One of this summer's biggest films was Transformers, Michael Bay's vision of what the iconic 80's cartoon heroes would look like in our modern world without the aid of plot or character development. Movie snobbery aside, the film was fun and in the end, big robots are big robots and who doesn't love big robots? Anyway, with the Transformers massive box office receipts, is it any wonder that the DVD shelves are being flooded with re-releases of nearly every Transformers itineration since the good old days? Most would agree that no Transformers spin-off or side story has adequately captured the magic of the original series, but that hasn't stopped anyone from trying. Perhaps most disappointing of all is Transformers: Beast Wars, a late 90's CGI Transformers spin-off that had the Robots In Disguise camouflaged asanimals? You read that right; the cool trucks, planes and stereos of old (Soundwave!) were replaced for this show with monkeys, rhinos and even some bugs. If you're still interested at this point, Rhino has released a Beast Wars primer of sorts; the DVD I was asked to review contained only the series' first six episodes, but for those on the fence about the concept, the disc provides an adequate jumping-off point.
First, let's talk about the disc's positive points. Rhino, as always, provides a fairly nice transfer of the original show's master recordings, but provides very little in the way of bonus material. Again, this disc couldn't be construed as anything but a taste of the show for curious parties; season-by-season releases of Beast Wars can be found nearly anywhere and they provide the bonus features and reasonable price tag a die-hard fan would be looking for. Anyway, the six episodes presented here look and sound as they should and if you like what you see, the entirety of the Beast Wars series is but a trip to Best Buy away.
That is the catch - will you like what you see? Most fans of the original Transformers series won't find much to love here. The CGI animation looks extremely dated and even makes Reboot (a terrible CGI cartoon with a dedicated cult following) look like a Pixar feature. While hand-drawn animation sometimes ages gracefully (think Disney or Warner Bros.), CGI has come so far so fast that anything pre-Toy Story looks woefully silly in comparison. If you've watched the "Treehouse of Horror" episode with Homer's 3D adventure on the new Simpsons Season Ten DVD set, you'll know what I'm talking about. If the only problem was the animation, though, Beast Wars might still be worth your time. It isn't.
My main issue with the show is that it feels both more mature than the original Transformers and dumbed-down at the same time. The characters seem more fleshed out, stories tend to skew a tad darker than the original and fights between the good and bad guys actually contain violence, rather than the laser crossfire that never hit anything of the original. At the same time, the plots could be recycled from even the lamest of reject Thundercats scripts - Character "A" gets a power boost, Character "B" learns a valuable lesson, etc. At best, the series challenged and even overcame the standards set by the original, but at worst, Beast Wars was a lazy, boring and laughably lame spin-off.
Though only hinted at in this DVD sampler, Beast Wars is notable for one other reason: the series expands on the story of Grimlock, a fan-favorite Autobot from the original. Yeah, you remember himthe Tyrannosaurus Rex? Yeahhe was cool, wasn't he? Anyhow, he makes his triumphant return in Transformers: Beast Wars. Sadly, his finest hour, a script that was determined "too dark" for the show's younger audience, was never shown, but Grimlock is here nonetheless, and his fans will be happy to see him back in all his glory. Other notable Transformers show up here as well, and the most recognizable of them is Scorpinox, a Decepticon that gave that guy from the "Las Vegas" television show a headache in this summer's film. A few other good and bad robots make appearances in Beast Wars, but only the most learned of Transformers scholars will recognize them.
If Beast Wars sounds like it might be up your alley, this disc is a great place to test the waters. Otherwise, you'd probably be better off sticking with the original show or feature length movie to get your Transformers fix. Overall, Beast Wars isn't a terrible DVD, just a silly idea with less than stellar production values and the inability to age well.