Beast Wars – A Series Review

[[image:bwars01.jpg:Rattrap,Optimus Primal, Rhinox and Cheetor… no-prize for guessing who’s who:left:0]]It was just past the mid-90s. X-Files was at its prime on TV and there was news of a brand new CGI Transformers series that will be airing on TV. Being an 80s child, the original Transformers series was one of the shows I followed fanatically. The thought of giant alien robots being able to hide among us in the form of Porsches, Lamborghinis, Lancia Stratos and VW Beetles was very exciting to me and my friends.

But after reading the synopsis of Beast Wars Transformers my interest waned. What’s so hot about robots being able to transform into Earth animals on an supposedly uninhabited alien planet? Why is there even a need to hide?

I passed on the pilot. But sometime during the middle of the first season, I happened to catch an episode, thanks to the proddings of my friend Ishak.

[[image:bwars02.jpg:Tigatron, Rattrap, Air Razor and Cheetor:right:0]]What I expected was some dopey CG transformers, perhaps the young ones, getting into trouble week after week, and the elder ones had to bail them out every time while avoiding traps laid down by their arch nemesis Gargamel or something.

What I got was a well-written and well-scripted series with an amazing voice cast. Although the CGI is poor by current standards, the animators breathed life into the characters movements like nothing I’ve ever seen before. And what bowled me over was an ongoing story arc spanning the entire series (as opposed to just a few episodes).

[[image:bwars03.jpg:The Predacons prepare for an attack:left:0]]Although the pilot kept it vague, it was revealed over the length of the series that it is now 300 years after the events of Transformers G1 and G2. The Autobots have evolved into the Maximals and the Decepticons, the Predacons (confusing things up since there was a Decepticon sub-group known as the Predacons in G1). And there has been peace after the Great War… until now.

A rogue Predacon commander named Megatron (not the original G1 Megatron) has stolen some golden disks from Cybertron which he thinks will lead him to a massive deposit of energon with which he would retake Cybertron, depose the Maximals and go on to conquer the rest of the universe.

After the theft, the nearest Maximal ship, the Axalon commanded by a group of explorers led by Optimus Primal is tasked to capture Megatron and retrieve the golden disks. But during the transwarp chase they both crash on a seemingly deserted alien planet with two moons and great deposits of raw energon crystals.

[[image:bwars04.jpg:Let the battle be joined:right:0]]The raw energon would cause their robot bodies to malfunction so the ship’s computer created alternate beast forms scanned from living creatures and fossils around their crash sites which in form and function are organic and would prevent stasis lock caused of the concentrated energon field generated by the raw crystals.

Week after week, the Predacons would plunder the energon while the Maximals try to thwart them.

Simple, right?

Not at all. Without going into spoilers, there would be defections. There would be pointless deaths and heroic self-sacrifices. There are eventual links to the G1 lore that blew me away. All of it wrapped in three seasons worth of a single story arc with a beginning, a middle and an ending (which segues into Beast Machines, but I’m not going into that).

First the bad:

Names. This has been bothering me since the late G1 era, where we had puns like “Scorponok”, “Hun-grrr”, “Hi-Q” and the likes, as opposed to names that really meant something like “Sideswipe”, “Jazz”, “Smokescreen”, “Grapple” and “Beachcomber”. The Beast Wars Cybertronians mostly had names like “Cheetor” and “Rhinox” and “Waspinator” which originally irked me to no end.

OK… I can’t think of any other negative things to say. Moving on…

Then, the good:

Also the names. It gives the Cybertronians some depth to see they actually do name themselves after famous characters from the past in the case of Megatron, Scorponok, Rampage, Inferno and Silverbolt, and even Transformer subgroups but only in the case of Dinobot.

The show has a great overall storyline with personal story arcs like Dinobot’s defection and ultimate destiny, which is shared by his Transmetal clone towards the end of the third season;as well as the ongoing mystery of the alien planet which is eventually revealed to be not together alien by the end of the first season.

[[image:bwars05.jpg:Face to face with history:left:0]]There is also a palpable connection to the original G1 Transformers, with the cameo appearances of Optimus Prime, the original Megatron, Soundwave and Prowl. The original Ravage, now rebuilt as a Predacon, is revealed in the three-part second season finale as a Predacon covert agent and still transforms into an audio cassette. Then there is the possession of Waspinator by the eternal spark of Starscream, which reaches beyond space and time. In fact in can be said the entire run of Beast Wars takes place in the first ever episode of the traditionally animated G1 Transformers.

[[image:bwars06.jpg:Not really the matrix, but it does hold Optimus Prime’s spark:right:0]]A stellar voice cast with Gary (Colonel Chekhov of Stargate SG-1) Chalk as Optimus Primal and David Kaye as Megatron, who speaks in almost a British accent, accentuating his sentences with an ominous “Yessss” every so often. Jim Byrnes is also a standout as the crazed pyromaniac Inferno who transforms into a fire ant and thinks the Predacon base is his hive and Megatron is his Queen. But the best voice actor award goes to Scott McNeill who performs the voices of the cowardly Rattrap, the honourable Dinobot (as well as his Transmetal clone) and the chivalrous and quixotic Silverbolt. Only in Beast Wars can the following lines…

[[image:bwars07.jpg:What’s a warrior without weapons? A warrior still!:left:0]]

Rattrap: “…at least you know where you stand.”

Dinobot: “Preferably, downwind of you.”

… be sad and moving.

Finally, unlike the original Transformers, a weapons blast can be quite lethal, or at the very least visually violent and incapacitating (as Waspinator finds out every couple of episodes, heh). So they actually fire from behind cover unless they have tactical superiority.

And everyone should show Rhinox’s giant chainguns of doom some respect.

[[image:bwars08.jpg:Wazzz-pinator happy at last!:right:0]]I saw several episodes this past couple of weeks and found that the action, the drama and sometimes off-kilter humour still stands the passage of time. If you have the chance to view the series in its entirety, take your time watching it. If you like animated CGI series with an intelligent script (with Shakespearean monologues no less), action, wacky humour and an epic storyline I guarantee you wont regret it.

Posted in Transformers, TV and tagged , .

Khairul Hisham J. is a tabletop RPG artist, writer, proofreader, translator, teacher, grad student and learner-in-general.

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