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Review: Transformers Season 3 and 4 (R2 UK) DVD

Written by Big Bot on July 30, 2004 | Reviews |


Written by Chris McFeely

With the threat of Unicron defeated, life goes on for the Autobots and Decepticons – but while the Autobots, and their new leader, Rodimus Prime (Gautier) have retaken their home plant of Cybertron and begun a new age of peace, the destitute, starving Decepticons, without their leader, Galvatron (Welker) are in dire straits… until the arrival of the mysterious Quintessons, who have an agenda all of their own. In the third season of Transformers, the future is now, and the saga of the robots in disguise continues!

The third season of the Transformers marked the biggest shake-up to the status quo imaginable. Taking its cue from the events of “Transformers: The Movie,” the third season leaped forward to the year 2006, with a new cast and surprisingly changed premise. It’s surely no coincidence that the addition of Flint Dille – grandson of the creator of defining sci-fi show, Buck Rogers – saw the series itself transform, from genial robot action to grim sci-fi adventure, with many outer space and alien world settings, giving a much broader scope to the season, and following it up with some of the show’s grittiest, most mature stories. Continuity between episodes became stronger than it had ever been as plot concepts and locations were revisited and threads from episodes would carry over into others, creating a more coherent universe, in a season that finally fully fleshed out the history of Cybertron and the Transformer race.

In addition to this, a smaller core cast was formed that the show would revolve around, with peripheral characters being alternated in and out, as opposed to the previous season’s method of largely just selecting a random group of characters to go with Optimus Prime or Megatron, or giving one or two characters an episode to themselves. This allowed for more development of the characters’ personalities and relationships, in a way that didn’t feel as forced or short-sighted as the character-focal episodes that peppered the second season. Of course, this wasn’t a perfect idea – it resulted in the abandonment of a metric ton of Autobots from the previous two seasons (in addition to the ones who died during the movie), which creates a rather jarring disconnect between the second and third seasons (even moreso than a twenty-year jump). But where we lost old characters, we gained new ones – and also a third party that shook up the basic nature of the show’s war. The introduction of the Quintessons as a third force, playing both sides off against each other, attacking both at once, and working towards their own agenda added a factor to the show that this reviewer thinks was much-needed. The season even worked in some crossovers with fellow Hasbro property, “G.I. Joe,” without actually explaining them in dialogue – an elderly Flint appears as the father of Marissa Faireborn in “The Killing Jar,” and the ever-popular Cobra Commander plays a major role in the unique “Only Human,” which revolves around Synthoid technology from the “G.I. Joe” series.

The third season catches a lot of flak for having weak animation – courtesy of Korean animation studio, AKOM – but when one actually watches it in a set like this, you realise that this reputation is not actually that true. While about half the season IS animated in this sub-par manner (on a ratio, yes, that’s more than any other season), the other episodes break this up well, and give the season a pretty dichotomous look, as they contain some of the BEST animation the series has – “Call of the Primitives” is undisputedly the best animated Transformers episode there is, while episodes like “The Dweller in the Depths,” “Chaos” and “The Killing Jar” have some particularly excellent visuals. Most episodes that are not AKOM work are actually above the average set by past seasons. And when animation was weak, story would often pick up the pace – the opening “Five Faces of Darkness” mini-series features some incredibly shoddy animation which only worsens as it goes on, but features the most ambitious, complex story of the entire G1 cartoon, which weaves multiple plotlines in and out of each other with skill, slowly revealing the mystery the story is built around, with some of the best dialogue of the series.

Of course, the writing wasn’t going to be great all the time, and there are a few clunkers in the mix – take “Surprise Party,” with the unpleasant, ill-conceived characters of Daniel Witwicky and Wheelie taking centre stage in a completely pointless story, or in a more general sense, applying to episodes of various qualities, the infuriating regression of Grimlock, a serious, gruff self-serving character in the previous seasons, into a goofy, kid-friendly sidekick character. And I would be remiss if I did not mention “Carnage in C-Minor,” the worst-animated episode of the series, with a horrible execution of a concept that was dodgy in the first place.

