Thursday, November 26, 2020

Transformers: Prime - One Shall Stand

Note: This review contains spoilers for Transformers: Prime - One Shall Stand and the Transformers: Prime cartoon.

Even 10 years after its debut, Transformers: Prime remains one of my favorite Transformers cartoons, if not one of my favorite animated series in general. In light of the show’s 10th anniversary, I decided to revisit one of the two feature-length edits of the show released by Shout! Factory, Transformers: Prime - One Shall Stand, which combines seven episodes of the series from the end of the first Season and the beginning of the second, removing commercial breaks and repeated scenes. While I have previously viewed the seven episodes both individually as they aired and in combined form, I had not previously reviewed the combined version. After giving it another look, I thought it worked very well for what it set out to accomplish and served to remind me why I loved the show in the first place.

This movie combines seven episodes: S1E23 “One Shall Fall”, S1E23-26 “One Shall Rise” Parts 1-3 and S2E1-3 “Orion Pax” Parts 1-3. In it, a cataclysmic prophecy is close to fruition with a planetary alignment of 47 celestial bodies. As this planetary alignment approaches, Megatron (Frank Welker) begins to see visions related to Unicron, the Chaos Bringer. As the Decepticons are warded off from stealing the power source for a new Spacebridge, Megatron opens fire on an unsuspecting Raf (Andy Pessoa) and Bumblebee with a surge of Dark Energon. As Raf receives medical attention, Optimus Prime (Peter Cullen), who at the same time had infiltrated the Decepticon warship Nemesis along with Bulkhead (Kevin Michael Richardson), starts to believe the Autobots and Decepticons can no longer coexist, leading him to conclude that Megatron must be destroyed.

As this movie combines a seven-episode arc, it actually flows pretty well in this format. Admittedly, due to how the individual episodes were written, it can come off as two smaller arcs taped together, but the Key to Vector Sigma is a plot point that helps tie these arcs together in a natural way. I will say though that, while this arc does work surprisingly well as a feature, it does not in any way work as a stand-alone work in the same way Transformers: Prime - Darkness Rising does, since it expects you to be familiar with the Prime series up to episode S1E22 “Stronger, Faster” to fully understand what’s going on and who all the characters are (ex. Starscream’s absence for most of the events; the identities of Knock Out, Breakdown and Airachnid; and how Jack’s mother June knows about the Autobots). As such, since the seven episodes are taken from between the first two Seasons, the feature is best viewed as a way to transition between Seasons.

Though the feature tells a largely serious story, some well-placed humorous moments ease the tension in just the right way. For instance, an early scene sees Ratchet (Jeffrey Combs) catching himself finding something funny, shortly after which Optimus turns down the offer to see it. Within the latter part of the arc, there’s a moment where Agent Fowler (Ernie Hudson) has to respond to a call from Breakdown (Adam Baldwin) to maintain a cover for the Autobots. Fowler slips up and casually asks how Breakdown is doing, however Breakdown still awkwardly answers the question, thus maintaining their cover.

In a funny background detail, Knock Out (Daran Norris, background)
checks himself out while Megatron (Frank Welker, foreground)
monologues about the planetary alignment.

Just as with its parent series, the animation is spectacular, especially for a CG TV series. The designs for the robot characters have a high level of mechanical detail, including consistently-placed scuff marks across metal and glass along with realistic lighting effects. One particular attention to detail I noticed is that, following Megatron breaking Optimus Prime’s sword early on, Optimus’ sword remains broken by the end of the story. Battle sequences can also get very creative at times, such as Optimus using his vehicle mode tires as a weapon when fighting Megatron, complete with tire marks remaining on Megatron’s face for a short period. Unicron’s design in this iteration also does a good job of capturing the essence of the character from past incarnations while still fitting naturally with the aesthetic of the Prime cartoon. Fitting with his position in the story, attention was also paid to Earth effects such as rock and dirt.

The voice acting remains one of the highlights of Transformers: Prime, and the One Shall Stand arc is no exception. Though Peter Cullen gives it his all as Optimus Prime, the second half of the story sees him show some additional range, convincingly playing a version of Optimus who got amnesia following Unircon’s defeat and now believes himself to be his pre-War self, Orion Pax. By this point in the series, Knock Out, Breakdown and Airachnid have joined the Decepticon lineup, respectively voiced by Daran Norris and Firefly alumni Adam Baldwin and Gina Torres. Though Breakdown doesn’t get that many lines, Adam Baldwin delivers a performance that sells his character as a tough guy. Daran Norris usually plays off of Baldwin well in the series, though in this feature Knock Out still comes off as a vain and cocky Decepticon who is willing to see Megatron’s plans through. Airachnid doesn’t get too much screen time either, however her development continues from the cartoon as she secretly plots to overthrow Megatron, much like Starscream did.

Meanwhile, John Noble (Fringe, The Lord of the Rings) plays the role of Unicron in this series. Since Orson Welles comparisons are inevitable, I will say that while Noble isn’t Welles, he provides his own form of gravitas to the character that separates him from his 1986 counterpart. In a number of scenes putting him opposite Optimus Prime and Megatron, Unicron has a presence that towers over the other characters, even when Unicron and Optimus are on the same eye level.

John Noble gives Unicron a commanding presence in his own
way different from Orson Welles.

On an interesting note, the central concept of Unicron being the Earth itself was later revisited in the 2017 live-action film Transformers: The Last Knight, as part of a setup for a potential Transformers cinematic universe. While an interesting concept to explore on its own, the movie’s general failure and the 2018 Bumblebee movie serving as a reset button for the film series pretty much ensured that the concept might never be fully realized in live-action.

On another note, much like other characters in the show, Unicron would receive a toy in the Transformers: Prime toyline, however said toy was only ever released in the Japanese market, where he was dubbed Gaia Unicron, converts into a space cruiser and can combine with the Voyager Class Optimus Prime and Megatron toys. The toy even came with an Arms Micron that was standard for the Japanese toyline, even receiving a rerelease packaged with Optimus Prime and a black redeco dubbed Nightmare Unicron. Similarly, two of the characters seen in the series, Breakdown and a generic Jet Vehicon, received toys respectively in the Voyager and Deluxe size classes, though only in the Japanese toyline for whatever reason (and the former as War Breakdown). However, in celebration of the show’s 10th anniversary, a special release of these two toys was made available exclusively through Hasbro Pulse, Arms Microns included, making these toys available outside Japan for the first time. Alongside these, also for the 10th anniversary, was another Western release of a previous Japan exclusive, the Megatron Darkness toy, a redeco of the Voyager Class Megatron figure based on the Season 1 episodes “Sick Mind” and “Out of His Head” which comes packaged with two Arms Micron figures, including one that converts into a scythe.

These two finally make their US debut after nearly a decade.

As a combined feature, Transformers: Prime – One Shall Stand works surprisingly well, serving as a way to watch seven episodes of the series in a more condensed format. John Noble’s take on Unicron is one of the many highlights of the story, alongside the otherwise already high-quality animation and voice acting. I wouldn’t exactly recommend this to someone who hasn’t seen Transformers: Prime, however it is definitely something to consider as part of your viewing experience should you get your hands on a copy.

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