Transformers: The Complete First Season - 25th Anniversary Edition Review

Oh sweet cartoon nostalgia! Simultaneously revealing things we never saw in our cartoons way back when and reminding us of the things we did but wish we hadn’t. The 25th Anniversary release of Transformers: The Complete First Season almost manages to drown out the bitter with the sweet, but there still remains a few glaring issues with our old friends the Autobots and their adventures on Earth. Virtually hitting the 6 hour marker with episodic content, the 16 chapters in the fight against Megatron and the Decepticons are a vividly colored blast from the past with a shiny new package, some meager extras and a big Autobot magnet.

Cybertron flourished with a peaceful technological utopia where the life forms known as the Autobots, a sentient race of machines, existed in harmony. Until Megatron came on the scene. Seceding from the rest of his Autobot kind, he launched a civil war under the banner of the Decepticons intent on gaining control of the planet to begin his conquest of the universe – very typical villainous stuff. The war rages on with robot-on-robot action hitting its peak until the planet itself runs out of energy. The two sides of the war set out in search of alternate energy sources when a conflict maroons them both on our own little blue marble, Earth. Four million years pass and the robots awaken in present day where their struggle begins anew. As the battles rage on, new faces come and go in the guises of the Dinobots, the Constructicons, the Insecticons and good old Skyfire, the Encino man of the Autobots. The Autobots, with the help of their three human comrades, fight valiantly to combat the nefarious plans of Megatron and his treacherous aide Starscream.

First things first, for all the fans who’ve purchased episode samplers of the first season or all of the first season prior to this release: a few things have been fixed. In some of the volumes released prior to this certain scenes were cut out (with no legitimate justification) and certain key characters were altered (they neutered Starscream). For the 25th Anniversary re-release, the old master copies were scoured, the discrepancies between previous releases and the original broadcasts identified, and the situation rectified. The episodes in this release have all of the original episodes as they originally appeared. In an effort to not fully succumb to my nostalgic giddiness, I will point out that even with the episodes restored to their full storyline glory the show has pacing errors that at times are laughable. It’s not just a question of too much exposition it’s a matter of exposition to save the animators 2 minutes worth of plot illustration. It’s a small gripe, but it’s somewhat annoying when a character says they’re going to do something and the show then jumps two hours into the future saying “Wow, that task sure was hard! Glad it’s over!” But that’s needed to make the show run in a 22-minute slot; what really irks is the wavering quality on both sound and picture.

In the scenes previously cut out and now re-inserted, the picture is somewhat fuzzy and subdued. The colors lose their bolder hues and it’s noticeable. Even if you’re just sitting back for a good romp through your childhood – it’s noticeable, but better this than the incomplete episodes. Then there’s the audio. The packaging brags about the restored soundtrack but the truth of the matter is something has gone awry. There are moments, I’m pretty sure 99% of the time it’s on the re-inserted scenes, where the sound effects cut out almost entirely. That problem may be on-and-off, but the sound for the release needs to be remixed. At times the score will completely drown out anything else going on and it’s a bit aggravating. This is only made worse when you consider that Transformers has an outstanding voice cast including Don Messick, Frank Welker, Casey Kasem, Peter Cullen, Corey Burton, Chris Latta and Dan Gilvezan. The technical issues don’t ruin the experience – and it can be argued that the restoration of lost scenes and altered characters makes up for it – but it ought to be noted that the 25th Anniversary Edition isn’t a complete fix quite yet.

Transformers still stands up as one of those engrossing cartoons of the 1980s which kept the storylines simple enough for kids to follow but which took the time to weave a complex mythology for the fans who wanted to take the experience deeper.

DVD Bonus Features

In “Triple Changer: From Toy to Comic to Screen – The Origins of the Transformers” features the people behind the design and development of the original series (Aaron Archer, Tom Griffin, Wayne Luther, Joe Bacal, Jared Wade, Greg Lombardo) relating the process behind taking a scattershot of Japanese toys which transform into various shapes and creating a story around them. How were the Decepticons differentiated from the Autobots? They also discuss the appeal of a dynamic toy and how it helped launch the success of a franchise which spawned comic book and cartoon spin-offs. There are also a few eerie retro toy commercials where the children’s faces have been blurred out, it’s very odd. Then we have a Bumblebee PSA about running away where we learn something about ourselves. Finally, for the more intense Transformers lovers amongst us, there’s a printable script for the episode “Transport to Oblivion” accessible through your DVD-ROM.

Perhaps the best “extra feature” of the series is the ability to play the episodes without credits breaking up the two or three-episode series. It really helps the viewing experience.

Lest we forget, there's a rather large Autobot magnet included which you should apply immediately to the front of your refrigerator to convince your friends that your icebox could kick their ass if it wanted to.

"Transformers: The Complete First Season - 25th Anniversary Edition" is on sale June 16, 2009 and is rated NR. Animation, Children & Family, Comic Book, Sci-Fi, Television. Directed by John Walker. Written by Donald F. Glut, George Arthur Bloom, Bryce Malick, Dick Robbins, Doug Booth, Earl Kress. Starring Casey Kasem, Don Messick, Frank Welker, Peter Cullen, Chris Latta, Corey Burton, Dan Gilvezan.

Lex Walker • Editor

He's a TV junkie with a penchant for watching the same movie six times in one sitting. If you really want to understand him you need to have grown up on Sgt. Bilko, Alien, Jurassic Park and Five Easy Pieces playing in an infinite loop. Recommend something to him - he'll watch it.


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