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The Transformers: The Complete First Season DVD Review (25th Anniversary)

Buy The Transformers: The Complete First Season (25th Anniversary Edition) DVD from Amazon.com Transformers: Season One (1984)
Show & DVD Details

Producers: Joe Bascal, Tom Griffin, Margaret Loesch (Executive), Nelson Shin (Supervising), Michael Charles Hill (Associate)

Story: George Arthur Bloom, Bryce Malek, Dick Robbins, Donald F. Glut, Alfred A. Pegal, Earl Kress, Larry Strauss, Leo D. Paur, Reed Robbins, Peter Salas / Directors: John Walker, Peter Wallach

Voice Cast: Frank Welker (Megatron, Soundwave, Laserbeak, Mirage, Ravage, Rumble, Skywarp, Trailbreaker, Frenzy, Sludge, Mixmaster), Peter Cullen (Optimus Prime, Ironhide), Chris Latta (Wheeljack, Starscream, Reflector, Sparkplug Witwicky), Corey Burton (Shockwave, Spike Witwicky, Sunstreaker, Brawn), John Stephenson (Huffer, Thundercracker, Windcharger), Dan Gilvezan (Bumblebee), Casey Kasem (Bluestreak, Cliffjumper, Teletraan I), Michael Bell (Prowl, Sideswipe), Don Messick (Ratchet, Gears), Scatman Crothers (Jazz), Ken Sansom (Hound), Gregg Berger (Grimlock, Skyfire, Long Haul), Neil Ross (Hook, Slag, Bonecrusher) Jack Angel (Ramjet, Smokescreen), Hal Rayle (Snarl), Michael Horton (Chip Chase)

Running Time: 366 Minutes (16 episodes) / Rating: Not Rated
1.33:1 Fullscreen (Original Broadcast Ratio), Dolby Stereo 2.0 (English)
No Subtitles or Closed Captioning
DVD Release Date: June 16, 2009 / Season 1 Airdates: September 17 - December 29, 1984
Suggested Retail Price: $29.99 / Three Clear Slimcases in Reflective, Embossed Cardboard Box
Three single-sided discs (2 DVD-9s & 1 DVD-5)

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By Kelvin Cedeno

It's common practice today to use television programming as a means of advertisement. For adults, this is rampant via product placement. For children, though, it's a bit more subtle. Many animated shows are designed for the sole purpose of promoting tie-in merchandise, but disguise that fact so as not to perturb parents. This practice is far from new; it has been going on since at least the 1980s. Two of the most famous founders of this form of marketing were "G.I. Joe" and "The Transformers".
The latter in particular has become a worldwide phenomenon the past 25 years, materializing via toys, comic books, multiple animated series, and, most recently, live-action summer blockbusters. Since a remake or sequel in Hollywood always inspires re-releases of source material and/or previous entries, Michael Bay's new Transformers feature has motivated Shout! Factory to revisit the original animated series.

The "Transformers" cartoon series follows the residents of the planet Cybertron. These robots, known as Transformers, have shape-shifting abilities and come armed with numerous gadgets and weapons. A civil war on Cybertron splits the Transformers into two groups: the Autobots led by Optimus Prime (voiced by Peter Cullen), and the Decepticons led by Megatron (Frank Welker). Both groups crash-land on the planet Earth while looking for new energy, and neither awakens for approximately four million years. Once they do, they find themselves in modern civilization. The Autobots intend to head back home to Cybertron straight away, but Megatron realizes the great potential of Earth's energy and repeatedly tries to unleash it for his own purposes. Optimus Prime and his team decide to stay on earth to protect the humans, particularly friends Spike Witwicky (Corey Burton) and his father Sparkplug (Chris Latta).

The show's main title logo drops the "The" despite it appearing in all publicity materials and interstitials. Bumblebee and Spike conveniently wander into the Decepticon camp and overhear plans that are only slightly tweaked from the previous one.

