Rhino // 1986 // 390 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Adam Arseneau (Retired) // August 4th, 2004
More than meets the eye!
From the first opening bars of the Transformers theme song, with its synth-drum pounding, a smile is guaranteed to be plastered on even the most cynical of faces. For many, this show was the singular reason to get up on Saturday mornings, jump around on the couch and eat sugared cereal, or to come running home from school at frantic speed, He-Man or She-Ra lunchbox in hand. If ever a cartoon helped define a generation of pop-culture freaks, Transformers was it. Not a bad accomplishment for a cartoon designed to sell toys to hyperactive kids with short attention spans.
The final box set in this successful Rhino DVD series, Transformers: Season Three, Part Two & Season Four rounds off an outstanding collection from one of the most influential and memorable cartoons ever made. Spread over a handsome three discs, this DVD set contains the second half of the third season and the complete (albeit incredibly short) fourth season.
Galvatron, the mentally unstable upgrade of Megatron, continues his assault against the struggling new leader of the Autobots, Rodimus Prime, who is still coming to grips with his new responsibilities. As the war continues, however, both sides will come together in the face of greater threats -- from Starscream's ghost trying to revive Unicron, the planet-killer, to the Quintessons, the multifaced robotic villains who created the Autobots and Decepticons eons ago and plot endlessly to re-enslave the robotic races. Soon, both sides are forced to address an outbreak of spores that spread pure hatred across the galaxy. When almost all the Autobots and Decepticons are infected with the space plague, the only one who can save the galaxy from destruction is a reborn Optimus Prime, who must struggle against an infected Rodimus Prime in order to reclaim his position as ruler of the Autobots...as well as save the universe itself!
The seventeen episodes featured on this disc are:
* Ghost in the Machine
* Dweller in the Depths
* Nightmare Planet
* The Ultimate Weapon
* The Big Broadcast of 2006
* The Quintesson Journal
* Only Human
* Call of the Primitives
* Grimlock's New Brain
* Money Is Everything
* The Face of Nijika
* The Burden Hardest To Bear
* The Return Of Optimus Prime, Part One
* The Return Of Optimus Prime, Part Two
* Rebirth, Part One
* Rebirth, Part Two
* Rebirth, Part Three
If, for some insane reason, you said you've have never heard of Transformers -- either the toys, or the cartoon, or the pop-culture references, I would probably call you a filthy liar, bust down your door, hurl open the door of your linen closet, and pull out your Optimus Prime bed sheets that you keep hidden. But on the off chance you were telling the truth...well, I would owe you an apology (and probably a door or two).
These DVDs constitute what fans call the "first generation" of the Transformers TV show. In the early nineties, Hasbro attempted to re-release the series into the market with updated CGI effects and a spanking-new toy line. While this follow-up enjoyed brief success on television, Rhino has wisely preserved the original versions of the show on DVD, which most fans find preferable. Really, it is the little touches that matter -- like the inclusion of the original promotional commercial messages before and after each commercial break, and the talent files that would follow each broadcast episode. These are the things that make this DVD so nice. This DVD even preserves the original airing order of the episodes (which aired out of chronological order for some reason). For those of us who grew up watching this show, owning the toys and the clothes and trying to duplicate the strange metallic accents of robots, each disc is a time machine that can take us back twenty years: back to a time when Saturday morning was a time devoted solely to us -- the only time a kid could find television programming geared entirely to his interests; back to a time when our classmates walked around in pastel clothing, humming the opening bars to "The Touch" (from the Transformers movie). These were happy, happy times, my friends.
The fourth season (really, just a convoluted three-part episode special) is a satisfying ending on top of an already good ending, like a second dessert course at a gourmet restaurant. With the finale of the third season, the awesome "Return of Optimus Prime," the show ended on a high point; but of course, there were more toys to sell. The epic "Rebirth" finale goes all out with an apocalyptic, action-packed battle sequence, and expands the Transformer universe with Headmasters and Targetmasters, representing the final cumulative step towards Transformer and human (err...Nebulon) integration. This was really the final step for the show to take, the final chip to cash in, something the show seemed to be working towards since the beginning.
To me, one of the best parts of Transformers is the way the show kept trying to top itself, with ideas far beyond the limits of its animators and toy designers. Every season (sometimes every episode), Transformers would constantly expand its universe in new and daring directions, with new characters, entire new classes of Transformers, and robots that would join up in classic Japanese robot fashion and form gigantic super-robots. Only the hardest of the hardcore fans could keep up with the hundreds of characters and toy references throughout the run of Transformers and not get immensely confused.
Rediscovering the show at an older age is a sublime and illuminating experience, because one suddenly notices all the things you never picked up on as a child -- like the ridiculously implausible transforming physics (where does Optimus Prime's truck trailer go to when he transforms into robot mode?), or entire paragraphs of dialogue that resist all rationalization or logical comprehension. One notices the shockingly embarrassing re-use of animations over and over, robots changing color halfway through a battle, or the four or five voice actors who acted out the entire show, each doing the voices for seven or eight robots per episode each. And of course, my personal favorite: one snickers at the ridiculous laser cannons each Transformer carries that, despite their relative size or shape, made the exact same noise, destroyed a fantastic amount of ground, building, landscape or assorted background, and yet, would merely knock an enemy robot to the ground with nary a scratch.
