As one of the most successful franchises in American pop culture history, The Transformers have already passed their 25th year in the public eye. Based on Hasbro's toy line of the same name (which, in turn, was based on a Japanese toy line by Takara), their success established a strong connection between animation and marketing for younger audiences. Case in point: Hasbro's own G.I. Joe was relaunched in 1982---just two years prior to The Transformers---and after an FCC regulation was dropped in 1984 (which prohibited companies from broadcasting product-based animated shows), all bets were off. The swift success of The Transformers that year was also due to a Marvel Comics line based on the toys, which led to an avalanche of sales, spin-offs...and, of course, the infamous 1986 motion picture. In short, you'd be hard-pressed to find a thirty-something not familiar with the franchise.
I'll admit that I'm only familiar with the original animated series (also known as "G1"), the animated movie and the recent Michael Bay crapfests, so my limited Transformers knowledge doesn't extend to Beast Wars, Transformers Animated and the like. As such, my ears didn't immediately perk up when Transformers Prime was announced a few years back, but this ambitious CGI series quickly won me over with a mixture of fun writing, great characters, excellent voice-acting and a healthy dose of action. If that weren't enough, it's obvious that most of the creative team obviously grew up as huge fans of G1 in the 1980s, since a number of faithful little details has been sprinkled in to keep nostalgic fans happy. These may be just sound effects, catch-phrases and familiar voices, but every little bit helps.
The core plot of Transformers is about as predictable as your average Mario game: it's still Autobots vs. Decepticons, battling for control of the Earth and its valuable energy resources. The stripped-down roster of Autobots is limited to Optimus Prime (Peter Cullen!), Rachet (Jeffrey Combs), Arcee (Sumalee Montano), Bulkhead (Kevin Michael Richardson) and Bumblebee . The dastardly Decepticons are still fronted by Megatron (Frank Welker!) and include Soundwave, Starscream (Steve Blum), Knockout (Adam Baldwin!), Airachnid (Gina Torres!) and Knockout (Daran Norris). Humans are also part of the picture, and this time around it's a trio of t(w)eens: Jack (Josh Keaton, the reluctant hero), Miko (Tania Gunadi, the quirky Asian girl) and Raphael Esquivel (Andy Pessoa, the *sigh* pint-sized computer whiz), as well as Special Agent William Fowler (Ernie Hudson!), who serves as the Autobots' government liaison.
Any way you slice it, Transformers Prime is obviously a bit more ambitious and sophisticated than your average cartoon: the visuals are fantastic and even the sound design aims for a theatrical experience. I'll admit that some of the character design details are a bit lacking, such as magically moving robot mouths and an oversimplified look for the humans (who, at times, look like Wii characters trapped in an XBOX 360 game). There's also a certain corniness to the dialogue that's practically expected with three young teens in the picture, but it's forgivable and easy to ignore. It all boils down to story and atmosphere, and it's here where Prime really shines: the series was nominated for multiple daytime Emmys and walked off with two during this first 26-episode season...and though it's obviously intended to be a kids' show that parents can enjoy, Transformers fans of all ages should have no trouble appreciating what Prime brings to the table. Season 2 already premiered a few weeks ago, but it's not too late to catch up.
Presented on Blu-Ray as a Limited Edition (for now) and also available on DVD, Transformers Prime: Season One arrives courtesy of Shout Factory. The former obviously bumps up the A/V quality a few notches and includes a bonus comic for good measure. Whether that's worth paying twice as much is somewhat debatable, but this is still a solid high-def package that the whole family can enjoy.
Video & Audio Quality
Presented in its original 1.78:1 aspect ratio, this 1080p transfer of Transformers Prime: Season One is good but not perfect. To be fair, a few small problems are inherently due to the source material, including mild aliasing and jagged edges. Mild compression artifacts can also been spotted along the way, which seems like more of an authoring issue than anything else. Either way, what's here is largely impressive, as the image is typically razor sharp with vivid, striking colors and strong black levels. So while there's room for improvement, I'd imagine that most fans of Prime will be pleased.
The audio is a touch more consistent, as each episode arrives with your choice of DTS-HD 5.1 or LPCM 2.0 mixes. The former creates an enveloping and dynamic soundstage from start to finish, often filled with plenty of surround activity once the action heats up. A bit more low end would've helped to sell some of the action, as well as some added "punch" for the gunfire. Dialogue is crisp and the score is also well-represented with no obvious sync issues. Overall, fans won't find much to complain about here, as this ambitious audio presentation is leaps and bounds above most animated TV shows.
Packaging, Presentation & Menu Design
Seen above, this four-disc "Limited Edition" set is housed in a multi-hubbed keepcase, paired with a bonus comic book (see below) that fits inside a sturdy outer slipcover. It's an attractive and practical design overall, but a little taller than your average Blu-Ray packaging due to the book. The menu designs are smooth and easy to navigate, though an endless sea of commercials must be skipped beforehand. Each 22-minute episode has been divided into less than a half-dozen chapters, no obvious layer changes were detected and this Blu-Ray appears to be locked for Region "A" players only.
Unlike the show itself, almost all of these bonus features seem to be aimed directly at older fans. The bulk of these are 14 Audio Commentaries
that largely focus on episodes from Discs 1 and 4; more often than not, they do an excellent job of covering all the bases. Featured participants include several producers, a number of representatives from Hasbro, animation and art directors, composer Brian Tyler, several directors and writers, a handful of voice actors (including Peter Cullen and Ernie Hudson) and...Bumblebee, just to name a few. These are generally fun and informative audio commentaries... which is good news, because the remaining bonus features don't dig quite as deep.
Disc 4 houses the remaining extras, which lead off with a promotional Behind-the-Scenes Featurette (11:03). It's short and not especially enlightening, though I enjoyed seeing a handful of voice actors do their thing. Also here is a slightly more in-depth Toy Featurette that focuses on Prime's characters and how they selected the roster (16:30), as well as a ridiculously short Teaser for Season 2 (0:20). Like the episodes, these bonus features are presented in 1080p and do not include optional subtitles.
Also included in this "Limited Edition" package is a softcover Graphic Novel that serves as a Prime prequel of sorts. It's a nice little bonus and quite substantial at 96 pages, but I'm assuming that later releases of this boxed set will omit the book (although I'm guessing it'll still be available separately).
I don't know if I was fully prepared to like Transformers Prime, but it's a fun series with great visuals, familiar characters, terrific voice acting and a not-too-serious tone. This is a substantial improvement over the Michael Bay movies...and dare I say, probably the most enjoyable Transformers I've seen yet. Though Prime is aimed at the younger crowd, I'd imagine that G1 fans should enjoy themselves too. Shout Factory pairs a decent A/V presentation with a nice mix of extras, which makes Transformers Prime: Season One worth a look. Recommended, but the DVD carries a more reasonable price tag.
NOTE: The above images were obtained from promotional outlets and do not represent Blu-Ray's native 1080p resolution.
Randy Miller III is an affable office monkey based in Harrisburg, PA. He also does freelance design projects, teaches art classes and runs a website or two in his spare time. Randy also enjoys slacking off, juggling HD-DVDs and writing stuff in third person.