"The Transformers" is burdened with problems regularly found in 1980s animated programming. First off, it's formulaic. Somehow, a mysterious new device pops up every week that can destroy the planet and give Megatron ultimate power. Battles ensue, a human gets kidnapped, and the Decepticons are defeated by the end of the episode (yet remain intact enough to try again next week). It surely works better when consumed at the weekly pace the show originally aired in, but viewing them consecutively makes the rehashes more apparent.

Secondly, it doesn't make a great deal of sense. Plot devices are randomly introduced with little-to-no backstory or context. Characters are able to transform into an almost limitless array of items, yet it rarely occurs to them to transform into something truly beneficial to the war. These characters also disappear and reappear without notice throughout the series, often replaced with others that are given no introduction. With so many different Transformers to juggle, it becomes difficult telling them apart and knowing their names, for only a couple get more than two lines' worth of dialogue per episode.

Despite such misgivings, the show remains oddly fun to watch. Perhaps it's more enjoyable in an ironic sense, as there's quite a bit of laughable dialogue (both in content and in delivery) to be found. Couple that with some stilted animation and the aforementioned lack of logic, and one ends up with something enjoyably campy. No one expects true finesse from most TV animation, especially that which is designed to sell toys. That said, it's amazing just how delightfully nonsensical the series can get.

One genuinely positive thing in the show's favor, though, is its action. The stories and character development may be bare minimum, but one can't complain about a lack of action or momentum. Quite often, the show is creative and daring in how it envisions its many battles. It's obvious more attention was paid to this aspect than anything else, and if one is looking for nothing other than fighting robots, this should satisfy his or her need nicely.

Starscream and two other Decepticons make a grand entrance into the Witwickys' power plant. If robots shape-shifting into vehicles wasn't impressive enough, their surfing abilities will surely astound viewers.

"Transformers" runs in two different directions in terms of quality. On one hand, it contains too many characters, too many inconsistencies, and too many recycled plots. On the other hand, there's entertainment value to be found in both the well-staged action and in the humorously awkward dialogue and leaps in logic. Most people know where they stand in regards to this show. Those with fond memories of it aren't likely to have those shaken away by now-visible flaws.
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Those who've had no exposure to the program will be frustrated, amused, or even both, by the content. Still, the show was meant to entertain children with images of fighting robots and to get them to buy said robots in retail outlets. Considering the ratings and toy sales achieved, the show obviously meets its goals in spades.

Note that this is the second time "The Transformers" has come to DVD. Rhino first released the series back in 2002 to a large amount of controversy. For their DVD mastering, they used 35mm footage as the source. This yielded a much smoother, crisper image than the 1-inch tape broadcasts, but there was a problem: the 35mm reels were incomplete work prints. This meant that animation glitches that were fixed by the time the episodes aired suddenly resurfaced. Various lines and scenes were missing, and to make matters worse, Rhino redid the soundtrack in Dolby Digital 5.1 using stock sound effects.

For this 25th Anniversary set of The Complete First Season, Shout! Factory has used those film masters as the starting point, re-inserting missing footage from broadcast tapes, color-correcting errors, and remastering the soundtrack using the original elements. All 16 episodes appear here in production order and run 22 minutes and 52 seconds each, give or take a second. In a nice touch, both three-part sagas (More Than Meets the Eye and The Ultimate Doom) can be viewed as continuous, film-like stories uninterrupted by credits.

With a classic red and blue color scheme, it's immediately apparent that Optimus Prime is the leader of the Autobots. Curiously-named Earthlings Sparkplug and Spike Witwicky offer their service to the Autobots' cause. Megatron laughs in the face of danger, whether it be from an Autobot like Mirage, or one of his own Decepticons like Starscream.

Disc 1

1. More Than Meets the Eye, Part 1 (Originally aired September 17, 1984)
During a fierce civil war, the Autobots and Decepticons of Cybertron crash-land on Earth. They wake up 4 million years later to continue what they started.

2. More Than Meets the Eye, Part 2 (Originally aired September 18, 1984)
The Decepticons plan on sucking the Earth's resources dry in order to get themselves back to Cybertron. This offends the Autobots, who have befriended two humans.

