When I started this article series my intention was just to review each Transformers cartoon intro like I do every other TV intro in the “Many Intros” or “My Favorite/Not-So-Favorite Intro” series. However, as this has gone on I’ve ended up discussing what went on behind the scenes or during the show itself. Transformers is my favorite fictional multiverse (IDW’s take isn’t to my taste and the Michael Bay movies got worse with each incarnation) and I just really like talking about it, as evidenced by it’s constantly being a topic on both websites I run I guess. And when it comes to the Aligned continuity, research led me to realize there’s a lot to talk about, to the point that Transformers Prime is getting a two-part article not because of the intros–there are only two in the US run and four in the Japanese dub–but the other interesting things went into its creation, because there’s a lot to talk about here.
As I mentioned last night, Hasbro had decided to create a singular continuity among its various media presences–the cartoon, video games, and comics. IDW would offer a few side comics since they were in the middle of a long continuity of their own (although they rebooted early this year, long after the Aligned project fell apart.) To that end a 364 page production bible lovingly referred to as the Binder Of Revelation set up this new universe, taking some of the most beloved parts of previous franchises and forming one joint continuity and style (minus the movies and comics as both were too far along). The video games would cover the history, I’m guessing the comics would fill in where it could with side comics apart from its own continuity, and Transformers Prime, the show created for Hasbro and Discovery’s joint venture The Hub, would be the flagship of the new project. However it would run into a number of problems on the creative side that would doom the whole project. The show itself turned out to be good, as were the intros, and that’s mainly what we’re here for. The rest is flavor, so let’s get cooking.
To go over why this intro works I first need to introduce our showrunners. Jeff Kline (who also served as executive producer) and Duane Caprizzi have made a living doing animated adaptations, working on Men In Black: The Series as well as making Roland Emmerich’s take on Godzilla into something amazing…but still not Godzilla. They also worked on Jackie Chan Adventures, which took ideas from Chan’s numerous films and created a cartoon out of it. They make good work. Then for some reason they brought in Robert Orchi and Alex Kurtzman, the writers of the first two Transformers movie for Michael Bay. They probably should be cut a bit of slack for the second movie since Bay himself insisted on some of the dumber things, like more wacky antics with inebriated mommy and Bumblebee losing his voice, but how much blame they get for the first movie, which I kind of liked overall (the disappointment came in the sequels), I couldn’t tell you. I don’t know why they were brought in but they are a factor in this show, which is reflected in the intro.
Knowing their body of work and approach to storytelling it shouldn’t be a surprise that the intro, and the show itself, has a more cinematic approach than other Transformers shows. The music really sets the mood for the show, and the visuals, taking most of their cues from the movies and Animated, also match the tone of the series. The theme is epic but relaxed. Prime wasn’t a high-action show, and focused a lot on atmosphere and characters, since they were under the same computer limitations as Beast Wars and already had a bad habit of breaking their budget, which was one of the show’s downfalls. The human allies are downplayed, only showing them speeding off with their usual partner Autobot with Agent Fowler, their secret government liaison, absent from this incarnation of the intro. It does give you a look into their characters if you pay attention though. Raf is at the computer and is gently let down by Bumblebee before putting him inside, Bulkhead does a trick to get Miko in, which is in keeping with her character as well, and Jack is determined as he hops on Arcee through the ground bridge, a variation of the Space Bridge introduced conceptually in Car Robots and better realized in the Unicron Trilogy.
The budget busting wasn’t the only problem the show had. While the writers were given a logical amount of leeway with the Binder (as the present-day portion of the story) it wasn’t enough for them. Given Kurtzman’s current history with Star Trek: Discovery it wouldn’t be the last time he had no problem letting the writers toss everything out they could get away with. Between DiDio and Beast Machines as well as Kurtzman and Prime you get a sense that when they go darker and toss out continuity it’s a warning sign for future properties as the DC Universe and Star Trek fans can attest. Despite all the world-building already done for them they seemed more interested in doing that themselves. These two problems combined to lead to plot elements not always followed up on or how little Cliffjumper’s death meant as things rolled on. Characters were killed off to save the computing power due to being expensive. Dark Energon in the games were simply a corrupting power source, a bad form of Energon, but now it also created zombies out of Transformers. Starscream was brilliantly portrayed by Steven Blum and I’m not taking anything away from him, but it bore no resemblance to the more G1 style Starscream in the game and presumably intended in the Binder. (I would love to read that and do a thorough examination of for you guys. Heck, I’d be happy just to read it.)
They also ran out of three seasons of stories in two seasons as the direction they went squeezed out stand alone stories making any sense to the narrative. So they needed an idea for season three, and that’s when you got the cloned dragon-like incarnation of Predacons and the subtitled series Transformers Prime: Beast Hunters.
That’s right, Optimus Prime just punched a motherboarding dragon! What did you do today?
With the stakes raised by this point, the music gets a slight punch up. The battlefield takes more screen time, but the kids just get reused footage, the only change being Bumblebee’s new color scheme (a flip from yellow with some black to black with some yellow). Agent Fowler and Jack’s mom, who was now also part of Team Prime, are missing again. Still, there’s plenty of new footage. A direct-to-video movie, Predacons Rising, used the same intro, at least in the miniseries format I saw it in on The Hub if memory serves, before that all fell apart and somehow Cartoon Network talked Hasbro into moving the series over there, but I’ll get into that in the future.
What did kill Transformers Prime? Ego, budget overages, and The Hub not living up to expectations. The Hub would be returned to the Discovery Networks brand as Discovery Family (it was Discovery Kids before the Hasbro project), the series that was to be the core of the Aligned continuity was in the hands of people more interested in their own story than being part of a greater project, and the cinematic style that was such a great visual did in the budget for the show like the fate of the classic Battlestar Galactica, and even then there were months of space between new episodes sometimes because they put too much work into the show. I can appreciate wanting to do all the things, but to sell the toys on the shelves they had to be prepared to do as high a quality as they could with the time and financial budgets available and ultimately they weren’t.
The show’s cancellation and a new guy with his own vision sealed the end of the Aligned continuity as planned. There are three other shows to go over that ended continuing from Prime and not the game plan, so I guess it was a flagship, just not in the way Hasbro and Aaron Archer had intended. At least overall the show was really good, even if it missed a few marks. Still, we’ve only covered the intros and backstory of the show in the original US market. The Japanese dub came with its own problems that caused even more havoc over there. Next time I look at all four Japanese intros and try to figure out why they only got two seasons. If you thought I had complaints about the Japanese intros before you ain’t seen nothin’ yet, kids!