Transformers: Prime "Darkness Rising - Part One" Episode Review
Original Air Date: 11/26/10
Written by: Duane Capizzi
On a picturesque countryside Cliffjumper is roarting down the highway as he chats to Arcee about being illegally parked and how he escaped. He talks about how messing with him gets "the horns", referring to his prominant design in vehicle and robot modes. The two are searching for Energon and Arcee offers her back up. Cliffjumper hits paydirt however, when suddenly a gigantic ship appears above! It fires on Cliffjumper and then ejects several Drones. He calls Arcee for that back up!
Cliffjumper warns the Decepticons that he's going to "put a few dings" in them and goes on the offensive. Arcee radios Optimus and he calls Ratchet in. The team is scattered across time zones but Optimus orders everyone back to base to "Ground Bridge"
Meanwhile, despite his bravado Cliffjumper is tossed around quite a bit by the Decepticons. He arms his weaponry and begins blasting away, destroying Drones one by one. Unfortunately, an Energon deposit detonates and the 'cons capture Cliffjumper.
Onboard the ship, Starscream declares that the Energon is worthless now. The Drones bring CJ to Starscream and declares that he is his "own master" when CJ asks for Megatron's whereabouts. Starscream digs his claws deep into Cliffjumper, causing him to leak fuel and fall unconscious.
The Autobots arrive on scene but too late as the ship departs. Ratchet states that this is the first Decepticon activity in three years. Prime states that it's the only activity that they know of. Arcee finds a piece of Cliffjumper in the wreckage. Ratchet attempts to track Cliffjumper by his life signal but the signal goes off line.
On the ship, Soundwave meets with Starscream. Starscream is looking to destroy all the Autobots since they have the element of surprise.
Optimus gathers the Autobots and tells them not to give into sadness and anger. He also points out these five are the only remaining Autobots on Earth, but suggests there are others in the galaxy who may seek out Earth as a new home. Arcee is distraught and takes off to guard more humans.
At "KO Drive In", Jack is taking orders at the drive-in where he deals with stupid customers making fun of him. Arcee pulls up into the town but is soon followed by two of the Decepticon Drones. She pulls into the parking lot of the drive-in, deactivating her hologram driver "Sadie".
Jack steps out and sees Arcee and stares at her admiringly. Jack sits on the bike and talks until his schoolmate Sarah shows up with a friend, laughing at him. Just then, the Decepticon Drones advance! Arcee takes off with Jack still riding!
The Decepticons give pursuit and the chase is on. Arcee tells Jack not to let go and he hangs on tight. They pull into an alley and Arcee tells Jack to forget he ever saw her (with the threat of hunting him down if he tells). Arcee tries to get away but the Drones are tenacious. They split up and one targets Jack. Arcee goes back to get him and the two are off to the races again.
The Drones fire and the chase runs onto a highway where Bumblebee joins the fray! Jack asks if Bumblebee is a friend and Arcee says he's "family". Bumnblebee and the Drones tackle on the highway where nearby a kid is playing with a remote controlled car (this is "Raf" who is unnamed at this point in the epsiode). Jack and Arcee wind up in front of him as the two Drones land and transform. Arcee transforms and charges at them, dodging their blasts with ease and kicking them both down. She's smaller but tough and strikes them repeatedly. She dodges with a series of backflips but is ultimately hit. Bumblebee arrives just on time, taking down one Drone with a powerful punch but accidentally stepping on the race car. He feels bad but doesn't have much time to think about it as the Drones get back up and sucker punch him. Raf tells them to leave 'bee alone and they stop, now going after the humans!
Jack and Raf run for it, hiding out in a nearby drainage tube. They hear crashing outside and Bumblebee appears again. Raf thanks him and the two run. Outside, the battle continues with Bulkhead's arrival! With the tables turned, the Drones run for it!
Back at the Autobot base Arcee reports. Optimus worries that anyone perceived as an Autobot ally will be at risk.
At school, Jack sees Raf and tells the two to keep everything to themselves. Just then, Bumblebee arrives to pick Raf up. Despite Bumblebee's odd speech, Raf understands him and tells him that Arcee is there too to pick him up.
Nearby, Miko Nakadai is drawing and admires Arcee before she takes off to catch up with Jack. Arcee explains to him that he may be in danger and it turns out Miko saw the whole conversation, so now she too must be brought back to headquarters!
The two Autobots take the humans towards what looks like a solid mountain side, but is really the entrance to the Autobot base. There, Ratchet is working at a control panel and Bulkhead greets his comrades. Miko and Raf introduce themselves enthusiastically to Bulkhead. Optimus arrives and explains the origins of the Autobots and their purpose: protect the humans from the Decepticons.
Optimus explains that Cybertron is now uninhabitable, made so by the war. In the beginning, Optimus said he fought alongside Megatron at one point, but Megatron lost his way. He also explains Megatron has not been seen or heard from in some time but his return could signal doom.
On the Decepticon ship, Starscream discusses transmissions from deep space picked up by Soundwave. They activate a Space Bridge to the coordinates and there they find Megatron!
