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Old 2011-03-25, 02:28 AM   #1
Blackjack
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Default Cartoon Episode Reviews: Transformers Prime

Darkness Rising, Part 1
Airdate: 26 November 2010
Written By: Duane Capizzi

Synopsis:
The Autobots Cliffjumper and Arcee are on open roads, talking over the comm about Cliffjumper's recent exploits of messing with the humans. However, Cliffjumper detects a large amount of Energon crystals nearby and goes to investigate, but the landscape is shadowed by the Decepticon warship that appeared above him. A group of Decepticon troopers drop down, and Cliffjumper. Arcee alerts the rest of the Autobots before going off to help Cliffjumper. Meanwhile, Cliffjumper fights on, beating down several Decepticons. However, they outnumber him and manage to knock him down into the crystals. Several stray blasts blow up the energon, causing a massive exosion. The surviving Decepticons drag Cliffjumper back into the warship. Decepticon leader Starscream isn't happy about the loss of the Energon, and Cliffjumper's defiant attitude isn't making his mood any better. Starscream stabs Cliffjumper through the chest with his arm, executing him. The rest of the Autobots — Optimus Prime, Arcee, Bumblebee and Bulkhead — arrive too at the crater via ground bridge, and Ratchet reports that Cliffjumper's life signal has just terminated. Arcee picks up the horn Cliffjumper lost during the battle. Back on the warship, Soundwave replays a recording of Arcee's comms talk, and Starscream marks her as their next target. Optimus Prime briefly eulogise Cliffjumper and Arcee drives away to cool off.

In the small town of Jasper, Nevada, Jack Darby works at a drive-thru in KO Burger, being tormented by a couple of his friends. Arcee finds herself being tailed by two Decepticons, and tries to lose them by parking at KO Burger. Jack mistakes her for a real motorcycle and fantasizes about having a motorcycle of his own, rubbing Arcee before hopping on. Two girls catch him talking to a motorcycle, but before Jack could come up with an excuse the Decepticons spot Arcee. With Jack still on-board, Arcee takes off, Decepticons in pursuit. After a wild chase Arcee drops Jack and threatens him not to tell anyone before driving away again. However, one of the Decepticons head after Jack, so Arcee backtracks and does some stunts to distract the Decepticons so Jack could hop on. The chase heads to the freeway, and the Decepticons begin to open fire. Bumblebee arrives and sideswipes the Decepticons, slowing them down.

In a nearby drainage canal, Rafael Esquivel is playing with a remote-controlled car when Arcee and Jack drop in. The Decepticons transform and battle Arcee, but the Autobot is outnumbered. Bumblebee arrives to help, but is distracted when he accidentally steps of Rafael's toy. The Decepticons knock Arcee, then Bumblebee, down. Raf draws the Decepticons' attention. One of the Decepticons stalk towards the two humans who flee into a drain. This distraction allows Bumblebee and Arcee to get a second wind, and when Bulkhead arrives (apparently held up by traffic) the two Decepticons flee. Optimus Prime tells the Autobots that since the Decepticons have seen the boys, the two may be targeted. Bumblebee and Arcee try to take them to HQ. Raf trustingly rides Bumblebee, but Jack walks away. Miko Nakadai sits outside the school, drawing Arcee, and eavesdrops when Arcee transforms in an alley and tries to convince Jack to come along. In on the secret, Miko joins the Autobots to their HQ, concealed in a mountain. Optimus Prime meets the kids, giving them an exposition regarding the Transformers' war, which had had a hiatus of three years. Optimus fears that with the Decepticons back, Megatron will return as well.

Soundwave detects a transmission from deep space, and under Starscream's orders, a space bridge is activated. A Cybertronian jet shoots out of it, transforming into Megatron, who announces his return.

