Thursday, January 28, 2010

Thoughts on Beast Wars and Beast Machines-He said

As part of our attempt to fill the site with more content we will be trying to do not just reviews but essays or dissections of movies/shows that we enjoy as well.  Also we will be doing at least a review independently from movies we’ve both seen from Netflix that are worthy of mention.  The first of this series will be Beast Wars/Machines which I just got done watching.  Let me preface by saying I have seen this series twice, when it first came out and this time when I re watched it.  Also I’m a huge freaking nerd about all transformers-y stuff (except the movies) so to those that are uninitiated this will be a bunch of mumbo jumbo, and to the hardcore nerds, I’ll simply be stating the obvious.
            Predacon Cast Including Various Forms of Megatron

When Beast Wars came out it was the mid 90’s, America had not seen any new Transformers media in a long time with the exception of the comics.  When the license went to toy company Kenner, they decided to shake things up a bit by having Transformers turn into animals instead of cars.  In this story, the protagonists were not the Autobots and Decepticons, but their descendents the Maximals and Predacons It became the first of many ironic fan whine fests over a new direction in the franchise.  Thankfully it became one of the finest examples of Transformers yet.  You have for the first time a small group of characters, which could be developed more interestingly over the course of the series.  Beast Wars much like Transformers Animated after it features a rookie Optimus Prime character, and a deliciously charming Megatron character. 
       Core Cast of Maximals Including Various forms of Optimus Source

What’s great about this series is that with minimal googling you can understand a lot of references if you wanted to, but if you know them already then it makes Beast Wars a richer experience, in my opinion.  Of course this being the age of Avatar, one might consider the graphics to look really crappy and dated, which I guess if you’re some sort of HD fan it would be detrimental, then again no one critiques old Mickey cartoons for their style.  The show can be forgiven every once in a while for being cheesy.  A big example of this is, is how the Maximals and Predacons NEED to say “maximize” and “terrorize” in order to transform, but put it in the context of little kids watching this, I can already picture them playing with the toys and yelling that out. It’s cute.  The biggest complaint about this series is the pacing.  In the first season you can tell that they haven’t quite figured out what direction they are going in and you have basically the first half of the season being the same episode just in different terrain. 

As I have mentioned before the risks that the show took were groundbreaking back then and they still feel fresh today.  The relative small group of characters made sure you got some quality time with everyone in the crews.  I believe everyone can tell a defining characteristic of all the Maximals and Predacons.  This was not the case in Generation 1 where most o the characters were introduced and forgotten all too quickly. This is mostly due to the fact that there were always new toys that needed attention in the show so they would sell.  To my mind the best characters in the series were Dinobot, Megatron, Cheetor and Optimus Primal, you notice such a change in their personalities that would not happen in most cartoon series today.  But the characters were developed thanks to the great stories that the series had.  While I was sure of the fact that the writers didn’t know the direction they were going in completely, in the first season the second and third seasons had great storylines that referenced season 1 and very seldom were full of plot holes. There were tons of good stand-alone that would be silly and ridiculous sometime but all the while they build towards something greater in the background.

Beast Machines, the sequel to Beast Machines was a completely different animal, if you’ll pardon the pun.  The changes were more abrupt, the characters looked like a freakish humanoid versions of themselves, which is jarring to the untrained eye.   But this is a series for the initiated, you have to know the Beast Wars lore, and I really believe that this series is better appreciated in its own context.
                 Vehicon Generals: Tankor, Jetstorm and Thrust Source

The stories have been criticized that they are not episodic enough, there are plotlines building up constantly that have subsequently bigger repercussions later, and many two or three part storylines.  This made it hard for many people to jump in a la Lost.  Given the fact that there was never any certainty about the length of the series, it made sense that there was always something greater to build up to.  Likewise the character designs, which even to me see a bit odd, make sense in the context of the show’s world.  One of the constant themes was about finding balance between the technological and organic.  I love that the story does become bleaker because of the hard themes that it is trying to tackle. The religious fanaticism exhibited by Optimus Primal in the end of the first season seemed a bit too much.  Much like the third season of Beast Wars you can tell that the producers knew his was going to be their last season and rushed to wrap up too many things in a very limited amount of time.
        Beast Machines Maximals: Cheetor, Blackarachnia, Optimus Primal, and Rattrap Source

Overall, I believe that the series suffers too much from its own radical ideas in terms of what transformers should be, Beast Machines suffers from trying to tackle too dark and philosophical themes in a limited time.  The effects of this series are mostly seen in the articulation of the toys and in the elements borrowed by other series such as Transformers: Animated.  By all means though if you are remotely interested in cartoons, or in transformers you got to check this series out.  

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