Transformers Prime is the current incarnation of the franchise on television. The story begins with Darkness Rising, a CGI animated pilot film which establishes the series conflict.
After the death of one of their comrades at the hands of Starscream, Optimus and his friends have to deal with the arrival of Megatron after an apparent absence of years, and his plan to raise an undead army of Cybertronian warriors.
Of course, as is the Transformers formula, a few human children get mixed up in the plot, and find themselves assisting the robots in disguise. The scope of the film is grand, the stakes are high, and while the conflict is resolved, the ending sets up the series perfectly.
The CGI is much better than previous attempts at a CGI Transformers series, which is to be expected with the improved technology, but it’s not just the tech.
The art direction is quite interesting, and reflects modern filmmaking trends. The set design and character design are all fantastic, and an attention to detail is apparent. There is a clear distinction between the human/autobot design and architechture, and the malevolent feel of Decepticon design.
I could have gone for a little more variation in the bots themselves, especially in the zombie-fighting scenes. It doesn’t make much sense that the still living Cybertronians all look unique, while all the dead ones are exactly the same design, but I’m sure it was a cost-saving measure for the short time the bots were being used.
The voice acting is spot on, and it’s impressive that they’ve got Peter Cullen in the role of Optimus prime yet again. It really ties all the versions together knowing that no matter which Transformers show I want to watch, including the films, Optimus’s voice is always the same. It will be a sad day for Transformers fans when he finally retires.
As an aside: The DVD does a really good job of explaining some Cybertron mythology, and explaining exactly why the Autobots and Decepticons are fighting over Earth, something the films never really cover, and past series have always been sketchy about. I’ve been watching Transformers for 25 years, and after watching this, I think I understand the full back-story for the first time. Of course, it could just be that this version of the mythology is clearer than past versions.
The DVD special features aren’t incredibly extensive, but give an interesting look at the animation process, including some pre-CG character art, and a draft version of the animation for the first episode. If you’re into animation and the processes behind it, these could be interesting.
Overall, it’s a great Transformers tale, which harkens back to the Transformers we knew as children, and - dare I say it - it is more fun an adventure to watch than any of the recent films.
Transformers Prime: Darkness Rising is available now on DVD from Shout! Factory. Season 2 of the show starts next spring on The Hub.