Featured Characters: Cliffjumper (killed), Arcee, Vehicon Cars, Optimus Prime, Ratchet, Bulkhead, Bumblebee, Starscream, Soundwave, Jack Derby, Sierra, Rafael Esquivel, Miko Nakadai, Megatron

Review:
After the first live-action movie, we were treated to the first non-dubbed show since the G1 trilogy (G1, Beast Wars and Beast Machines), namely Transformers: Animated. While a good show, with great characters and animation, it's got pacing problems, as well as a penchant to fill their episodes with needless jokes. And it's over-hyped. Now, after Animated's untimely demise, we get Transformers: Prime. It's the first Transformers cartoon to be fully done in CGI ever since Beast Wars and Beast Machines (Energon and Cybertron don't count, in those shows only the robots are CGI. Pretty poor CGI, too.). Now the transfans are always sceptical about anything remotely new. Will it be a show catering to kids like Armada? Will it be a pointless character/weapon-of-the-week like G1? Will it be a fangasm like Animated? Will it be a dark episodic fast-paced show like Beast Machines? Will it be as good as, God forbid, Beast Wars?

First up, the CGI is just gorgeous. Now understandably they stuck with uninhabited areas, mostly, because animating dozens of human extras would be too much. Forests, rocky cliffs, the freeway, the drainage canal, but they all look simply amazing. The only bit I have a problem with is any scene with buildings — the Burger stall and the school. The squeaky-clean buildings just seem so uninhabited, like a ghost town bar the main characters and one or two odd extras. But otherwise? The CGI is great. The looming Nemesis in particular is simply realistic and spectacular. Battle scenes, all of them without an exception, are stunning, it's like watching one of those complex battles of the live-action movie. And I particularly like the effect of the expolosion blossoming after the Decepticon troops blow up the Energon. The humans have the right touch of realism and cartoony in, and not as terrible as I thought they would be when seeing their character models. Transformations are astoundingly smooth, and the way light is reflected/glinted off metal is well done as well. Fighting scenes are astounding too, and I like how the Vehicons drop out of the Nemesis, Terminator-like. The background score is great as well, feeling like something that came out of a movie instead of repeating the same jingle all over again like most other shows (Beast Machines, I'm looking at you).

But pretty CGI and awesome music can't save a horrible show, which, decidedly, TF: Prime is NOT if this episode was any indication. Instead of repeating the same old tired first encounter with Earth thing, apparently the Transformers have been among us for a long time. Three years, in fact, after their last battle. See? Robots in disguise. And the characters? Well, the show writers take the best qualities of those characters they want to use, and that's it. Bumblebee's basically his movie self, charming yet able to bash the Drones' faces in. Optimus Prime is an Expy of his Movieverse counterpart, it seems, and Peter Cullen again outdid himself as Optimus' baritone voice. We don't see much of Ratchet here, but his voice is nice as well, and he carries the whole 'veteran warrior' bit without feeling too much as 'whiny, rusty old man' like Kup or Animated Ratchet. See, the good bits (Ratchet being old) are taken, the bad bits (Ratchet being a whiner) go away. Likewise, Bulkhead, despite being based on his jolly Animated counterpart, is no longer a self-pitying stupid village bumpkin.

What I do applaud is the different take on Arcee and Starscream. Arcee (her voice is brilliant as well. In fact, all the casting for voices are simply astounding.) breaks the female Transformer stereotype again by not being pink/damsel in distress/somebody's love interest/femme fatale/queen bee. Like her Movieverse namesake, as well as BM Strika and maybe Airazor before her, Arcee is one of those few female Transformers that's not treated differently. She's just there, and she can kick your ass. Starscream, likewise, is a Movieverse-inspired take in that he is actually competent. Hey, he hid that bloody massive warship for three years, secretly plotting, that's got to count for something! And his voice is so malicious, especially when he kills Cliffjumper (more on that later). Oh, yes, he's silver and wings and helmet aside don't look a shit like G1. Which is good; it makes him distinctive instead of being just another Starscream. Soundwave, although we don't see much, seems to be an amalgation of his G1 persona (shadowy advisor) and his live-action take (I can know everything that happens in the world). Megatron, well, his design is badass but we don't see him do anything. Welker's voice sounds a bit off, though.

Aaaand, the humans. The first encounter here is handled better than anything, almost a good as the Movieverse. In fact it feels like a Bay epic, not just because of the wildly stunning action scenes, but also because there are times when it's just silent action with screaming and stuff, and there are times for subdued jokes. 'What took you?' 'Traffic'. None of those gag-or-reference-every-two-minutes like Animated, noooo. Jack Darby is basically Sam Witwicky in all but name. He doesn't want to be involved in big robots, but he's in on the secret, sadly dragged along in the chase by way of misfortune. Also a funny moment when he basically gropes Arcee all over. He's also got that same geeky charm Sam has. Rafael... Raf is just your basic human kid, I suppose. Fearless and trusting. Miko... Miko strikes me as annoying, but it's more of the perky voice instead of anything. Still, it's great for Miko and Raf to go 'Giant friendly robots? AWESOME!'

