Robots in disguise

Feb 22, 2006 at 12:00 am

For the square, the uninformed and the technophobic, it may never be possible to completely explain the lasting appeal of the Transformers, and the deep emotions they provoke in fans. For a young boy growing up in the go-go '80s, a decade obsessed with cheerful futurism, few things could spark the imagination like fast cars and robots. The very notion of a car that — through just a few flicks of the wrist — could transform into a robot was bliss. These things were awesome.

The toys and the cartoon series that supported them originated in the home of all things shiny, fun and confounding: Japan. An instant hit in the United States, the massive, rapid-spreading success of the Transformers ushered in imitators and pretenders by the bushel, and created a toy-aisle dynasty that continues to this day.

The TV show provided a backstory for the impossibly cool little gadgets: There was an endless, intergalactic turf war between the heroic Autobots and nasty Decepticons — a story that's been fleshed out in movies, comic books and fan fiction ever since. A brief lull in the early '90s led to the controversial all-CGI "reinvention" called Beast Wars in 1996. This production found such beloved characters as 18-wheeled Autobot leader Optimus Prime changing into animals instead of vehicles. It was mind-blowing to be sure. While the vicious gorilla vs. truck debate may never be resolved, the new show proved a winner and helped preserve the franchise for future generations.

A follow-up debuted in 1999, this time called Beast Machines, with improved graphics and a challenging story line that found such heroes as Optimus Primal, Rhinox and Rattrap back on their home planet Cybertron, outnumbered and on the run from the evil and mindless "vehicons." The series divided the rabid fan base like nothing ever before, with some diehards revolting at the eco-friendly, vaguely New Age-y themes that were hard to ignore.

While some may question how a show about ass-kicking robots can be mistaken for political commentary, just remember that this is sci-fi we're talking about, a genre that thrives on obsessive nitpicking and insane hyperbole. So let the battle rage anew; with the new Rhino DVD release of Transformers-Beast Machines: The Complete Series, fan boys can drool, or just maybe share it with their kids.


Transformers-Beast Machines: the Complete Series will be available starting Tuesday, Feb. 28, at and various retail outlets. $59.95.

Corey Hall is a freelance writer. Send comments to [email protected]