Apr 11, 2013

[TV] Beast Wars: Transformers - Season 1

Like many long term Transformers fans, initially I didn't quite know how to appreciate Beast Wars: Transformers. While I was happy that the Transformers were making their TV comeback after the weird rehash that had been Transformers: Generation 2, I was also weirded out by the show's animal-centric premise. After all, how could animals be cooler than various vehicles and machine alternate modes, right?

But over time, Beast Wars won me and many other fans over. And it's not just because they were Transformers in principle - but more because the show was actually pretty darned good. I've recently been re-watching the series on DVD, thus the sudden resurgence of this review.

Initially I thought it might make more sense to just post a single review for all three seasons of this show given the rather serial nature of the storytelling involved in this production. But I changed my mind in time and figured that this show deserved a lot more love, and thus I will still take the time to post individual season reviews to cover things better.

Plus it's not like I'll ever really tire of writing about Transformers, right?

Synopsis: Beast Wars: Transformers is a CGI-animated series created by Bob Forward and Larry DiTillo via Mainframe Entertainment, the same group that had put together the other CGI-animated series ReBoot. While initially Forward and DiTillo had little to no background with regard to the original cartoon, in time the show revealed more connections to the G1-era Transformers.

The show begins by explaining that the current Transformers factions - the Maximals and the Predacons - are still engaged in their never-ending war with one another. The Maximal ship Axalon is in pursuit of the Decepticon vessel Darksyde given Megatron and his Predacons are on a mission to find more Energon crystals. The two ships eventually engage one another in battle, but the damage in their skirmish resulted in an unexpected malfunction in the transwarp drive, plunging the two ships far away from Cybertron. Eventually they crash land  on an alien planet, teeming with Energon.

But the raw Energon deposits on the planet are highly unstable, and thus the various Transformers end up needing to adopt organic alternate forms to protect themselves. Thus they become various animals native to the planet (although it's always amusing how their names perfect fit their animal forms). The Axalon had also been carrying a number of Maximals in stasis and had jettisoned the pods before the crash. So now the pods  are in orbit around the planet, with some eventually getting pulled groundside by the gravity of the planet.

The show initially began with a very tight cast - the Maximals Optimus Primal, Rattrap, Rhinox and Cheetor facing the Predacons Megatron, Dinobot, Waspinator, Scorponok, Tarantulas and Terrorsaur. But Dinobot quickly defects to the Maximals to sort of even the scales and the periodic falling stasis pod provided for an interesting plot device that allowed the slow introduction of new characters to the show. The productions limited budget was really the driving force behind so few characters, but the side-effect was much more cohesive stories since they had so few characters to work with. Character development became pretty much inevitable.

At first the show went through the usual phase of somewhat separate stories per episode featuring the various characters and having the odd clash between the two forces here and there. But in time the show decided to explore more of the larger plot elements that tie the whole show together, and this is where the real fun began. While initially there were signs that the world was somehow a prehistoric Earth, other elements seemed to contradict this fact. But by the end of this first season, they firmly established the deal and placed us back on Earth, which is what a lot of us fans had assumed anyway.

It was also interesting how the characters weren't exactly clear-cut good and bad in terms of traditional children's entertainment. Beyond the obvious consideration of the turncoat Dinobot, the show made sure that a lot of the characters were more along the lines of shades of gray on the morality scale such as the deviousness of the Maximal Rattrap or the independent agenda of Tarantulas as separate from the rest of the Predacons. And this allowed for more interesting stories and inter-character conflicts of course.

Beast Wars: Transformers may not have been what a lot of us G1 fans had been hoping. But in the end it delivered a lot more than we had expected, and that was definitely something in favor of the Transformers franchise as a whole. This first season gets 4 Maximal stasis pods falling to Earth out of a possible 5.

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