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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » Transformers Beast Wars: Season One
Transformers Beast Wars: Season One
Shout Factory // Unrated // June 7, 2011
List Price: $29.93 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Neil Lumbard | posted July 12, 2011 | E-mail the Author
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BeastWarsTransformersS1Review


Transformers:
Even speaking the name sends a certain message to audiences. Most viewers will have at least some idea of what to expect. Giant robots can morph and battle it out over the protection of the universe. This is one of the most popular properties on our planet. This isn't just because of the recent Michael Bay films that have made countless dollars either as toys and animated series have seriously helped to make this a pop-culture phenomenon for decades now.

Beast Wars isn't necessarily a Transformers series that fits the same expectations audiences might place on each story placed within this universe. The style is also unique in comparison to some of the other attempts to bring these characters to television screens.  The start of this season introduces audiences to the Maximals, i.e. the "good guys" who can transform from robot to animal form and who must fight against the Predacons, who are the series "bad guys" and can do the same transforming.  Optimus Primal (not to be confused with Optimus Prime) is the hero leading the group of Maximals while Megatron is leader of the Predacons. The series begins with the characters crash-landing on a seemingly deserted planet -- one that could resemble an early planet Earth. Then again... it does have two moons. The battle between the two sides begins and it will be called the Beast Wars.

The series includes many important characters that are explored (such as Rat-Trap, Rhinox, and Cheetor) to the delight of fans. Surprisingly, the writers actually attempt to bring some character development and personalities to these transformers that are unique. Fans have appreciated the series for this aspect since early on in this first season's initial run and it's easy to understand why it helped to garner a cult following as a result.  While the plotting and pacing was slow to begin with (and it takes several episodes to pick up at all) these characters were the biggest draw from the very start.

The animation on this series was stunning back when the show originally premiered. This was one of the few shows to legitimately attempt to push the boundaries of television with its CG animation and it should be remembered historically as it was an important production with regards to the landscape of possibilities and exploration that was shifting dramatically for animation. While the entirety of the season one animation fails to be quite as captivating today (it certainly doesn't help that audiences are now spoiled by the wonderfully produced Pixar films) this is still an impressive show when viewed with the proper context. However, there is some level of disappointment in recognizing the animation as a more historically relevant example rather than as an example of cutting edge animation today. Background animation, in particular, is often rather plain and dull. Not every element will hold up to the scrutiny found with changing audience expectations.

The elaborate and extended battle sequences featured regularly during the entire course of this season were unfortunately not as exciting or visually amazing as they were when I was young. Younger viewers will still find reason to enjoy these sequences, and most especially because of the toy-like qualities given to each Transformer. The design of each Transformer is an essential element of understanding the animation. Beast Wars demonstrates and fondly remember the child-like glee of playing with toys and how exciting it can be for a young kid to pick up awesome-looking action figures and simply play with them for a while. The battles feel almost as though they intentionally intend to replicate this experience as the designs are stunningly close to looking like actual toys. This is one element that might be viewed as a positive or negative depending upon the viewer expectations. Any child with an interest in battling robots will find it particularly fun and inventive. Adults might have to kick some of that good ol' nostalgia into overdrive to enjoy the spectacle in quite the same way.

This first season progresses at a somewhat steady pace. Every few episodes it felt as though something important to the plot was cropping up and being revealed. Certainly, more is revealed about the Transformers and the source of energy that is connected to them. This element takes an almost spiritual approach to viewing the Transformers. It's something unexpected but interesting in a series that mostly consists of battles between robots over protecting the universe or destroying it all (depending upon which side the Beast War Transformers are aligned with).  The energy source on the planet (Energon) remains as essential source of "conflict material".  

The writing and direction are elements that many fans probably consider as some of the finest and best surprises within the entire parade of various Transformers properties and series to date. To some degree these are improved upon areas for this series, but it is also harder to appreciate these storylines today as there is much of it that simply fails to seem as interesting now. This could be the simple result of aging and changing priorities in how a story is told, but the simplicity of these episodes is somewhat baffling now. Re-watching Reboot (another Mainframe Entertainment production) provided a far greater experience, one which proved that the series held up just as well as I remembered it from my youth, and yet this Transformers incarnation tries but doesn't succeed at reaching such lofty ambitions of storytelling or direction combined with tech-savvy animation.

Revisiting Season 1 of Beast Wars offered a generally pleasant and interesting trip through nostalgia lane despite any shortcomings felt along the way. There were moments during the first season that genuinely reminded me of the wonderful times I had watching the show when it was new and airing regularly on television. While there are certain aspects of the series that simply can't manage to make the overall production hold up as well as it once did (the animation seems particularly disappointing when viewed with today's standards), somehow there are still a few worthwhile reasons for serious fans to revisit the show today.  Characters are more important in comparison to other Transformers outings and the action should still appeal to children who are currently interested in ongoing animated sagas. This season won't hold up for everyone perfectly -- the show certainly didn't succeed at fulfilling all of my storytelling interests, and that is both unexpected and somewhat disappointing. Yet most devoted fans should still consider this introductory season a worthwhile revisit, even if only to see if it fits their own expectations for classification as successful nostalgia.

The DVD:


Video:

Beast Wars: Transformers arrives on DVD in a generally pleasing 1.33.1 full frame aspect ratio which preserves the original broadcasts more than adequately. While the animation might seem dated compared to newer CG productions, the extensive work still shines through on this DVD set. The colors seem slightly muted, yet also saturated enough that it makes the presentation pleasing given the selection of characters that morph in a variety of visually appealing ways. The image isn't as sharp as it could be and there are some slight compression issues when viewed on large televisions, but fans should remain happy in knowing that the show at least looks as good as it did when it first aired many years ago.

Audio:

The 2.0 English Language audio isn't particularly impressive to behold. The presentation is adequate for the series but lacks the kind of extra "oomph" an action-oriented series such as this would have benefited from. Dialogue is easy to understand and the many sound effects used from beginning to end are interesting and inventive as well. The biggest drawback is the lack of surround sound and truly immersive sound. There aren't any additional audio options on this release (and no subtitles are provided for viewers either).


Extras:

The main draw for Season One in the bonus material department is an approximately 18 minute long featurette entitled Maximize! Creating a New Breed of Transformer, which is an engaging collection of clips featuring interviews with producers from Mainframe Entertainment and even the Vice President of Hasbro. The interviewees briefly discuss Transformers history in action figure and television form and give views on the creative process behind deciding on the new series Beast Wars, and also how it impacted the team behind the show (and continues to today). The brevity of the piece is a bit disappointing but the speakers are intelligent, insightful, and easy to listen to (making it easy to recommend to serious fans of the series).  An art gallery and original character models video is also included with season one.

Final Thoughts:


Beast Wars: Transformers was one of my favorite animated series as a child. Returning to season one proved to be an interesting trip back down my television memory lane. While certain aspects failed to appeal to the more 'adult' side of me there are undeniably reasons for longtime fans to return to this series today. Fans of Transformers properties in general are likely to greet the series with mixed reactions but that might even make it all the more interesting in some ways.  Children will still find plenty of magic with the animation designs and the action-figure approach given to the battle sequences. Recommended.

Neil Lumbard is a lifelong fan of cinema, and a student who aspires to make movies. He loves writing, and currently does in Texas.

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