Now, how awesome was it to hear Cliffjumper's voice voiced by the Rock? His personality is pretty generic, but he's there to die. This is probably to establish the maturity of the series, and that uh-oh, anyone outside the main cast can die. And, hey, the rules are different this time; this isn't the same Decepticons that spends their time building a giant griffin, or can't find their way out of a mine. These guys are dangerous villains that will kill our heroes at first sight. A nice set-up. Animated had started off like this (without the killing part) but the Decepticons suffer from villain decay over time, let's hope the same doesn't happen to the 'Cons here. Shame about Cliffjumper, though. While it might have had more impact if they killed off somebody from the Movies/Animated like, it's still effective. At least Cliffy got a kickass scene before his death. The main selling point here, however, is the battle between Arcee, Bumblebee and the two Vehicons. It's a stunning road battle, something that no Transformers cartoon has ever done properly until now. Arcee's acrobatics, those sexy Vehicon muscle cars slamming onto her, Bumblebee (awesome revamped vehicle mode) sideswiping the cars... and the melee fistfight between the quartet... all well done. I particularly like the scene when the Vehicon stalks slowly towards the humans, lifeless visor glaring down, the light glinting off the purple armour, and the camera shakes a little with every step he takes... I'm just bummed that the two Vehicons are just drones and not actual characters, they're just so darned pretty!

Basically, it's as great as it can be in introducing characters and concepts. Also, great action scenes are a bonus, and the maturity that TF: Prime has... without being too serious (I wager that's why Miko is thrown into the bunch). Characters that usually annoyed the hell out of me, Starscream and Arcee, get revamped into something better. Not flawless, certainly, but a great set-up which is enjoyable rather than repetitive or irritating. More, please.

(Four and a Half out of Five)

Notes:
Apparently the Autobots and Decepticons have been battling on Earth for a long time, hidden. The Decepticons were last seen 'three years ago', until they reappear in this episode.

Since the show is run by Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman, writers of the script for the first two live-action movies, the 'three years ago' reference is no doubt a shout-out to the first Movie, which aired in 2007.

Many of the characters, of course, draw inspiration from their previous incarnations.
-Optimus Prime is an amalgation of mainly his G1 and Movie selves. His alternate mode is similar to Movie Prime, but in G1 Prime's colours. His retractable faceplate and mouth underneath is also based on Movie Prime. Voiced by Peter Cullen, the original G1 Optimus as well as Movie Optimus.
-Bumblebee's general appearance, alternate mode and inability to speak makes him an Expy of Movie Bumblebee. He's considerably less psycho, though.
-Bulkhead's general appearance and personality is also imported from Animated Bulkhead, although his jaw is his mouth instead of just being the chin. He also traded in for a military truck alternate mode.
-Ratchet is based somewhat on his Animated self, being gruff and considerably older, but not that old. His sarcastic wit is probably inspired by G1 Ratchet.
-Arcee's alternate mode is based on Movieverse Chromia (who is 1/3rd of Arcee in some way. Don't ask.) but for the most part have nothing in common with any other Arcees other than being female.
-Cliffjumper's gung-ho attitude, head design and general brashness is based on his G1 counterpart. Hey, he's tired of being known as 'red Bumblebee' all the time!
-Starscream's design is all new, although he retains his Animated counterpart's chin, his movie Counterpart's hunched countenance and his torso is his Movie counterpart's face.
-Soundwave's design is all new as well, taking cues from the Movieverse. As a twist Soundwave doesn't speak in monotone. Rather, he doesn't speak so much as repeating whatever he hears to others. Making him the counterpart to Bumblebee.
-Megatron's design is mostly based on G1 and Animated, but his clawed fingers, shoulder armour and face, as well the revamped fusion cannon are all based on the Movieverse design. Also, funky alien jet alternate mode. Megs is voiced by his G1 voice actor Frank Welker as well.

Technically Prime is supposed to be in continuity with the War for Cybertron game. We'll take the radical change in Arcee, Bumblebee, Soundwave and Starscream's appearances as being due to millions of years of war, eh?