The season ends with the “Return of Optimus Prime” two-parter, which, despite it’s good animation, is executed somewhat clumsily, and laboured with a plot device which could have been played for some pretty grim subject matter, but instead resulted in a return to the more colourful, straightforward superheroics of past seasons, lacking the ‘edge’ that much of the season before it benefited from.

The third season of Transformers is, by and large, the least popular with both serious and casual fans. I’d have to say – beyond the dislike many have for the Quintesson origin of the Transformers, preferring instead the origin story crafted in the Marvel comics – this probably largely comes from childhood experience of the season, from the massive change in premise it underwent, coupled with the discarding of many familiar characters, particularly Optimus Prime, leading to a wide dislike of Rodimus Prime, seen as a transitional leader and labelled a “whiner” by most. Of course, what some will call “whining,” others will call “actually having a personality and problems,” which was more than Optimus Prime ever did. Optimus may have been a great leader, but Rodimus was a better character (and when everyone’s singing the praises of Simon Furman’s comic-book portrayal of a self-doubting Optimus Prime, they seem to forget Rodimus did it first). Anyway, to get back down off the soap-box… I think the best way to describe season three is: it was Transformers, Jim, but not as we knew it. And that, in that day and age, was where it went wrong, producing something that, in both principle and exercise, was the superior of it’s predecessors, but changed too much to be accessible to the established fan base, who couldn’t accept a lot of the radical differences. Rodimus and Galvatron may not be as iconic as Optimus Prime and Megatron, but try looking back on it now. I think – I hope – you’ll be surprised.

After season three comes the three-part mini-series, “The Rebirth,” which is the entirety of the show’s fourth season. It was conceived and written to be the end of the series, though it was cut down from five episodes to three, which results in it being a little rushed, at least in it’s introduction of the new toy characters, bringing in around two dozen of them, with all but two of them showing up in the first episode alone (and that’s not even counting the Nebulons). It’s a fairly straightforward tale that suffers from having to give excessive time over to introducing the toyline’s latest gimmick, with more of AKOM’s sub-par animation, but an open, yet fairly satisfying – if slightly syrupy – ending.

33 episodes on four discs, each with six chapter points. Split up over the discs in groups of 9, 9, 9 and 6.

Two audio options – a remixed 5.1 audio track containing extra sound effects not in the original show, and a 2.0 stereo track, without ‘em. This DVD also restores the original ending to “Dark Awakening,” not on Rhino’s American release.

When season three originally aired, several episodes were broadcast out of order, disrupting the chronological story order of the series. This DVD set puts the errant episodes in their proper place so viewers can enjoy the stories in order, but otherwise preserves the original airing order, unlike its American counterpart.

Collected in four standard DVD cases in a silver card slip case bearing Galvatron’s head, drawn in the style of the Autobot and Decepticon symbols. The cover to each case bears the image of Galvatron and Rodimus as a background, with some odd choices for central characters – Bruticus, Defensor, Superion and Blaster. All art is by Andy Wildman, which probably goes some way to explaining the characters, as the art had probably been already drawn. Note that the Bruticus image isn’t used anywhere else, while the others grace postcards (below).

This set contains a booklet with episodes synopses and an intro by TheTF.Net webmaster Darren Jamieson, a set of six postcards, and the second instalment of the fan comic, “The Beast Within.”

The synopses booklet is standard (I wrote the summaries for “The Rebirth”), but where Jamieson’s intros have been energetic and excited before, he seems unable to muster much enthusiasm for season three, simply pointing out the lack of knowledge about it in the UK, and it’s poor animation. And I can’t agree even for a second with his belief that the shift to space-bound stories was just because space was easier for the animators to draw.

