past, the animation throughout every episode is completely immersive. Even facial animation, that can often be either too realistic or painfully artificial, is spot on, making it easy to grasp the character's emotions and engage with them beyond mere cartoons. The look of the show is certainly stylized and never seems photo-realistic, but there are enough real-world elements included that the visuals are always comfortable and somehow familiar.

Possibly one of the biggest surprises in Transformers Prime is the soundtrack. Using a full orchestra, which is rare for a TV series of any kind and even more rare for animation, award-winning composer/producer/conductor Brian Tyler immediately creates a musical style for the show that rises to the challenge of the series' ambitious cinematic look and feel, supporting the action, expanding the emotion, and creating a new theme for the series that is both evocative of previous music created for the Transformers brand and also delivers something fresh and unique for the new series.

With the release of Transformers Prime: Season 1 on Blu-ray, fans now have the opportunity to experience the look and feel of the series as the producers intended. The high definition 1.78:1/1080p widescreen transfer is vibrant, sharp, and unbelievably detailed, and the Dolby 5.1 Surround mix perfectly balances dialogue, music and atmospheric effects, delivering an immersive audio presentation.

While seemingly short and sweet on the surface, the extra features included with this set are well above average. Billed as a "limited edition" set, the four-disc case comes in a slip cover that also includes a mini graphic novel that is beautifully illustrated, telling a story that leads seamlessly into the first episode of the series. Disc four includes all the disc-based extras: an 11-minute "Making of Transformers Prime" feature that packs a ton of information and wastes no time on fluff and filler; the 16-minute "Toy Featurette" takes a look at the franchise and the new series from Hasbro's perspective, as they seek to assist the producers while maintaining the integrity of their valued brand; a short but impactful preview of Season Two; and last but definitely not least, the set features cast and production team commentaries on an impressive fifteen episodes, that are packed with information and details on the series that fans are sure to love.

Closing Statement

While the Transformers brand may have begun its life somewhat modestly more than 25 years ago as a toy line, it quickly exploded into a worldwide phenomenon that includes a feature film franchise, multiple animated TV series, video games, books, toys, puzzles, and a whole host of other products. This new series has set the bar very high, not only for future CG animated TV productions, but also for its own franchise, and the release of Transformers Prime: Season 1 adds a "must buy" to the list of any fan of either the series or animation in general.

The Verdict

Transform and roll out!

Review content copyright © 2012 Kent Dixon; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2016 HipClick Designs LLC

Scales of Justice
Video: 100
Audio: 100
Extras: 100
Acting: 100
Story: 100
Judgment: 100

Special Commendations
* Top 100 Discs: #5
* Top 100 Films: #11

Perp Profile
Studio: Shout! Factory
Video Formats:
* 1.78:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)

Audio Formats:
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)

* None

Running Time: 600 Minutes
Release Year: 2010
MPAA Rating: Not Rated

Distinguishing Marks
* Episode Commentaries
* Featurettes

* IMDb

* Official Site