3. More Than Meets the Eye, Part 3 (Originally aired September 19, 1984)
The Autobots hurriedly brainstorm methods of stopping the Decepticons from finishing their ship. Starscream and Megatron engage in a power struggle to lead the Decepticons.

4. Transport to Oblivion (Originally aired October 6, 1984)
Bumblebee and Spike discover the Decepticons' mission to transport Earth's energy to Cybertron via a space bridge. When the two are captured, Bumblebee is reprogrammed.

At least one good thing can be said of Starscream: he isn't villainous enough to separate Chip from his wheelchair in "Roll for It." Learning a thing or two from King Kong, Skyfire treats the Witwickys with care despite their initial misgivings of him. Robots sell, dinosaurs sell, so what could possibly be a better cash cow for Hasbro than Dinobots?

5. Roll for It (Originally aired October 13, 1984)
Megatron seeks out an antimatter formula that would give him infinite power. When Spike's friend Chip comes into possession of it, he becomes Megatron's next target.

6. Divide and Conquer (Originally aired October 20, 1984)
Optimus Prime is attacked and severely wounded. Because the only known unit to save him was left on Cybertron, Chip and the Autobots teleport to the bridge to retrieve it.

7. Fire in the Sky (Originally aired December 8, 1984)
When the Decepticons attempt to drain the earth of its heat energy, they uncover Skyfire, a scientist from Cybertron. He, however, is reluctant to participate in the ongoing war.

8. S.O.S. Dinobots (Originally aired October 27, 1984)
The Autobots experiment in creating Dinobots modeled after dinosaur skeletons. Unfortunately, the creations prove to be too unruly and dim-witted to manage.

Spike and his new Peruvian friend Luisa "drive" Bumblebee to the temple where the Crystal of Power is being held. The Dinobots use their handy laser beams to protect the meteorite from Megatron, but it isn't long before their allegiance is swayed. Doctor Arkeville prepares to set off his hypno-chip that will cause Sparkplug to sabotage the Autobots' weapons.

Disc 2

9. Fire on the Mountain (Originally aired December 22, 1984)
Megatron and the other Decepticons search for a crystal capable of mass destruction. Optimus Prime and the Autobots resurrect Skyfire to help stop this scheme.

10. War of the Dinobots (Originally aired November 24, 1984)
When a meteorite arrives that possesses undetermined energy, Optimus Prime has the Dinobots guard over it. Unfortunately, they're easily swayed by Megatron to switch sides.

11. The Ultimate Doom, Part 1: Brainwash (Originally aired November 3, 1984)
The Decepticons manage to brainwash mankind into fighting the Autobots. Megatron attempts to bring Cybertron to Earth, leaving Optimus Prime torn over who to save.

12. The Ultimate Doom, Part 2: Search (Originally aired November 10, 1984)
The Earth becomes subject to various natural disasters due to Cybertron sharing its orbit. The energy created aides Megatron in repowering both Cybertron and his human slaves.

Starscream forces an uncooperative Dr. Arkeville to take him to the secret laboratory. Optimus Prime fails to live up to his namesake during his battle with Megatron.

13. The Ultimate Doom, Part 3: Revival (Originally aired November 17, 1984)
Optimus Prime and the Autobots continue their effort in thwarting the Decepticons. Meanwhile, Spike and the Autobots on Cybertron attempt to destroy the hypno-chip.

14. Countdown to Extinction (Originally aired December 1, 1984)
Starscream finally makes his move to lead the Decepticons once Megatron is presumed to be dead. His dreams are hampered when the Decepticons and Autobots band together.

15. A Plague of Insecticons (Originally aired December 29, 1984)
Robotic insects terrorize an island by eating everything in their path.
When Megatron discovers that they're Decepticon ancestors, he tries to persuade them to join his team.

16. Heavy Metal War (Originally aired December 15, 1984)
Optimus Prime challenges Megatron to a one-on-one duel to finally end the war. Megatron secretly sends Constructicons to attack the Autobot supercomputer in the meantime.