As I watched the first episode of "Transformers: Prime", I kept feeling as if this is the perfect show to follow up the events of "Revenge of the Fallen". I would not go so far as to call it a direct sequel, but it definitely takes a lot of its influences from the movies. Let's start with what makes me think it's not firmly set in the "Movie universe". Much of my thinking does take into account the IDW comic books based on the movie universe.
- Optimus states there are only five of the Autobots on Earth, but other fiction shows well over a dozen (though you can really have various interpretations of the facts between the movies and comic books).
- Cybertron, as it is portrayed in this episode is much more in line with the current G1 inspired "War for Cybertron" universe than the more jagged, spiky look of the Movie Cybertron.
- There are far more Decepticon characters around than those portrayed in this show (though I admit they could have easily migrated elsewhere).
- We know "Sector 7" has been closed down by the time of "Revenge of the Fallen" but Agent Fowler seems to very much to be in that mold.
- There's zero mention of N.E.S.T. and when the Pentagon is brought up, the implication is that they're not involved at all in Earth's defense.
- There's zero mention of Sam Witwicky or Mikaela as humans who also know about the Autobots.
All that said, it would be incorrect to say there are no movie influences. After all, Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman are very much involved and even the "Transformers: Prime" logo "transforms" like the movie logo with its silver and black colors. But there's definitely more:
- The character designs for Optimus, Bumblebee and Megatron are very closly aligned to their movie designs. Optimus has his mouth and face plate "switch" and the "split chest" design. Megatron has spikes and curled armor. Meanwhile, Bumblebee becomes a sleek sports car and has his "round eyed" face and "doors as wings" design.
- Bumblebee speaks in electronic noises instead of english as the other Autobots do.
- The music sounds very much like the score from the live action movies. There are definite variants on the themes, but the mood of the music has the epic feel of Steve Jablonsky's movie soundtrack.
- Megatron is said to have been missing for three years, which is similar to the story of Megatron being "missing" when he was frozen in ice in the first Transformers movie.
- This isn't exactly a fictional tie, but it is neat to note that Kevin Michael Richardson, the voice of Bulkhead also voiced the Constructicon Rampage in "Revenge of the Fallen".
- The cinematic style of the show is very much aligned with the movies. There's a lot of movie style fights and set pieces including the fight on the highway and the camera angles used in the Cliffjumper battle.
Beyond the above anlysis, I have to say that I really enjoyed the first episode of this show. It did not take it's sweet time getting to the action. There was a good mix of exposition, action and "human time". I enjoyed the way that this episode was not your standard "origin tale". Kids and adults alike know the broad strokes of the Transformers story by now (Transformers come to Earth, there's battle etc.) so the quick explanation by Prime to Jack was perfect. It was also cool to see a lot of character personalities established so quickly. Sure there are the "standard" personalities such as Prime and Bumblebee, but here we see Bulkhead is a "tough guy" but not quite as goofy as his "Animated" incarnation. Meanwhile, Ratchet is very much like his cranky "Animated" portrayal.
There was one big piece of relief for me in this episode - the kids were not horribly annoying. Indeed, their screen time was nicely balanced with the robots and they played off the Transformers well instead of just being there for the sake of exposition. I also found it interesting how the Autobots seemed to have a varying degree of care for the humans. Optimus and Bumblebee were certainly concerned, but Ratchet and Arcee seemed a bit more annoyed (at least at first).
The animation on the show is definitely well above the standards of many CG shows I've seen in recent time. Every set piece was gorgeous and detailed (with the exception of the highway scene which somehow seemed a bit too sterile). The atmosphere going from the warm, rich colors of the area around the Autobot base contrast sharply with the dark and foreboding purple and black colors on the Decepticon ship. The action scenes are wonderfully planned out and exciting.
High marks go to the voice actors. As shown in some of the previews to this show, the voice cast works together in one studio, recording this show very much in the same style as "Generation One" and "Beast Wars" were recorded. This tends to bring out stronger performances and that is definitely true here. The standouts for me were Sumalee Montano as Arcee who managed to portray a tough and emotional character without being annoying at the same time. Dwayne Johnson's brief appearance was picture perfect for the physicality of the character and his tough guy attitude. Steve Blum does a wonderful take on Starscream that doesn't copy Chris Latta but definitely takes influcene from him. The Drones sound menacing enough, but one wonders if they are like Seekers, each with their own personalities despite their duplicate design or if they're more like Beast Machines' Drones. Time may tell.
Long time fans will of course celebrate the return of Peter Cullen as Optimus Prime and Frank Welker as Megatron. Cullen has had the advantage of being Prime for two movies in a row already, so this is old hat for him and he delivers. Welker on the other hand only gets one line in this episode, but it sent a shiver up this old fan's spine. He's definitely using some of the G1 Megatron voice, but it's far more menacing sounding than before!
I do have to admit I was very surprised by the way Cliffjumper was dispatched. He is a feature character for sure, but with his absence on the character section of the official "Hubworld" site it's almost as if they producers want his role to remain a bit of a mystery.
"Transformers Prime" was definitely a fun way to start off the series. It got to the point quickly while providing some good background for the uninitiated. Those who enjoyed the feature films will definitely feel comfortable jumping into the new series. It makes some daring choices and has fantastic animation. I confess the show hasn't quite sucked me in the way say, the first episode of "Beast Wars" did in 1997, but it has definitely earned my interest and any fan should give it a look.