Episode Review: Beast Wars S01 Ep01 “Beast Wars, Part 1”

G1 was never my thing. Born in 1971, Star Trek and Star Wars were really the two main sci-fi “franchises” that I grew up with and yes, I’m one of those people who actually remember seeing Star Wars (before it was given the Episode IV subtitle) in the cinema. As such, Transformers passed me by first time around and I’d already hit my teens by the time Transformers reached our shores and our television screens.

I had no interest and I didn’t make the conscious decision to watch any episodes of any show until I was “persuaded” to by Sven Harvey, a couple of years after Beast Wars started to air in America and it’s that show that I have to thank to becoming a fan of Transformers. But I digress. Watching that show became a pivotal moment for me. If it hadn’t been for Beast Wars, I probably wouldn’t have given the go-ahead for Infinite Frontiers to start publishing The Cybertronian Times and I certainly don’t think Auto Assembly would have started (or at least not as part of Infinite Frontiers) nor would I have been involved. The rest, as they say, is history.

But that’s in the past. Right now, I’m taking a look back at the series, episode by episode, to see if they have managed to stand the test of time, starting with the pilot…

A Maximal ship is in pursuit of a Predacon craft commanded by Megatron who is in search of – what is at that time – a mystery planet believed to be rich in Energon, Megatron wants to seize control of this strange world to give him a strong source of energy to help in his goal of universal conquest. At the same time, he is in possession of two golden disks he has stolen from Cybertron which store a few secrets that will prove critical in Megatron’s long term plans.

Things don’t work out as he intends as the Maximals, headed by Optimus Primal, attack and both vessels are forced to crash land on an unknown planet. Immediately, the planet’s natural levels of background radiation begin to damage both the Maximals and Predacons making it impossible to survive on the planet. Their only hope is to find a safe alternative form to protect them from the radiation. Scanning for nearby indigenous lifeforms that may be immune to this background radiation, both sides find forms they can adopt. Because of the high levels of Energon on this new planet, both the Maximals and Preacons know that they are unable to maintain their natural forms for too long outside the confines of their wrecked vessels, so they have to make use of their new beast forms…

While the two opposing forces are on the planet and begin to battle, a large number of stasis pods are left in orbit around the planet, ejected from the damaged Maximal craft, containing sparks and protoforms for the Transformers being transported safely from Cybertron. Slowly but surely, the the orbits are going to decay and they will end up on the planet below. In addition to the hunt for Energon, it’s now a race to the pods to try to bolster their forces but which side will get to them first is completely unknown…

This episode (and the second part of the story) is designed just to introduce everyone to the new core characters, the setting, and to give some background to why the Predacon Dinobot decides to defect to the Maximals. As pilots go, the story is fairly entertaining in its own right, and ends with a great cliff-hanger (even though it’s fairly predictable what the outcome will be).

This was truly ground-breaking at the time. While working with CGI earlier with Reboot, few companies had attempted to produce fully animated CGI series at the time. They were expensive to create and required a lot of processing power. Something that could be done in realtime on today’s hardware to a greater level of detail needed to be produced frame-by-frame back in the 90s so you can imagine that producing this show was a big risk for Hasbro. Mainframe Entertainment managed to work wonders with it though and the characters were brought to life wonderfully with super animation, fast paced action and an immersive and believable world.

It wasn’t just the visuals though. Music and sound added a wonderful atmosphere, and the story had an incredibly tight script, treating the viewers like adults with dialogue that follows a very serious tone, albeit with lighter moments to retain the viewers attention. The only weaknesses in the dialogue are when there were obvious elements of product placement, times where things seemed as if it were almost one step away from telling viewers to go and buy merchandise and what products are called in stores.

I can’t talk about the dialogue without mentioning the voice cast. Obviously by now this is something that is appreciated more when it comes to Transformers, but the cast really is superb for Beast Wars and I can’t think of a single character that isn’t superbly acted. The animation may be groundbreaking, but it’s the voice cast that really brings the characters to life and you can tell just listening to all of them that they have put their hearts and souls into the performances they have given.

There are some nice touches throughout – the episode was certainly written by a Star Trek fan with more than a couple of references in the dialogue, and it was pretty easy to follow and get into, even for someone like watching as a newbie back in the 90s who had little knowledge of the Transformers universe.

The only thing that did bug me about this (and any subsequent episodes when new characters were introduced) is how they get their names. All of the names, with the exception of Optimus Primal and Megatron, seem to be based loosely on the names of animals who they resemble in Beast Mode. However, these are names of animals on Earth ( Yes, as viewers we eventually learn that Beast Wars is set on Earth but even the Maximals and Predacons aren’t certain of this initially) and are names that have been given to these animals by Humans. The animals being scanned don’t know what Humans call them (not that there are any around anyway), so shouldn’t they be named after the equivalent creatures on Cybertron or something similar? Not a major point, but one that I found a bit irritating.

Overall, this was a good opener to the series and it had me wanting to see what was going to happen next. Characterisation was strong, and already the distintive personalities of each character are going to lead to most fans having their favourite. The only question left with this episode is who is going to win the final battle between Optimus Primal and Dinobot…?

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