Back in July, Shout! Factory released a boxed set of one of the most iconic cartoon television series of all time. With sixteen DVDs, all 98 episodes, cool pack-ins, and hours of bonus content, the Transformers: 25th Anniversary "Matrix of Leadership" Edition was a force to be reckoned with. It was available through Shout! exclusively for a short time and will be hitting other retailers this week. At an MSRP of $169.99 the price tag is kind of hefty, especially for fans who own the original Rhino release, but the cost of admission is oh so worth it. This is one of the most revered shows from the 80's and it is one of the cartoon franchises that actually withstood the test of time.
Due to the fact that I spent a greater part of my childhood watching Transformers and playing with the toys (I still have all of them somewhere), it's only natural that I look fondly on those memories. Over the past few years we've all had the opportunity to take a look at things we used to enjoy when we were younger. Whether they were TV shows, cartoons, or films, several classics have hit DVD recently. For better or worse these are all just what we remember them being. Sometimes we may shake our heads in disbelief that we used to watch a particular program, or just chuckle at the ridiculousness of it all, but I have to say Transformers has remained as awesomely entertaining as I recall. Sure there may be bits that defy logic and seem corny, but we're talking about sentient robots from another planet who can transform into cars. Logic be damned.
Transformers originally came out in 1984 after Hasbro was looking for a new toy-line to capitalize on. Their attention turned to Japan and soon enough the idea for Transformers was born. Though several series have come out over the years (and we all know about the live-action movie franchise), the one that is revered the most is the original (sometimes referred to as "Generation 1"), which is what we have in hand today.
Transformers' original series ran from 1984 to 1987 and wrapped up with four seasons, 98 episodes, and an animated movie (which is not included here unfortunately). The show, like many others, featured episodic adventures from week to week with the occasional overarching plotline to give things a more thematic feel to them. The quality of the episodes ranged dramatically as you'd expect and there was something of a decline towards the latter half of the series. Still, no matter how bad the episodes got they were entertaining and worth celebrating for the sake of nostalgia.
The series begins on a planet far away called Cybertron. This high-tech world is in the midst of chaos as its two entities; the Autobots and Decepticons, are locked in battle for control of the world. The key here is energy and in order to find new sources of it the Autobots leave Cybertron, only to be pursued by their foes. They make their way through an asteroid field and crash on a seemingly uninhabited planet. Every robot is more or less destroyed in an instant, and it's not until four million years have passed that suitable technology has been created on the planet to initiate repairs. The Autobots and Decepticons are brought back to life and I'm sure you can guess by this point that the planet in question is Earth.
Soon after their revival, the Decepticons begin plundering Earth's resources to construct a shuttle that will take them back home. In the mind of their leader, Megatron, the Autobots are history and now there's nothing standing before him in his quest to rule the universe. Fortunately for us the Autobots survived as well and their leader, Optimus Prime, heads the charge and organizes his troops to protect our planet and stop Megatron in the process. This is the basic story found in the three part episode "More Than Meets the Eye" that sets up Transformers, introduces the core characters, and gets the ball rolling for things to come.
After the premier, the first few episodes of the series feature some formulaic one-shot stories that depict Megatron concocting ways to destroy the Autobots, or endanger Earth. Naturally the good guys prevail in the end in just about every episode. This is typical for something of the 80's Saturday morning variety, but things get interesting as more characters are introduced. In the episodes that follow, Skyfire and the Dinobots (Grimlock, Slag, and Sludge) are brought into the fold and shake things up a bit. This is followed by another solid three-parter entitled, "The Ultimate Doom", which sees Megatron gaining control of humanity via mind-control and working on bring Cybertron into Earths' orbit. Let's just say he dreams big and has the resources to pull something like this off.
After those episodes more characters are introduced such as the Insecticons and Constructicons. These episodes all lead up to the anticlimactic conclusion of the first season, though to be fair the transition into the second season is virtually seamless. This second season is where the bulk of Transformers' episodes came from and will undoubtedly be what you recall the most.
There are a couple of interesting episodes to kick the season off here and then things get silly with "Dinobot Island". I say silly because Prime sends the Dinobots to an island full of temporal rifts, which leads to the Decepticons unlocking some of its power and unleashing cowboys and pirates across the globe. From there some standout episodes such as "Changing Gears", "A Prime Problem", and "Attack of the Autobots" come through. There are a few mediocre ones in between and a couple of two-part episodes as well. Right up through to the end, the second season is a blast and the good far outweighs the bad.
It's at this point that the animated movie came out (you can find DVDTalk's review here) and brought about a certain climax that I won't discuss. All I'm going to say is that Optimus Prime takes his leave of the series for now and things are left in the hands of Rodimus Prime. The third season picks up with a five-part story called "The Five Faces of Darkness". This was really good and introduced a whole bunch of new faces, both good and evil. From here the show kind of meanders around for a bit up until the end, with the noteworthy "Return of Optimus Prime" making the journey worthwhile.
Now, as entertaining as Transformers is, there's no denying that the idea for the show and its characters were born out of the desire to sell a toy product to kids. We saw it with G.I. Joe, He-Man, and several other cartoons from the time period. Out of all of them though, I truly feel that Transformers was the only one to successfully withstand the test of time. Again, there are several cheesy bits to be found within the 98 episodes found in this boxed set, but the bulk of the collection is every bit as good as you remember it being. That's something truly special.