VIDEO and AUDIO

"The Transformers" comes to DVD in its original 1.33:1 aspect ratio. The results are somewhat mixed. Colors are the strongest point, often bold and vivid without bleeding. Clarity also remains razor sharp most of the time. The weak points seem to be facets that are out of Shout! Factory control. Hairs and specks tend to crop up from time to time, but given the low-budget nature of the animation, it's more than likely these were photographed that way on the actual cels. Another point is in how certain shots are soft and pale compared to others. As noted in the DVD booklet, these portions were the missing pieces from Rhino's release, taken from tape instead of film. As such, the series looks the best it ever has up to this point, and will likely remain so lest an exhaustive restoration is implemented.

The Dolby Stereo tracks are passable, as well. They sound clean overall and with minimum hiss, though there's a sort of softness to the audio, as well. Dialogue, music, and effects are all focused in the front as is the nature of a program from this era. The audio gets the job done without resorting to the false additions and remixing found on the Rhino release.

Comic writer Bob Budiansky holds up the original notes he made in coming up with each Transformer name and description in "Triple Changer." This sad little boy's decision to run away from home has caught the attention of Bumblebee. If the boy were smart, he'd continue his plans in order to meet more Transformers. Optimus Prime strikes a pose on Disc 1's animated main menu.

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS and PACKAGING

A few supplements appear in this set, starting with "Triple Changer: From Toy to Comic to Screen" (19:53). This featurette covers the origins of "Transformers"
and how each of its mediums influenced another. Things like continuity conflicts among the different retellings are touched upon, and a quite a lot of concept art is presented, as well. While it's disappointing that none of the voice cast members appear here, this is still a nicely-produced piece.

Next are three original Hasbro commercials (1:31). Only the first two actually relate to this season; the third is from the G2 era. Perhaps due to legal matters, the faces of people appearing in these are blurred out. Even with that minor setback, these commercials are a treat to see, and it's a shame more DVDs don't include vintage ads like these.

An animated Public Service Announcement (0:31) follows. Here, we meet a boy whose parents don't understand him (and vice versa). He intends on running away from home, but not before Bumblebee shows up and convinces him to solve his problem another way. It's even more unintentionally hilarious than the main series and is a welcome inclusion.

Finally, there is a printable script (in PDF format) for the episode "Transport to Oblivion". It's nice for die-hard fans, though one can't help but wonder why that particular episode was chosen for this treatment.

Disc One opens with previews for "Oban Star Racers": The Complete Series and "Mystery Science Theater 3000": Volume 14. Neither can be viewed on their own.

The main menu for the first two discs contains extracted character animation as the theme song plays. Submenus (and disc three's main menu) are designed in an appropriately robotic-looking way, with grids and background windows showcasing episode montages.

Each disc comes in its own clear, slimline case. These slide into a cardboard slipcover with embossment and reflective surfacing. Also included is a nice booklet containing episode summaries and information, pamphlets for "Transformers" fan clubs and graphic novels, and a magnet of the Autobot symbol.

Whether it's his thirst for power or simply his incessant whining, Starscream manages to aggravate Megatron once again. A trio of Insecticons somehow manage to spy on the Decepticons without destroying a tree branch.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

The original "Transformers" cartoon series hasn't exactly stood the test of the time. Though it has too many shortcomings to rank among the better animated series of the era, it's still able to entertain on multiple levels, regardless. Great care was obviously put into this DVD presentation, and while the results are not perfect, they're as good as they can be at this time considering the sources. A few nice supplements, especially a substantial featurette, also add value.

Fans have a choice. They can either start buying the season sets individually anywhere (more are on the way soon), or they can buy the complete series collection directly from Shout! Factory (shipping in July). Either way, the new distributor's releases provide the complete episodes as aired and are therefore superior to Rhino's perplexing versions. A rental is recommended for those who only have vague memories of the series or never saw it at all, provided they have a taste for animated '80s sci-fi, camp value, or both.

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Reviewed June 11, 2009.



Text copyright 2009 DVDizzy.com. Images copyright 1984 Sunbow Productions, Marvel Productions, Toei Animation, and 2009 Shout! Factory.
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