Beast Wars Season 1
These Transformers DVD releases from Shout Factory come with a lot of extras, including documentaries about the show’s production. What’s nice about these documentaries is how blunt they are about the fact that these shows are little more than glorified toy commercials. They talk about getting the toys first, then handing them off to a production company who is told to make a show about them. That’s not to say that they don’t care, or that the producers don’t come up with a nice product; but the honesty of their intentions is refreshing.
The planet has modern-day Earth animals and fossilized dinosaurs, but no humans and an unfamiliar landscape, so its exact time and location are in question.
The two races scan local animals to use as ‘beast forms’ which allow them to walk around outside without being burned out by the energon, which is what the two groups are fighting over.
The characters are flat and one sided. Optimus Primal is the noble and heroic leader, Rattrap is shifty and rebellious, Rhinox is the wise strategist, etc. Plot lines are likewise cliched, like the one where the heroes are rendered blind and have to find their way back, or the one where Rhinox is corrupted and goes evil for a day.
Beyond the episodic stories, there is an underlining continuity. Part of it is about how this series ties into the larger Transformers mythos. We see that this series is a sequel to the older one, as the characters say that they are descended from the Autobots and Decepticons, who fought a ‘great war’ a few hundred years ago.
Another part of the continuity relates to some old, Stonehenge-like ruins found on the planet that seem to have been left by some technologically advanced aliens.
The build up of the mythology is the strongest part of the show, and results in its best episodes, like ‘Possession,’ which features a guest appearance by an original series character, or the two-parters ‘The Trigger,’ and ‘Other Voices’ about the mysterious aliens.
Simplistic one-off stories aside, the show’s biggest weakness is its infantile humor and looney tunes style violence, which detracts from the attempts at drama that the show tries for, and prevent any sense of tension, as all danger is softened to the point of irrelevance.
Beast Wars is a children’s show that doesn’t hold up all that well for the nostalgia set; but then, the same could be said of the original Transformers series, and that show has legions of fans. I think the strength of the original is its mythology, which makes the show feel much bigger and deeper than the individual episodes themselves.
In this initial season, Beast Wars only scratches the surface of a deeper mythology, and thus comes up a little shallow.