I admit, I haven't sat down and watched full episodes of Transformers in quite a few years, and I was surprised to rediscover that the show doesn't make a lick of frickin' sense. Bring on the hate mail from the diehard fans, but this is undeniably true, and you all know it. This brought on some serious soul searching: did any of this make sense to me as a young child, or was I simply too enamored to know better? Was I somehow smarter then?
I remember my parents would try and watch Transformers when I was a kid, probably because I would throw weekly hissy fits in the toy stores trying to expand my collection. So, they would sit down with me and try to watch the show with their children, to see what the fuss was about. I remember vividly their befuddled expressions, their pursed lips, and the lackadaisical, glossy look in their eyes as they tried vainly to comprehend the epileptic pacing of the show week after week. Now, suddenly, as a twenty-something fellow, I feel like I owe my parents a belated apology.
Okay, not really. I admit; I exaggerate. My parents are lame, while I am an über-hipster and always will be -- take that, old age! So while the show never made sense in the traditional, narrative fashion, it takes almost no effort to open up the repressed child within and suspend all disbelief by tapping into the long-stored nostalgic entertainment value of the show. This is easier to do than you may think -- after all, I have never (ever) met a person my age, boy or girl, who didn't enjoy the Transformers at some point in his or her life. And after five minutes, these DVDs will have the old memories and excited feelings pumping through like Energon inside your robotic frames. As the show progresses, the plotlines become more convoluted and abstract, the animation becomes stranger and more complex, the cast of characters expands exponentially, and a skirmish based on Earth soon spreads into the farthest reaches of the galaxy, with battles of epic proportions and robots the size of planets. They simply don't make cartoons like this anymore.
If you haven't seen any Autobot or Decepticon action in a solid twenty years, you will be surprised how well the show has held up...at first. Rhino has worked hard restoring the show from its original 35mm film source material, and it shows...some of the time. Overall, Transformers looks good on DVD, but the problem lies in the source material, which is sketchy at best. Transformers, groundbreaking as it was, was wildly (often hilariously) inconsistent in terms of its animation quality. Any episode taken at a random cross-section will reuse the same music, sound effects, voice actors, and animation segments time and time again, and switch seamlessly between breathtakingly sharp and crisp film clarity to atrociously damaged stock footage. Suffice it to say, the transfer quality depends on the particular animation sequence at hand. When the show looks good, it looks very good, with deep rich colors, clean black lines, and a pleasant clarity and cleanness to the transfer. When the show looks bad, it looks scratched, grainy, old, tired, washed out, and incredibly jerky, like a drunken man was working the animation feeder. It almost looks like Rhino chose to restore certain sequences, and then completely ignored others. Black levels are well represented, though at times an unfortunate level of jagged edges permeates the image, which, with the constant motion onscreen, can be quite distracting. However, this problem plagues many animation shows on DVD, and much worse than can be seen elsewhere. Frankly, the odds of the show looking this good ever again is slim to none. Chances are, in your memories alone will the show ever look better.
Rhino has also been gracious enough to provide three distinct audio tracks for your enjoyment, which virtually guarantees that no matter which you choose, things will sound nice. The Dolby Surround 5.1 mix is the obvious choice for most, but at times seems strangely peculiar, as most old shows that receive the 5.1 remix process often do. The surround track sounds strong, fleshed out, and very loud, with aggressive bass response, decent utilization of the rear channels (primarily for music and sound effects) and dialogue mixing. The Dolby Digital 2.0 channel is quieter, more restrained, less bass-heavy, and more conservative in the audio mixing, but probably sounds closer to the original source material for purists. The third track, the original broadcast mono soundtrack, is preserved for posterity, which is nice for nostalgia's sake; but odds are, you won't find yourself listening to it, as it is incredibly quiet, tinny, scratchy, and feeble-sounding.
Not much in the way of extras compared to past seasons, unfortunately. A 20-minute interview with "Rebirth" writer David Wise gives us amusing insight into the writing process of a television show designed to sell toys, and the compromise between artistic integrity and just having a lot of fun. The other feature is wishy-washy; a version of the "Rebirth" trilogy edited together as a single feature, with no commercial breaks or recaps. The only other extra of note, as in previous sets, are two "classic collectable cels," which are fairly stylish transparent reproductions of the original animation cells. What you get is a total random draw -- me, I like my cel of an infected Rodimus Prime sticking a welder in a chrome Optimus Prime's face. Rock on.
Problems with this DVD set? Few and far between, but cost could conceivably be a factor. At an MSRP of $59.95 per set, five of these bad boys would constitute a serious investment. Plus, this last set is much shorter than previous four-disc sets, so you get less bang for your DVD buck. Of course, the point is moot for diehard fans. If you've come this far, what's another 60 bucks to cap off your collection?
It is possible to resist the nostalgic charm of Transformers? Maybe, if you are unable to afford the DVDs that bear their name. But good things come to those who spend a crapload of money, and if you can swing it, this DVD will cap off your fantastic DVD collection of one of the coolest cartoons ever made. If you've come this far in your Transformers DVD purchases, let's face it -- this review has largely been a waste of your time. You know you want it.
"Oh no...Bear is driving! How can that be?"
Review content copyright © 2004 Adam Arseneau; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2015 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (English)
Running Time: 390 Minutes
Release Year: 1986
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Interview with Writer David Wise
* "As-aired" Version of "Rebirth Trilogy"
* Two Classic Collectable Cels
* Ben's World of Transformers