Transformers: 25th Anniversary "Matrix of Leadership" Edition comes in a large box, roughly about the size of a shoebox. The artwork depicts Prime's Matrix and the two sides slide open to reveal the goods inside. All four seasons are packed in here with some fantastic designs, a booklet with information about each episode, character bios, and artwork, and Autobot and Decepticon magnets to boot. This is a very solid packaging job for the series and the set looks awesome on the shelf. Thumbs up to Shout! Factory for a job well done here!
Transformers: 25th Anniversary "Matrix of Leadership" Edition is presented on DVD with its original 1.33:1 fullframe aspect ratio. Right from the get-go it's clear that Shout! Factory went the extra mile to present Transformers in a way that would please fans. The out-of-print Rhino release included some inconsistencies and lower picture quality than one would have hoped for.
Shout! realized this and used those prints, along with the original masters, to create a work that was closer to the broadcast version of the series. The colors are more accurate, the image is more solid, and all around there is significantly less grain and compression. There are still occurrences of those flaws, as well as some interlacing, but they aren't distracting in the least. As one would expect there are still some flaws that come with a show of this vintage. There are a few spots where dirt, washed out colors, and scratches are present, but again they just come with the territory. All in all Shout!'s presentation is rock solid and much better than I was anticipating.
For this boxed set the only audio selection you're going to find is an English 2.0 Dolby Digital Stereo track. Now, if you're familiar with the show then you know it was original broadcast with a mono track, not stereo. Thankfully Shout! went the opposite way of Rhino's bombastic 5.1 and stuck with a presentation that was much closer to the original. Sound effects and dialogue are balanced well and from start to finish the quality was quite solid for a show of this type. Unfortunately no subtitle tracks are included on this release.
Aside from the aforementioned pack-ins such as the magnets and booklet, there is a slew of bonus content on the DVDs themselves. This content is broken up by season and is spread out across the sixteen DVDs.
On the third disc of the first season there is a feature entitled, "Triple Changer: From Toy to Comic to Screen", which really examines the franchise as a whole. Several people who were involved with the creation of the show, the comic, and the film are brought into studio to provide some commentaries about the franchise. It's interesting and nice to see that the people who work on it truly do love it. Many of their feelings mirror my own, and ultimately I found this to be a nice professional/fan retrospective.
Other material available for the first season includes a trio of Hasbro toy commercials. These are older than dirt and look like they were long-forgotten, found on a VHS tape kind of thing. The dubious quality aside, it's an entertaining look back at a part of my childhood. The same can be said for the PSA where Bumblebee helps some kid who runs away from home. It's amusing in the sense that it's very similar to the old G.I. Joe "Knowing is half the battle" spots (that's used here too by the way). Otherwise the only remaining bonus feature here is a printable script for the "Transport to Oblivion" episode.
Skipping ahead to the eleventh disc there are a couple more featurettes worth taking the time to watch. "The Combiner: Forming the Transformers Animated Series" looks at the production and development of the original series. There's some cool vintage material here and the fact that there are interviews with the creative team and voice cast really seals the deal. The other feature here is "The Headmasters: Voicing the Robots in Disguise" brings back eight original voice actors for a roundtable discussion about the show and what it was like to work on it. It's nice to see what these guys have been up to since the series went off the air!
The other material here is kind of familiar in the sense that there are some more PSAs (one about stealing and the other about reflectors on bikes), toy commercials, and printable scripts for the episodes "Starscream's Brigade" and "The Revenge of Bruticus". There are also some printable dialogue scripts and a concept art gallery. One of the more noteworthy features here is the "Original Series Writers Bible", which is a collection of information about the show, characters, and timeline.
Because they were shorter seasons, the third and fourth have their features included on the last disc in this collection. There are some more PSAs, scripts, commercials, and art galleries, but there are also some other features as well. "The Autobots, The Decepticons & The Fans" is a nice little look at people who would call themselves fans and how the show made an impact on them. Some still celebrate the series to this day and there are some nice dedications out there (more of this is included in a Fan Materials feature on this disc as well). "Into the Creation Matrix: A Conversation with Bob Budiansky" is another look at a personality who helped bring life to the show. Bob was responsible for naming most all of the characters and was a writer for the comic book series for quite some time. And finally there are some character bios and artwork included in an extra named "From the Files of Teletraan- 2".
Transformers: 25th Anniversary "Matrix of Leadership" Edition is undoubtedly one of the best things to happen to the animated franchise in quite some time. Shout! Factory did one heck of a job re-mastering the series and presenting it the way that they did. It shows that there was a lot of affection brought into the project and if you ever loved Transformers this boxed set is something that should make you salivate.
While not every minute of the 98 episodes is golden, it's undeniably classic from start to finish and reeks of nostalgic value. Owners of the old Rhino release should consider trading in for this set, simply due to the addition of supplemental content and improved A/V quality. There is the matter of the price, though. This set is expensive, but I'm sure now that it's widely available there may be deals to be had somewhere. Whatever the case may be, consider this set highly recommended if you were ever a fan. If you're new to the animated series you may want to take little bites in the form of the season releases, rather than dropping the wad of cash it takes to pick this one up.
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