Much Daring Ado About Nothing
You cannot fault a person for being skeptical over an animated series based upon a pre-teen product line. After all, Hollywood regularly clones movies from old TV sitcoms and fabricates flimsy storylines out of video games—seemingly without any guilt. So these Transformer Armada toy stories, if you will, should come as no great surprise to anyone. Transformers is Saturday morning entertainment, as well as Toys “R” Us staples. This second DVD collection of the first season includes 26 action packed episodes and soulless entertainment.
The general plot focuses on two warring Transformer factions, Autobots and Decepticons. The Autobots are the good guys; the Decepticons the bad. Each side is in a constant battle to control planet Cybertron, with Mini-Cons—smaller Transformers—treated like warfare fodder. These Mini-Cons are a lost race of Transformers, awakened after an extended hibernation on Earth. After the Autobots and Decepticons trace the Mini-Cons’ signal emanating from Earth, each party makes harnessing the Mini-Cons power their number one goal. And whichever side links up with these half-sized beings first attains great new powers.
Although this series has tried to give these hardware configurations personality and human characteristics, far too little warmth comes off the screen. Any moments of familiarity and true likeability are rare and oftentimes unintentionally funny. One huge Decepticon Transformer named Tidal Wave, for example, has a voice much like Cookie Monster on Sesame Street. He is big and dumb, but doesn’t reveal a jones for cookies like his PBS voice double. And wouldn’t that be great? A metallic cookie addict? Instead, he only exudes dull blood thirstiness.
Starscream is another highly visible Decepticon who later changes his loyalty to the Autobots, although nobody is ever quite sure what his true intentions are. He appears to be more concerned with getting revenge on Megatron, the Decepticon leader, rather than committing himself wholly to the Autobot quest. It is impossible to take Starscream’s menacing pose seriously, however, because his voice is almost exactly like Krusty The Clown on The Simpsons. Listening to him had me expecting to see scenes of that Simpsons character’s insincere kid show behavior, but it never happened. Sunscream also quotes Jack Nicholson’s “You can’t handle the truth” at point, yet this reference will most certainly be lost on the kids.
DVD 2, in this four disc set, mainly focuses on Krusty, er, Starscream, too. For example, the kids in the show (there are five of them) give Starscream a gift for bringing them back a Mars rock. But Starscream is confused about this act of kindness; as if he’s going through the first stages of discovering his own humanity. Such a humanity transformation might have been fascinating, but the series doesn’t pursue it. The key moment of DVD 2 occurs in an episode titled “Crisis”, toward the end of the disc. Autobot leader Optimus Prime sacrifices his life to interfere with a powerful weapon, called the Hydra Cannon, targeted at Earth.
Optimus Prime’s death is the juncture where this series is at its marginal best. Up until then, the battles between Autobots and the Decepticons amounted to wars without consequences. Sure, loyalty changed and friendships were tarnished; but until somebody dies, it’s a little bit like a baseball game where nobody keeps score. Soon after his demise, second in command Hot Shot attempts to fill Optimus Prime’s large shoes. But it is clear he is not quite ready for Optimus Prime time.
For Transformer newbies like me, DVD 3 is when this series finally begins to make some sense. In addition to the countless Transformer robots, there are also those five aforementioned young kids that help (and sometimes hinder) their metallic warrior Autobot friends. If you jumped into the middle of it all as I did, it is difficult to figure out how this human quintet is connected to these interplanetary mechanical beings. During DVD 3, there are extended scenes showing one boy named Rad interacting with his father and mother. And like father, like son, Rad’s father was also a curious child – one who was especially fascinated with stars in the sky. When Rad tells his parents about this unusual, secret life he has been living, in aid of these imaginative beings, his father is surprisingly unsurprised by his son’s activities—probably because he has dreamt many of these very same adventurous dreams himself.
Rad’s family scenes help give the series a wider scope, although there are not nearly enough of them. There are too many battle scenes, but never enough story background. Johnny-Come-Latelys will find themselves sitting through a succession of Autobot and Decepticaon fights, and end up wondering why they should even care. What separates these episodes from playing Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em robots as a kid? Anything? Furthermore, the best science fiction always asks intriguing “what if” questions. What if man landed on Mars? Or. What if Martians landed on Earth? These Transformer battles, on the other hand, are so distant from reality, you won’t find yourself asking any “what if” questions, or feeling much empathy toward the Mini-Cons’ plight..
On a purely visual / audio level, these animated programs wear on the senses after a while. Transformers are colorful, but simplistically shaped. Dialogue is poorly written, with jokes that are not funny and a script that sounds like a series of commands, rather than true verbal exchanges. Transformers always talk in a loud, echoing fashion, which makes the ears ring.
In a perfect world, Transformer toys would never have been transformed into animated television. But such logic never stopped producers from cashing in on this annoying series. There is even a new feature film on the way, which means cash register (sells) are being kept far busier than brain (cells).