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The Spin Sheet

DVD review by Jeff Kleist of The Digital Bits

Transformers: The Complete First Season - 25th Anniversary Edition

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Transformers: The Complete First Season - 25th Anniversary Edition
1984 (2009) - Hasbro (Shout! Factory)
Released on DVD on June 16th, 2009

Program Rating: A
Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): A/A/B+

Millions of years ago, a great schism emerged between the peace loving Autobots and the imperious Decepticons. The resulting war reduced their mechanized planet, Cybertron, to a shell of its former self, covered in rubble and drained of all natural resources. Backed into a corner on the losing end of the war, the Autobots set off to find new sources of energy. After a Decepticon attack, both factions crash-land on Earth and spend millions of years in stasis, only to have an earthquake uncover their sleeping vessel. Reconfigured and restored to disguise themselves amongst Earth machines, the war ignites anew with Mankind caught in the middle.

Transformers returns to DVD after many years of being out of print, carefully pieced together from the best available tape material. While previous DVD sets had attempted to go back to the original film elements, the incomplete sources available, combined with the large amount of temp animation contained in them, produced results that many fans found completely unsatisfactory (more details here). The good news with Shout! Factory's new version is that it's mission accomplished: They've produced the best possible version of classic Transformers available on disc.

Colors are much brighter - in fact, very close to the original animation cels I've seen - and image fidelity is very high for standard DVD. Print damage and dust is all over the place, endemic to the quickly-produced, low-budget Japanese productions of the time, but I'm told this was present on Day One broadcasts of the show. It was often present on the actual negatives (which were then transferred to tape for editing). The soundtrack on these episodes is as good as can be expected for a 25-year old kid's show, with the original mono spread out to create a strong and consistent stereo track, far superior to the gimmicky "5.1" mix that came before.

I can't help but lead off my look at the special features with something special included in the packaging... a magnet. Measuring a solid 5-inches tall, it's a high quality Autobot emblem suitable for display on any metal surface - even on your own vehicle, to make the kids in the parking lot do a double take. Unfortunately, it's printed greyscale and not the proper shiny red, but that certainly doesn't distract from an otherwise handsome bonus item. As far as the actual disc-based content, Triple Changer: From Toy to Comic to Screen spends a solid 20 minutes talking about the effort to get the franchise off the ground and the challenges of combining multiple unrelated toy lines into a cohesive whole. This is the first installment of a documentary that will be spread across all of the following Transformers volumes in this series. A few vintage toy commercials fuel your nostalgia further, though kids' faces are sadly blurred out due to residual obligations. The package next delivers a rare PSA, featuring a strangely familiar catchphrase. Finally, there's a printable episode script included via DVD-ROM. Note that none of the previous Rhino DVD bonus material is included here, so if that was important to you, I'd definitely suggest you hang on to those discs as well. One word of warning to those planning on purchasing this: There will be additional bonus material available exclusively on Shout! Factory's deluxe Transformers: Matrix of Leadership complete series collection. (It debuts for sale at San Diego Comic-Con, can now be preordered directly from Hasbro for delivery on 7/13, and will be available in stores later this year.) So if you're a completest, you might want to hold off for that release instead. If you just want the episodes on the other hand, or you want to save shelf space, then by all means start your collection with this set.

Remember when all the major TV networks would run a preview night of their new Saturday morning line-up (with their biggest stars as hosts) the day before the premieres? In the early 80s, big new kids shows with toy tie-ins all took a similar route on syndicated UHF stations. G.I. Joe, Transformers, and many others had 2-hour prime-time premieres supported by heavy advertising campaigns. Saturday and weekday afternoon 'toons were a really big deal back then - something that's hard to replicate in today's age of multiple 24-hour kids cable networks. Transformers was among the best of these shows, and it's still highly watchable as an adult. I've been digging out my old toys, are they're still just as cool as they were back then. Between the superior audio and video, the accurate editing, the slimmer package profile and the more in-depth extras, this DVD upgrade is a no-brainer. Fill the mixing bowl with your favorite sugary cereal (bonus points for chocolate milk) and dig in!

Jeff Kleist
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