Tuesday, October 20, 2009

DVD Review: Transformers 25th Anniversary "Matrix of Leadership" Edition

Back in July, Shout! Factory released a boxed set of one of the most iconic cartoon television series of all time. With sixteen DVDs, all 98 episodes, cool pack-ins, and hours of bonus content, the Transformers: 25th Anniversary "Matrix of Leadership" Edition was a force to be reckoned with. It was available through Shout! exclusively for a short time and will be hitting other retailers this week. At an MSRP of $169.99 the price tag is kind of hefty, especially for fans who own the original Rhino release, but the cost of admission is oh so worth it. This is one of the most revered shows from the 80's and it is one of the cartoon franchises that actually withstood the test of time.

Due to the fact that I spent a greater part of my childhood watching Transformers and playing with the toys (I still have all of them somewhere), it's only natural that I look fondly on those memories. Over the past few years we've all had the opportunity to take a look at things we used to enjoy when we were younger. Whether they were TV shows, cartoons, or films, several classics have hit DVD recently. For better or worse these are all just what we remember them being. Sometimes we may shake our heads in disbelief that we used to watch a particular program, or just chuckle at the ridiculousness of it all, but I have to say Transformers has remained as awesomely entertaining as I recall. Sure there may be bits that defy logic and seem corny, but we're talking about sentient robots from another planet who can transform into cars. Logic be damned.

Transformers originally came out in 1984 after Hasbro was looking for a new toy-line to capitalize on. Their attention turned to Japan and soon enough the idea for Transformers was born. Though several series have come out over the years (and we all know about the live-action movie franchise), the one that is revered the most is the original (sometimes referred to as "Generation 1"), which is what we have in hand today.

Transformers' original series ran from 1984 to 1987 and wrapped up with four seasons, 98 episodes, and an animated movie (which is not included here unfortunately). The show, like many others, featured episodic adventures from week to week with the occasional overarching plotline to give things a more thematic feel to them. The quality of the episodes ranged dramatically as you'd expect and there was something of a decline towards the latter half of the series. Still, no matter how bad the episodes got they were entertaining and worth celebrating for the sake of nostalgia.

The series begins on a planet far away called Cybertron. This high-tech world is in the midst of chaos as its two entities; the Autobots and Decepticons, are locked in battle for control of the world. The key here is energy and in order to find new sources of it the Autobots leave Cybertron, only to be pursued by their foes. They make their way through an asteroid field and crash on a seemingly uninhabited planet. Every robot is more or less destroyed in an instant, and it's not until four million years have passed that suitable technology has been created on the planet to initiate repairs. The Autobots and Decepticons are brought back to life and I'm sure you can guess by this point that the planet in question is Earth.

Soon after their revival, the Decepticons begin plundering Earth's resources to construct a shuttle that will take them back home. In the mind of their leader, Megatron, the Autobots are history and now there's nothing standing before him in his quest to rule the universe. Fortunately for us the Autobots survived as well and their leader, Optimus Prime, heads the charge and organizes his troops to protect our planet and stop Megatron in the process. This is the basic story found in the three part episode "More Than Meets the Eye" that sets up Transformers, introduces the core characters, and gets the ball rolling for things to come.

After the premier, the first few episodes of the series feature some formulaic one-shot stories that depict Megatron concocting ways to destroy the Autobots, or endanger Earth. Naturally the good guys prevail in the end in just about every episode. This is typical for something of the 80's Saturday morning variety, but things get interesting as more characters are introduced. In the episodes that follow, Skyfire and the Dinobots (Grimlock, Slag, and Sludge) are brought into the fold and shake things up a bit. This is followed by another solid three-parter entitled, "The Ultimate Doom", which sees Megatron gaining control of humanity via mind-control and working on bring Cybertron into Earths' orbit. Let's just say he dreams big and has the resources to pull something like this off.

After those episodes more characters are introduced such as the Insecticons and Constructicons. These episodes all lead up to the anticlimactic conclusion of the first season, though to be fair the transition into the second season is virtually seamless. This second season is where the bulk of Transformers' episodes came from and will undoubtedly be what you recall the most.

There are a couple of interesting episodes to kick the season off here and then things get silly with "Dinobot Island". I say silly because Prime sends the Dinobots to an island full of temporal rifts, which leads to the Decepticons unlocking some of its power and unleashing cowboys and pirates across the globe. From there some standout episodes such as "Changing Gears", "A Prime Problem", and "Attack of the Autobots" come through. There are a few mediocre ones in between and a couple of two-part episodes as well. Right up through to the end, the second season is a blast and the good far outweighs the bad.

It's at this point that the animated movie came out (you can find DVDTalk's review here) and brought about a certain climax that I won't discuss. All I'm going to say is that Optimus Prime takes his leave of the series for now and things are left in the hands of Rodimus Prime. The third season picks up with a five-part story called "The Five Faces of Darkness". This was really good and introduced a whole bunch of new faces, both good and evil. From here the show kind of meanders around for a bit up until the end, with the noteworthy "Return of Optimus Prime" making the journey worthwhile.

Now, as entertaining as Transformers is, there's no denying that the idea for the show and its characters were born out of the desire to sell a toy product to kids. We saw it with G.I. Joe, He-Man, and several other cartoons from the time period. Out of all of them though, I truly feel that Transformers was the only one to successfully withstand the test of time. Again, there are several cheesy bits to be found within the 98 episodes found in this boxed set, but the bulk of the collection is every bit as good as you remember it being. That's something truly special.

To read the rest of the review including a dissection of the Packaging, Video, Audio, and Supplemental Features please continue to the full review at DVD Talk.

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