Six postcards come with this set, instead of the four that have been with previous sets, four decorated pieces of art by Andy Wildman (Galvatron, Rodimus, Menasor and Defensor) – why does no-one have a faction symbol? Galvatron and Rodimus’s chests look positively barren without them! – and the remaining two featuring the winning images from the fan art contest Metrodome held.

This ‘issue’ of “The Beast Within,” subtitled “Consequences,” once again proves to be a very uneven affair. Artist Dylan Gibson turns in vastly superior work this time around, as he has ditched the Pat Lee mimicry that hurt the previous instalment, and produced a grimmer looking story that would have befitted the first part more. The lettering appears to be done by hand, which has at least resulted in the proper use of full stops this time (still lots of dropped commas, though). The story itself, however, is terribly unsatisfying – limited greatly by its six-page length, it progresses nicely up until a hideously rushed final page which crams in more panels that is comfortable, ending suddenly and anticlimactically. Additionally, this part’s sudden shift in focus from the torment of Grimlock in the first part to the bland heroics and clichéd dialogue of Optimus Prime does it no favours, leaving the Beast feeling like little more than a generic monster.

The fourth disc of the set contains the special features.

Starting it off are the staple character profiles, this time for Rodimus Prime, Ultra Magnus, Kup, Blurr, Arcee, Galvatron, Cyclonus and Scourge, with art by fan-turned-pro, Simon Williams, who illustrated some of the UK Armada comic.

Next is a 20-question quiz, with some genuinely hard ones in the mix that even serious Transfans will be given pause over. Making it more challenging is the new set-up, where you don’t discover your score until the end, meaning you’ll have to go back to the start to try again, abandoning the previous method of letting you try over and over again until you got each question right.

In the vein of the other sets, a fan art gallery is included, with some particularly nice pieces, but it’s notably smaller than other sets’ offerings.

Thoroughly trouncing Season 2, Part 1’s Auto Assembly footage is the film from the 2004 convention. Presented – just a smidge nervously, methinks – by Omar Shefta, a.k.a. Overload from TheTF.Net forums, it’s full of clips from events at the ‘con (including the panels, with Wally Wingert’s camp Grimlock impression), little chats with fans, and interviews with TF luminaries Simon Furman, Lee Sullivan and Andrew Wildman, as well as the above-mentioned Simon Williams. It’s followed up by the full-length interviews with Furman, Sullivan and Wildman, of which only clips appear in the main film. It totals about 40mins.

The DVD-Rom content of the set is where it shines, presenting all 33 original episode scripts, allowing fans to see things that were cut and changed (although two parts of “The Rebirth” have clearly been recreated from the finished episodes). Also included is a Cast List and Synopses for the entire series, containing more interesting titbits, a selection of desktops, and some simple kids’ masks (made from the images that adorn the covers of all four season box sets).

On the main menu of disk four, highlighting “Episode Selection” and pressing up twice reveals the link – hit enter for the egg, which is the second version of the episode, “Dark Awakening,” containing the re-dubbed ending narration advertising “The Return of Optimus Prime” (this version of the episode was on Rhino’s set). It’s a bit excessive to include the entire episode when the only change is basically the replacement of three words at the very end, but a nice attention to detail.

Once again, as with Season 2, Part 2, it’s not the quantity of extras, but the care with which they are handled and presented that makes them quality. They top off a great DVD set of a great and underrated part of TF history.

This review is based on as set of preview disks that I received, which had a few flubs on them. Primarily, the original ending to “Dark Awakening” was only on the 5.1 audio track of the episode, while the re-dubbed ending was on the 2.0 track. It was supposed to be on both. This is the main flaw that Metrodome plan to fix, which has resulted in the set being held back two weeks. Also, “The Face of the Nijika” was missing its ‘trailer’ and end credits, and, as was the case with the Rhino disks, the unique “Five Faces of Darkness” opening sequence is only on parts 3 and 5, with the regular season three sequence on parts 1, 2 and 4. Whether or not this and the “Nijika” error will also be fixed during the extended time remains to be seen.

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