Directors: David Hartman, Todd Waterman, Shuant Nigoghossian, Vinton Heuck
Cast: Peter Cullen, Frank Welker, Ernie Hudson, Dwayne Johnson, Jeffrey Combs, Josh Keaton
Running time: 100 minutes
Synopsis: When Decepticon warlord Megatron returns to his forces hiding on Earth, he brings with him the power to raise a new army to conquer the galaxy. The heroic Autobots move to counter his plan, helped by a trio of human children…
Michael Bay, take note. This is how to do Transformers.
Whilst his three movies (thus far) have gotten a couple of things right, it’s amazing how much TRANSFORMERS PRIME manages in its first five episodes, collected here as a miniseries, that Bay himself couldn’t with three movies and an unimaginably greater budget.
Developed Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman – writers of the first two films, but don’t hold that against them – and produced by Hasbro itself, it’s a much tighter, more focussed story.
As far as basic plot goes, it’s not that far removed from any other version of TRANSFORMERS: The Autobots stand as secret guardians of Earth and humanity, constantly outnumbered by Decepticon forces, helped by a trio of human kids who get caught in the crossfire. It’s a well-handled blending of fresh and familiar, taking its cues from the movies while going off in a slightly different, but considerably darker direction.
Whilst TF PRIME is set in the same ‘Aligned Continuity’ as Activision/High Moon Studio’s WAR FOR CYBERTRON – and various tie-in novels – don’t panic: TRANSFORMERS PRIME works as a stand-alone series. Much like THE MATRIX, you don’t need to read every book and play every game to know what’s going on, they just enhance the experience.
Without having to pander to automobile companies for product placement, we’re quickly introduced to real characters, rather than walking adverts for the next car on the production line. So from the start we’re introduced to a team of new-but-familiar Autobot heroes, all of whom feel fresh and original, popping off the screen in glorious hi-def, with character designs reminiscent of the movies, but much smoother, simpler and easier to make out. Even in the midst of a massive smackdown, it’s easy(er) to keep track of who’s who and on whose side (although colour-coding the characters does help in that regard). And with some fantastic voice acting from veteran voice actors and genre favourites, the Transformers come across as real “people” with real personalities, rather than a string of movie cliches.
But it’s not all about the robots; aside from their military liaison, Fowler (voiced by Ernie “Winston from Ghostbusters” Hudson), TRANSFORMERS PRIME manages that holy grail of kids’ cartoons; child characters you actually care about. Each of them has a role to play, and each is there for a reason, they’re not just, y’know, there.
The action is well-paced, the combat brutal and visceral, and the animation just simply gorgeous. The glass and metal of the Transformers themselves shines and sparkles, whilst layered with scratches and scuffs, the scars of constant activity. When an Autobot throws a punch, you can almost feel the impact of half a ton of solid metal smacking into another half-ton of solid metal.
After the disapointment of the Bay-former trilogy, it’s refreshing to have a TRANSFORMERS series being made by people that seem to care about their characters, Human and Cybertronian.
In America, TRANSFORMERS PRIME is about to end its second season, with a third on the way next year. Based on the first five episodes gathered here, PRIME looks set to be the greatest TRANSFORMERS series yet.
TRANSFORMERS PRIME: DARKNESS RISING is available on DVD now.