After three big-budget, but emotionally devoid live-action films, a number of ill-fated attempts to revive the franchise on it's small-screen birthplace, the Transformers have returned stronger than ever, in the beautifully CG animated Hub series, "Transformers: Prime." While the first, 26 episode premiere season is slated for DVD and Blu-Ray release early in 2012, fans unable to wait to (re)-experience the series, can satisfy that urge now with "Darkness Rising" an animated film, which in reality is nothing more than the first five-episode debut arc of the series at large, edited together into a breezy 106-minute ride.
"Darkness Rising" draws on the simple core premise of the iconic series, pitting the heroic Autobots, living amongst and helping Earth's people while repelling the constant threat of their sinister brothers in robotics, the Autobots. This new incarnation of the Transformers is very obviously steeped in the Bay film design when it comes to the robots, but surface appearances aside, it's an entirely different beast, resulting in an actually enjoyable series that is, *gasp* appropriate for children. That's not to say "Darkness Rising" doesn't explore some dark areas; in fact the series kicks off with Cliffjumper (voiced in a quick cameo by Dwayne Johnson) a brave and tough Autobot ambushed and killed by a soulless Decepticon contingent. Cliffjumper's death serves as the catalyst for Optimus Prime (Peter Cullen rightfully voicing the character he made famous) organizing his band of heroes to do battle against a returned Megatron (Frank Welker, also thankfully reprising his iconic role), Starscream and all your favorite baddies. There's one snag in the plan; a trio of kids.
For most the human companions to the Autobots will be the make or break factor, with the risk that they will be blank Mary Sue's a distinct possibility, especially in the wake of Shia LeBouf's similar role in the live action films. Thankfully Jack, Raf, and Miko are three reasonably distinct personalities that reach out to young and older children as well as both genders, however none of the three pander to tired stereotypes. The personalities the three have make them tolerable to the much older fans who decide to check the show out for nostalgic reasons and will likely only stick around for the robots; also worth noting is the kids interact more often with the Arcee as opposed to the vocally challenged Bumblebee. On that front, the colossal titular heroes and villains are as colorful and as memorable as before, with the added boost of enough personality that the series has highly evolved from its origins as an extended commercial for Hasbro's line of toys in the 80s.
The main "Darkness Rises" miniseries is definitely worth checking out, even if you have no intention of sticking by for the 21 episodes that follow. It's self contained enough that you'll get your Autobot vs. Decepticon fix including another legendary showdown between Optimus Prime and Megatron. The streamlining of the five-part miniseries into one fluid movie is incredibly effective with only a few transitions revealing to be glaringly obvious from a narrative standpoint. I'll admit I was a huge skeptic coming into this new endeavor, but "Darkness Rises" not only made up in many ways for the dreadful live-action films, it also made me want to see more, which comes with a catch. Since this is the little more than the first five episodes edited together in movie form, it's a tough sell when all five episodes will be presented as broadcast on the first season release. I can safely say had I known I wanted the first season on DVD, I'd likely pass this release by; the cost is too steep for what equates to pulling the opening and closing credits out between 23-minute segments. Still, for those on the fence or just wanting a brief stop with the Transformers, "Darkness Rises" is definitely worth a rental.
The 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer is flawless visual treat, it sports a virtually compression free image with strong color balance and smooth line reproduction. The CG origins of the animation are top notch and this transfer really shows off that a weekly television show is capable of approaching the levels of big budget animated features.
The Dolby Digital English 5.1 audio track has a slightly canned feeling, with surround work not as natural as intended. The sound is generally balanced and distortion, free but the real kick one expects from a full fledged surround track is missing, leaving the whole production above broadcast quality but much more subdued than expected. An English Stereo track is included.
Two galleries devoted to character and set design are included as well as a full animatic for the first episode of the miniseries.
"Transformers Prime: Darkness Rises" is a good sampler for those skeptical of the franchise as well as those just wanting a brief stopover with their childhood heroes. While the technical presentation is incredibly sound, in good faith, the release can't be recommended for purchase by anyone intending to grab the first season on DVD later in 2012. Only the most fanatical will want this interesting edit of the premiere five episodes added to their collection. Rent It.