Monday, March 28, 2011

SMCS Companion Piece #16: Beast Wars


Sorry this is (again) so late.  I've been having a rough week and a half, I'm afraid.
Today This past weekend on the Saturday Morning Cartoon Show we “watched” Beast Wars.  For those of you who may not be aware I LOVE Transformers.  As it premiered about a week before I was born and my mother liked watching cartoons I have been a fan of the series literally all my life.  One of my first blog posts, a SMSC blog, was a timeline about the franchise and if you recall I think of Beast Wars as being the line that rescued Transformers after the failure of the Generation 2 line.  To reiterate this line of toys was created after Hasbro acquired former toy company rival Kenner and basically allowed them to do “whatever” with the TF toys since they were already in the trash heap anyway.  Thus they were retooled utilizing new action figure technology and a new setting and theme.  The gambit paid off big time but had it failed its likely Transformers would be vastly different today, assuming they would even exist at all.
With renewed interest in Transformers it was decided that a new cartoon, the first in years, would be commissioned to draw interest in the toys.  While the storyline differed wildly form the one featured in the toy packing (The early ones, anyway) and that many fans were greatly upset by the changes I LOVED this show.  It featured significantly more mature storytelling than the original Generation 1 show, borrowed heavily from the beloved Marvel comic, and had lots of character development due to having a smaller cast.  Much of this formula was used in its predecessor Transformers Animated, which was also really awesome.   In a lot of ways, since I was about twelve at the time, it may be safe to say that this is MY TF series more so than the original one.
Click below for more on Beast Wars (Or for my Canadian friends “Beasties”.  You poor bastards).
Munky, not Trukk!
The show focuses on the conflict between a small crew of Maximal explorers and a renegade faction of Predacons.  The battle strands them on an Earth-like planet possessing two moons.  Both sides acquire animal alternate forms in order to shield themselves from raw energon deposits scattered throughout the world.  Optimus Primal, captain of the Maximal ship, declares it will be known as “The Beast Wars.”  For Season 1 the show had its ups and downs as the writers tried to find their voice.  There’s a lot of slapstick in this season but also a strong mythology arc surrounding the mystery of the planet and the staggering evidence that an advanced alien presence is involved in their war.  But by Season 2 shit starts getting real as character development for several characters reaches unparalleled heights (For Transformers, I mean).  Plus the storytelling itself became downright complex as the true purpose behind Megatron’s mission, and the possible damming effects on time and space, begin to come to the surface.
The cast was awesome.  Not everyone, of course, but most of cast we see get a fair amount of time to tell their story and many of the characters tend to be deeper than simply “I’m a heroic Autobot” or “I’m an evil Decepticon”.   In fact Megatron’s whole reason for breaking rank and setting off on this mission was because he feels, much like the rest of his kind, that the Predacons have become second-class citizens under Maximal rule and simply wants to change the status quo.  Of course since the Predacon ideal is to conquer the universe it’s still clear he’s evil but from his point of view he wouldn’t consider himself a villain.  That’s the important part.  Also he’s extremely theatrical and tends to act more like a Bond villain than anything else.  Which is awesome.
"No Mr. Bond, I expect you to die"
"Yesssss"
The best character in the show though was Dinobot, who last year was the fan choice to be inducted in the first ever Transformers Hall of Fame class (Beating out Generation 1 mainstays Grimlock, Jazz, and Soundwave).   Originally a Predacon and Megotron’s second-in-command he rebelled against his leader when it seemed obvious that they hadn’t landed on Earth as planned.  He then challenged Optimus Primal to a duel for leadership of the Maximal forces but when he lost he was allowed to join the group anyway, evening the odds of the Beast Wars.  Through the first two seasons of the show Dinobot was depicted as being extremely hard-edged compared to his new teammates but possessed a strong sense of honor and duty that alienated him from his own kind.  Ultimately, as we saw on the on this past show, he gave his life to protect a group of protohumans despite his death being assured.  He died as he lived: quoting Shakespeare.
HONOR!!!
It wasn’t all lollipops and rainbows, I’m afraid.  As I’ve said in the past any positive outcome of Transformers media (Exciting storylines, entertaining characters, etc.) are all secondary to Hasbro’s primary object: tricking your children into buying their toys.  Hell, they have a whole cable network for that sole purpose now.  So with that in mind you have to understand that any TF property will come with a large amount of product placement shoehorned in whether it makes sense to the story or now.  Season 1 wasn’t so bad for the most part since due to limitations with CGI technology back then they had a hard cap on the number of character models they could make and introductions of new characters were few and far between.  By Season 2 several characters had been killed off and replaced with new ones (i.e. New Toys) and several characters had their bodies upgraded to “Transmetal” (i.e. New Toys) so clearly Hasbro forced the issue by then.  It gets really bad in Season 3 though as not only do several character again get upgrades but new characters show up for now good reason and in at least one case arrives in one episodes and is killed in the very next one!  Who cares about character development?  WE GOTTA SELL THOSE F**KING TOYS!!!!!!!
So yeah, that’s pretty lame.  But even so Beast Wars was one of the best cartoons of its time and even today stands above some of the crap that gets thrown out.  Plus it has a spiritual successor in Transformers Animated which is a great show that has many seasons of exciting new-JUST KIDDING!  Hasbro canceled the show so that kids would buy Revenge of the Fallen toys instead.   HAHA, WE JUST WANT YOUR GODDAMN MONEY!!!!!
And no, I'm not talking about "Beast Machines"
My week has been bad enough, thank you
For more on Beast Wars check out the Transformers Wiki, possibly the best wiki on the net.  For the Saturday Morning Cartoon Show blog and podcast click here and here.

4 comments:

  1. "Tell my tale to those who ask. Tell it truly, the ill deeds along with the good and let me be judged accordingly. The rest is silence" Manly tears, every goddamn time.

    Also, on a tangential note regarding The Hub a.k.a. The Hasbro 'Buy Our Toys' channel, it was recently announced that they've picked up The Aquabats Super Show! for a 13 episode run. Who's ready for Aquabats action figures?

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  2. Dinobot....was the MAN! Oh...dinosaur...aah...robot! Optimus Primal became a dickhead by the end of the Beast Machines, all mystical and sh*t. Are you gonna review Beast Machines or did I miss that already?

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  3. I haven't reviewed or otherwise talked about Beast Machines in great detail yet.

    Usually I only really talk about cartoons when the Saturday Morning Cartoon Show radio program (Or I guess it would be a podcast from the internet's POV) plays them. If/when SMCS does a show about Beast Machines I'll write a blog about it as well but I really don't feel like doing it on my own initiative since that toon was so awful that it makes me wnt to set fires.

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