Friday, February 17, 2012

'Transformers Prime: Darkness Rising' (2011)

Starring Peter Cullen, Frank Welker and Jeffrey Combs
Developed by Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman

There are many different versions of the 'Transformers' mythology, but interestingly, much of it shares many common themes and ideas.  At the heart of all these various storylines is often the simple rivalry between good and evil and the characters that embody those concepts.

Three years after the last recorded contact with the Decepticons, the Autobots patrol the planet Earth looking for Energon.  In the lonely town of Jasper, Nevada, teenage Jack Darby (Josh Keaton), 12-year-old computer wiz Rafael Esquivel (Andy Pessoa) and international transfer student Miko Nakadai (Tania Gunadi) witness a battle between Autobots Arcee (Sumalee Montano), Bulkhead (Kevin Michael Richardson) and Bumblebee.  Now a target of the Decepticons, the three kids are brought back to the Autobots' secret lair where they meet medic Ratchet (Jeffrey Combs) and the Autobot leader, Optimus Prime (Peter Cullen).

The Autobots are attempting to locate their lost friend Cliffjumper (Dwayne Johnson), who had discovered a vast deposit of Energon and was set upon by Decepticons.  What they will discover is that Megatron (Frank Welker) has returned from deep space, with an artifact known as the Blood of Unicron - a 'dark Energon' crystal that has the power to reanimate the dead.  With this dark Energon, Megatron plans to raise an army of fallen Transformers from the planet Cybertron, and overrun the societies of Earth.

Only five Autobots and three human kids stand in his way.

"Transformers Prime: Darkness Rising" is actually the first five episodes of the "Transformers Prime" animated television series, edited together into one lengthy movie.  But, like other TV episodes edited together, it ends up feeling disjointed.  It simply feels like a bunch of episodes put together with the beginning and end credits removed.  Not that this is bad, it's just that it doesn't make much sense.  Why bother with the expense of re-editing the episodes into a movie if it doesn't feel like a movie?

Either way, "Darkness Rising" is still fun.  It's impressively animated, for a TV series, though it obviously can't stand up to animation from big-budget feature films, or the impressive special effects of the "Transformers" live-action films, it still looks more than fine for what it's trying to accomplish, and even has some very impressive moments.  Shots with lots of motion seem less detailed, which makes sense giving budget-based render times, but the motion tends to make up for the lack of detail.  The action sequences are fairly impressive, though repetitive.  The Decepticons are mostly of one or two repeating designs, and there are only five Autobots, which can make each fight seem a little too similar.

What's really great, though, is the voice cast.  I doubt you'll find anyone who will disagree that Peter Cullen is Optimus Prime.  He's the man who made the role iconic in the original 80s cartoon series, and he's reprised the role in the live-action films, in videogames, and again for this CG animated series.  Returning with him is Frank Welker as the villainous Megatron, who also voiced that role in the 80s.  Megatron here has a much deeper voice, but it's still undeniably Welker's Megatron.  In fact, now, it works a whole lot better as Megatron sounds much more menacing.

As an opening for a TV series, "Darkness Rising" works pretty well.  As a standalone story, it seems underwhelming.  I would recommend renting this one and waiting for the full season release that includes this "Darkness Rising" miniseries as well as the other 21 episodes of the first season.

See Also
Transformers: Dark of the Moon
Transformers: The Movie (1986)