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DVD Review: Transformers – Season Two, Volume One

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Growing up I thrived on Transformers. They were my life — the toys, the show, the movies. Admittedly, I don’t remember much of the first season in order to make an honest comparison. However, after several years' worth of absence, my nostalgia wasn’t enough to save the majority of my time with Transformers: Season Two, Volume One from being a Unicron-sized letdown.

First, the technical stuff. We’re given two whole channels of audio that doesn’t sound too bad at all. Dialogue is sharp and shows off the cool effects infused with the bots' voices. The video quality is the best I’ve ever seen the show look, albeit inconsistent. Black lines are sometimes dark and defined, but often can be chalky. Mostly there is great color restoration and contrast all around, but from scene to scene, it jumps to a soft, grayish wash with lots of dust and flecks consistently spotting the transfer.

The package design is way cool with a polished retro look and foil embossing. Each disc sports a different character's image. Even the slim cases separating the discs have individual Autobot or Decepticon artwork. The set also comes with a small booklet containing a small summary of each episode as well as its own splash of colorful backgrounds and characters.

This four-disc whopper packs virtually no special features except the episodes and a useful option to play multi-part episodes seamlessly. The only other option you really have is to dive in. And so we shall.

The first stand-out episode is the second in this collection (18th in the series), entitled “The Immobilizer.” Autobot inventor Wheeljack creates a dangerous weapon that can freeze its targets. Proving just as useful for good as it is for evil, it becomes a subject of interest for the Decepticons. Ironhide is written particularly well in this episode, showing genuine resentment for his distraction during important guard duty, inevitably leading to his temporary resignation.

One of the best episodes in the collection follows closely after in episode 21, “Traitor.” Mirage, accused of treason, sets out to prove his innocence with a clever plan to turn the Insecticons against the other Decepticons. Mirage’s character is written in a way that makes it both challenging to side with or against him. Prime exudes the “innocent until proven guilty” attitude that is true to his character while Megatron and Starscream share their most frictional dialogue in the collection.

Another great entry, episode 25, “Atlantis Arise,” sees Megatron siding with the evil lost civilization of Atlantis, that is, until he can harvest their world for its precious energy. It’s a nice change of scenery to see some battles take place somewhere other than mountains and dirt. Here you’ll find one of the better composed action sequences in the collection as the bots tear apart Washington D.C. Sadly, this is a missed opportunity for an epic multi-part series when much worse conceived stories like “Dinobot Island” benefit from that treatment instead.

One of the few episodes that actually delivers a sense of intrigue, episode 27, “Microbots,” introduces an ancient Decepticon ship found crash landed on Earth. Megatron sets out to find its energy source and use it for himself. Taking on a surprisingly subtle pace, Megatron eventually reaches the ship and steals its power and in one of the more detrimental battles, it genuinely looks bad for the Autobots for the first time. Meanwhile, Brawn and Perceptor clash in some interesting brains vs. brawn dialogue (no pun) that shows great personality from both Autobots. By far, the very best installment of the set.

The rest of the episodes on the first two discs range from painfully bad all the way up to decent. Then disc three stumbles in with an outright disgraceful batch of hack writing and animation. What happened? Not a single episode that isn't downright scary in its awfulness exists on this disc.

The third disc opens with the ridiculous two-part entry, “Megatron’s Master Plan.” The Decepticon leader convinces the public the Autobots are, in fact, the evil ones by having his underlings play dress up as Autobots and commit such deplorable atrocities as stealing oil to convert into energon. This wouldn’t be so bad if this silly plot wasn’t stretched across two whole painful episodes.

Episode 34, “City of Steel,” is the worst episode in the collection. For whatever inexplicable reason, many of the bots, especially Megatron, are very badly animated and drawn. Megatron is drilling holes under the city, replacing important buildings with Cybertronian constructs because that’s totally necessary. Not only is the episode uneventful, the action is boring due to curiously bad animation throughout.

The trail of garbage doesn’t end until the fourth disc with episode 39, “The God Gambit.” It’s a ballsy episode, taking on religious connotations. Cosmos is shot down by some Decepticons after he obtains some precious Intel and crash lands on an alien planet. Cons chase after and take advantage of the people there whom already quarrel with each other over the existence of the “sky gods.” The arrival of the Cybertronians “proves” the existence of their gods and so begins a power struggle over alien crystals; which turn out to be the subject of Cosmos’ original findings.

Another handful of horrible plots include Megatron taking over a man-made super computer surrounded by lethal vehicles equipped with buzz saw arms and tentacle hammers (because those just lie around near every American made super computer). Other “winners” include preventing Insecticons from eating too many trees, Megatron getting a transfixatron, gold super goop that makes Decepticons super strong, and yet another episode where Insecticons are eating everything.

Transformers was made for the sole purpose of selling toys. That’s all. It would certainly be a mistake to dismiss what Transformers has done for the creative industry because of the nature of its conception. There are some fantastic and surprising entries in the series as well as some of the coolest archetypes and personalities born right here in the Transformers universe. But again, it is what it is. It was made to sell toys, not to win Emmys.

This collection is strictly for diehard fans only. But even the fans have to admit when bad is bad. At least this fan will admit that while volume one of season two has its share of exceptional entries, this collection is a torturous reminder that even nostalgia isn't strong enough to keep everyone enchanted.

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About Jesse G. Barnes

  • http://blogcritics.org/writers/fran-parker/ Fran

    The conflict – due to your love of Transformers, it sounds like this was a very difficult review to write. Very well done review.

    I will have to check out some of the very first episodes — especially “Microbots” on Hulu if available. It is nice to know there are some good ones in there, but certainly not enough to make it worth buying a 28 Episode set.

    I got my start with the Transformers because my son loved them when he was growing up and the have a special place in my memories for that reason. I enjoyed watching the 2007 movie. I didn’t realize they had done so many movies. Been out of the loop, I guess.

    It must be hard for them to keep thinking of new ways to sell their toys. ;)

    Thanks for bringing their memories back.

  • Jesse G. Barnes

    Fran,

    I am very pleased to know that I helped bring back some good memories. Watching these brought back some good ones of my own. As you say, it was very difficult for me to write this. I really didn’t want to bash it.

    I do encourage you to check out some of the better episodes. They may not be phenomenal by today’s standards, but they certainly shine as far as giant toy commercials go.

    There were three films that made it to the theater. The animated feature Transformers: The Movie (1986, Transformers (2007), and Revenge of the Fallen (2009). If I am not mistaken I believe there were some straight to video feature length, if not extended episodes, or season premiers.

    Thanks so much for reading, Fran. I appreciate your time.