Starscream's warship is called the Nemesis and pretty obviously based on the G1 Decepticon warship of the same name.

The Space Bridge is introduced in G1, and has had different shapes and sizes. The one Megatron uses is an amalgation of the G1 cartoon and Animated, being placed on an asteroid but is a ring on the ground instead of a tuning fork.

The Ground Bridge seems to be based on the Global Space Bridge from Robots in Disguise, but it makes more sense because it just teleports from the base to anywhere on Earth, instead of being some random unexplained highway.

Since 'slag', introduced and made popular in Beast Wars as a kid-friendly curse word now have negative connotations, 'scrap', by virtue of sounding like 'crap', replaces it. Arcee is a big fan, saying it three times in the first episode alone.

Energon crystals. Energon is a recurring theme in almost all franchises, while Energon crystal deposits are first introduced in Beast Wars.

The Decepticon troops (they're pretty!) are generics. While originally their character models were shown with the title 'Eradicon', the official name is 'Vehicon', after the faction that employed legions of identical drones in Beast Machines. Their sexy muscle car alt modes are rather subtly based around the Decepticon symbol.

Arcee calls Bumblebee family. Whether she's being a smartass or if there is really a familial connection remains to be seen.

Arcee has a holographic rider called Sadie. No, not that Sadie.

Optimus Prime introduces the Autobots in the exact same way his Movieverse counterparts did. Although he also introduces the short-form 'Autobots' instead of waiting for Ratchet to do so.

According to Optimus, the split between Optimus Prime and Megatron happened during the war. A little inconsistency with War for Cybertron here.

Speaking of the game, the shot of Cybertron is directly copied from there, albeit in a dark hue.

As established in War for Cybertron and reinforced here, Cybertron has been rendered uninhabitable by the war, like it was in the Movieverse continuity and IDW comics. Though everybody ignores it in the latter.

Jack references Fight Club at one point when talking to Raf.

Note that unlike Movieverse or even Animated, mass shifting is again used here. Most notable is Arcee, in the scene where she talks to Jack in the alley. She expands from a motorcycle into a robot that towers over Jack, nearly filling the entire alley.

Last but not least, it is worth mentioning that Cliffjumper got a lot of hype prior to the debut of the series, having 'the Rock' as his v/a, being the main character in the prequel comic released by IDW and used in many trailers and promotional photos... but he gets killed off in five minutes. TF: Prime's sister show, G.I. Joe: Renegades, did the same with Ripcord, killing him off... only it's more effective since Ripcord was one of the stars of the live action movie.

The arm gimmicks introduced this episode include:
-Cliffjumper's hands can both change into triple-barrelled guns.
-The Vehicon cars' right arm change into triangle-shaped guns. In vehicle mode they have miniature versions of those guns that pop out of their hoods.
-Optimus Prime's arm transforms into a double-barreled rifle based on his iconic Movieverse one (long big barrel and a shorter one).
-Bulkhead's massive arm also transforms into an equally chunky blaster.
-Arcee's arm changes into a rifle, albeit a slender one.
-Bumblebee has pop-out guns that come out of both his wrists, somewhat similar to Animated Ratchet's EMP Gun.

Goofs:
When Ratchet scans for Cliffjumper's signal, only five signals are shown (including Cliff's, who terminates during the scene) instead of six. Ratchet's own signal might be excluded, though, explaining it.

It kind of bothers me that Jack's legs aren't crushed (or at least sheared off) when Arcee passes between the two Vehicons. Sparks fly, damn it! And Jack doesn't seem to be tucking his legs in...

The insignia embalzoned on the floor of the Autobot base is based on the live-action Movie's Autobot insignia (four-sided optics) instead of the standard Autobot insignia. However, when the episode was re-aired weeks later, the error was re-edited into the proper insignia.

Cliffjumper's name is parsed Cliff Jumper in the credits.

If War for Cybertron and the Exodus novel are supposed to be in continuity with the Prime cartoon (which I doubt; the novel and the game itself contradict each other on everything but the basic plot) there are multiple inconsistencies with the character's voices/appearances/personalities et cetera. Also, a little difference in details with respect to the flashback, but that may be because of the 'unreliable narrator' effect.
 

Last edited by Blackjack; 2011-10-04 at 11:30 AM.
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