Shout! Factory // 2012 // 600 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Clark Douglas // November 28th, 2012
As the season begins, the Autobots are in disarray. Optimus Prime (Peter Cullen, Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen) has lost all of his memories, and finds himself working for the Decepticons as a result. It's up to Autobots Ratchet (Jeffrey Combs, Re-Animator), Bumblebee, Arcee (Sumalee Montano, Superman vs. the Elite) and Bulkhead (Kevin Michael Richardson, The Matrix Revolutions) to find a solution. If the team can complete that mission, they'll soon be tasked with collecting a series of valuable ancient relics before Megatron (Frank Welker, Scooby-Doo, Where Are You!) and the rest of the Decepticons can get to them.
To say that I'm not a fan of Michael Bay's take on the Transformers franchise is a massive understatement. Since 2007, Bay has produced 2 1/2 genuinely execrable films (the second half of Transformers: Dark of the Moon is admittedly pretty fun stuff, but it's hardly worth sitting through the rest of the franchise to get there). As such, I wasn't particularly interested in the idea of an animated television show directly tied to the film franchise, especially since the films themselves were already juvenile enough. It's a delightful surprise, then, to discover that Transformers: Prime is not only superior to the Bay films, but a representation of everything that the big-screen movies should have been.
It's almost alarming to consider how many things Transformers: Prime gets right that the films got wrong. First and foremost, it places the attention precisely where it should be: on the title characters. Yes, there are teenage human sidekicks who help out here and there, but the show never loses sight of the fact that its primary purpose is to dramatize the ongoing conflict between the Autobots and the Decepticons. There are moments of humor, but most of them are actually quite charming (in contrast to the agonizingly clunky, crude gags Bay leans on). The action sequences are dynamic and involving. The plotting emphasizes smart, emotionally-involving, long-arc storytelling (arguably even moreso that Star Wars: The Clone Wars). Man, this is good stuff.
Another key virtue is that the voice cast is consistently strong. For all the ups and downs of the franchise, there are few greater pleasures in life than hearing Peter Cullen voice Optimus Prime. His deep, commanding vocal performance has never been better; it's such a joy to hear such a fine voice actor playing the role he was born to play. It's also a delight to have Frank Welker back in the role of Megatron (he played the role in the original animated series, but was demoted to playing less significant parts in the movies). While it's no surprise that these two old pros do a fine job, they're matched by Jeffrey Combs' turn at Ratchet. Combs' quivering, endlessly inventive take on the character is fantastic; he's an inspired choice.
The quality level hasn't really shifted much from season one to season two, as both are exceptional efforts only hampered by minor weaknesses. Part of the first half of season one suffered from an abundance of relatively insignificant "incident of the week" episodes that did little to move the overall story forward. That's less of a problem this time around, though there are times when it seems as if the series is a bit too eager to sacrifice the more character-driven material (which is consistently stellar) in favor of delivering yet another fight sequence. I realize that each individual episode needs to contain a certain action quotient to keep the kids satisfied, but that need can become just a bit wearisome when you're plowing through the season in a marathon viewing session. Still, if "too much robot-punching" is your biggest problem, you're in pretty good shape.
Transformers Prime: Season Two (Blu-ray) has received a solid 1080p/1.78:1 transfer that highlights the show's above-average animation. While I'm not entirely crazy about all of the character design choices (more or less taken from the Bay films), the Transformers consistently look fantastic and impressively detailed. The humans, on the other hand, tend to look pretty simple and cartoon-y. It causes a bit of a disconnect at times, but overall it reaches a level of quality few CG animated shows can touch (the aforementioned The Clone Wars show is the only thing that springs to mind). Depth is impressive, blacks are deep and colors have a lot of pop, though banding is a noticeable issue throughout. The DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio track packs an impressive punch, delivering the energetic sound design and robust orchestral score with vigor. Dialogue is clean and rich throughout, too. While the first season was packed with bonus features, this second set is limited to two brief-but-worthwhile pieces: a featurette entitled "A Look Back at Season Two" (23 minutes) and a half-hour interview with Peter Cullen conducted by Larry King.
Roll on, Autobots!
Review content copyright © 2012 Clark Douglas; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Shout! Factory
* 1.78:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio (English)
* PCM 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 600 Minutes
Release Year: 2012
MPAA Rating: Not Rated