In the battle between good and evil, Judge Victor Valdivia chooses the side that requires the least amount of effort.
Our review of Beast Wars: Transformers: The Complete Second Season, published July 15th, 2004, is also available.
Since time immemorial, a battle has raged. One that shapes a world and changes a universe. It is the defining battle of a time and place that never ends: the battle between Twelve-Year-Old-Inner-Victor and Rational-Sensible-Grown-Up-Victor. It has found its epicenter with this DVD release, Beast Wars: Transformers: The Complete Series.
Facts of the Case
Centuries after the events of the original series, The Transformers, Optimus Primal (Garry Chalke, The Killing), leader of a group of Maximals, and Megatron (David Kaye, G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero), who leads the sinister Predacons, all enter a strange space and time warp and crash-land on a mysterious planet where the crystal fuel source Energon is so prevalent that it threatens to destroy them. So both Maximals and Predacons transform into animal forms to protect themselves, only assuming robot form to do battle as they fight to decide who will control the planet and possibly return to their own time and place. This eight-disc set compiles all fifty-four episodes that make up the series' three seasons.
Twelve-Year-Old Victor: You will never defeat me! (dramatic sting) Never! I am unkillable! No matter how hard you try, you will never stop being ruled by me!
Rational Victor: Still (dramatic pause) I will never stop trying! Take this DVD collection. I'm sure you want me to give it a positive review because it looks cool and has cool robots. But really, the writing is uneven, the stories are sometimes rather hackneyed, and the voice acting is generally one-dimensional. It's not really that good, and I say this as someone who doesn't know anything about the whole Transformers saga but was at least willing to give it chance. (Bash!)
Twelve-Year-Old Victor: You're a fool! A foolish fool! (explosion!) Sure, the computer animation looks rather clunky by today's Pixar (or even DreamWorks) standards, but it's still colorful and neat. And come on, giant robot spiders and scorpions? Giant robot dinosaurs? That's totally worth getting this DVD set for and you know it! (flash of lightning and crack of thunder)
Rational Victor: But the premise doesn't even make sense. First of all, when the robots transform into animal shapes, are they really turning into actual animals or are they just robots with animal shapes? The series says both things at different times, making the whole point moot. Furthermore, why is that the Maximals chose such lame animals to transform into? Optimus Primal is a gorilla, Rhinox is a Rhino, and Rattrap is…a rat. That's not cool even in robot form. Hell, especially in robot form. Meanwhile, the Predacons, who are way smarter, chose insects and dinosaurs, because those are animals that can actually do some damage. I like to think that I'm fighting the forces of evil, but if I could transform into an animal I would choose something totally brutal, like a shark or a snake. Because, seriously, a rat? (shaking head violently!)
Twelve-Year-Old Victor: Now you're just being a jackass! (Blam!) Okay, so the Season One episodes are generally run-of-the-mill kids' stuff, but by the second season, there was some attempt at character development! What about "Code of Hero," where Predacon-turned-Maximal Dinobot faces down his former comrades all by himself? Or "Transmutate," when the two sides fight over a primitive but dangerous robot that ends up being more complex than it initially seemed? Those are better than average, you have to admit! (Ka-pow!)
Rational Victor: Okay, I'll concede that those episodes are better written and directed than some of the Season One episodes, which are mostly just forgettable one-shots. Even then, they still aren't all that great. The characters are still pretty hackneyed. Cheetor is a whiny punk who thinks he's a hotshot but ends up getting in trouble a lot. Rattrap is the comic relief who barks out unamusing punchlines in a thick Bronx accent (because, of course, nothing's funnier than a funny accent). As for Optimus Primal, he's got less personality than a slab of wood; all he does is bark out orders and yell at his team for screwing up. The Predacons aren't much better. Only Dinobot has any sort of personality, and he's not even in half the series. That's not to mention the dialogue, which is rarely more than just functional. For every good line (most of which, again, belong to Dinobot), there are a whole lot of fairly tedious exchanges that sound like those on any other generic kids' show. The voice acting is also pretty dull, with the actors either set on "heroic" or "sinister." There's no subtlety or nuance-it's all just "good guys" or "bad guys." The series is simply not that exciting, even with the action scenes. (Zing!)
Twelve-Year-Old Victor: You're looking at it wrong! (Whap!) Keep in mind that, as per the interviews on the featurettes, this whole series was conceived by Hasbro as nothing more than a way to revive the Transformers franchise to make new toys for kids. Considering that it's aimed squarely at marketing to a young audience, you have to admit that moments of actual dramatic merit are worth applauding. Heck, the series even earned an Emmy award in 1998! That has to count for something, especially for something that wasn't supposed to be so good to begin with. (death thrust!)
Rational Victor: See, that's possibly the reason I've never really warmed up to the whole Transformers phenomenon. During the featurettes, we hear endlessly about "the franchise" and "product lines" and "brand awareness." Nothing about the characters or stories, except about how the stories were written to fit in with Hasbro's production schedules. Essentially, the producers blatantly admit that the episodes were intended as nothing more than extended toy commercials with opening and closing credits. I understand that all entertainment products are done to earn money but I just have a hard time getting too invested in something so cynically manipulative.
Twelve-Year-Old Victor: But the spiders and dinosaurs look so cool!
Rational Victor: Oh, good Lord! (sighing powerfully!)
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Rational Victor: What I will say is that Shout! Factory has, as usual, done a great job of assembling this DVD set. The full-screen transfer looks as good as it possibly could. The animation isn't as sharp as you might expect, but it does look colorful and crisp. The Dolby stereo mix is equally solid, displaying all of the dialogue and special effects clearly. The set includes some informative featurettes. The Season One set comes with "Maximize! Creating A New Breed of Transformer" (17:42), a good overview of the way the series was created. The Seasons Two and Three set comes with "Remembering the Spark" (18:25) which goes more into detail about the writing. The set also includes the original EPK for the series (10:41). There are also extensive galleries and model sets for each character. In addition, Shout! has also packaged a comic book that illustrates just where in the Transformers timeline this series fits.
Twelve-Year-Old Victor: See, was that so hard?
Rational Victor: But that wasn't about the series—it was about the DVD set itself. I still don't think the series is all that great.
Twelve-Year-Old Victor: Aw, take your Metamucil, grandpa.
Rational Victor: If you grew up watching this series, then this is the set to get, because it has all the episodes and some well-assembled extras. If, however, you've never really warmed up to the Transformers mythos, this is not the place to start. It duplicates the least appealing aspects of the original series and doesn't add anything especially interesting. It certainly isn't going to convince anyone who already unimpressed with this franchise, even despite all its accolades.
Twelve-Year-Old Victor: You suck and you're stupid.
Rational Victor: Really? That's your best shot?
Twelve-Year-Old Victor: You can't defeat me! Just when you think you're safe, I'll be back! (explosion, then he disappears)
Rational Victor: Well, he's gone, but for how long? Anyway, back to downloading Internet porn…Noooooo! (dramatic sting)
Guilty of not being more than just a series for hardcore Transformers fans.
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