Revisiting BEAST MACHINES

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Revisiting BEAST MACHINES

Postby andersonh1 » Mon Oct 10, 2011 2:52 pm

In the spirit of Mako Crab's Beast Wars thread, here's my retro look at Beast Machines. Yes, I'm watching G1 season three, Headmasters and Beast Machines all at the same time. Variety is good. :lol:

It’s hard to believe that Beast Machines first aired over a decade ago. I was still in college, unmarried and forcing myself to get up on Saturday mornings to tape this show, which alternately irritated me for the departures from Beast Wars conventions and yet kept me glued to the tv every week to see what would happen next. I hated the ending of the series at the time, but it inspired me to create a photocomic that I worked on and updated for two years. When Rhino made the complete series available on DVD a few years back I bought the set. Just recently I decided to sit down and watch some episodes again.

The Reformatting
The “technology versus nature” theme of the show is hammered home from right the start, as Optimus Primal, back in his original Beast Wars body, is hunted by Vehicon tank drones. In short order it’s established that he can’t transform, and that his memories are not intact. One by one Primal is reunited with Rattrap, Cheetor and Blackarachnia, though the whereabouts (and existence!) of Rhinox and Silverbolt are not addressed, something that bothered me at the time, having grown attached to these characters over three seasons of Beast Wars. I’m sure Rhinox having no toy in the line made his inclusion problematic, hence the solution the writers came up with which will be touched on in later reviews.

The Oracle is also introduced in short order, as are the cavernous depths of Cybertron. Having just watched several episodes of G1 season three and Headmasters that feature characters wandering those very same depths, I have to think having the Oracle as a tour guide would have saved all of them enormous amounts of time.

At the time of first broadcast there was a lot of complaining about the very non-traditional and “ugly” robot modes given to the Maximals. I agreed then, so maybe I’ve just long since become used to the way they look in Beast Machines, because I hardly give it a second thought now. True, there’s a huge change between the Beast Wars and Beast Machines designs, so much so that without the identical voices, we’d never know these were meant to be the same characters. Given the logic behind the story, that these new bodies are a new kind of Transformer, it makes sense that they’d be very different in appearance. They do contrast greatly with the Vehicon designs, two of which we see in this episode.

The animation and design remain excellent. Mainframe’s designers were clearly going for a more stylized look on this show, and for the most part it works well, even 12 years of CGI advances later. The shiny chrome of Beast Wars is gone, replaced with tons of detail and flat tones and textures. Some of the ‘sets’ are very detailed, such as the stone/brick tunnels beneath Cybertron or the cathedral-like chamber that houses the Oracle. The characters are covered with color and patterns, with the only real flaw being that the designs force them to ‘morph’ rather than shift modes in a more traditional way. But again, this appears to be deliberate since the Vehicons generally change in a more recognizable manner with vehicle components visible in robot mode and vice versa. Even the Vehicon designs cheat though.

Overall: The first episode makes an effort at bringing new viewers up to speed with some expository dialogue (this is our home planet, Cybertron, right? Why would our own kind shoot at us?) and situations (the memory loss as a plot device allows the characters to “meet for the first time”). But it’s much easier to follow when you already know who the players are. I’m not sure how accessible this storyline would be for a new viewer who knew nothing about the characters. G1 had a narrator to fill us in on the basics, something Beast Machines obviously doesn’t use. Regardless, it does set up our four main characters as fugitives on the run, with no knowledge of why they’re in the situation, allowing the audience to discover the answers with them.

Master of the House
The first “answers” episode. Megatron rules Cybertron, has killed/otherwise dealt with the entire population of the planet without destroying the infrastructure (something Blackarachnia and Cheetor discuss), and has armies of mindless drone Transformers called Vehicons to do his bidding. At this point we and the characters still don’t know how he went from being strapped to the Autobot shuttle to controlling the planet, but a lot of the questions posed in the first episode are answered, if not all.

“The Reformatting” and “Master of the House” are really two halves of the same story, establishing the status quo and heaping tons of guilt on Optimus Primal. And with all the radical character design changes, it was good to see that Megatron is still in his Transmetal 2 dragon form, even if he now hates it and all organic life. I’ve often theorized that his prolonged exposure to the original Megatron’s spark may have had something to do with developing a hatred for organics, but the writers never explain it, because it wasn’t important to them. Megatron needed to be the extremist in favor of technology for this series to work, and so he became one.
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Re: Revisiting BEAST MACHINES

Postby andersonh1 » Mon Oct 10, 2011 2:53 pm

Fires of the Past
Optimus Primal is seriously enraged in this episode, to the point that he transforms rather violently into ape mode early on, unable to control his emotions. The animators throw in a cool statue of Optimus Prime holding the golden disks (something Bob Skir didn’t seem to know about), reminding us that we’re still in the G1 universe as the Maximals search the planetary archives for information. And we get to see the Autobot shuttle along glimpses of all the characters as they appeared at the end of Beast Wars, further cementing this series as the next chapter in that storyline rather than as strictly it’s own entity. However, it’s the second downer ending in a row as the Autobot shuttle is destroyed, along with presumably many of the answers the Maximals are looking for.

Jetstorm, Thrust and Tankor are introduced, culled from Megatron’s “spark farm” beneath his throne room, confirmation that he was lying to Primal when putting the blame for billions of extinguished sparks on his head. They’re instantly more interesting than the silent drones, even if they’re broadly drawn archetypes at this point. Tankor is big, dumb and strong, Thrust is the cool rebel biker (who is a bike) and Jetstorm is the brash hotshot loudmouth pilot. But all his lines make me laugh, so I don’t care. “Spider babe at 12:00! Jetstorm, afterburn!”

Among several plot points that are inferred but not explicitly stated: Megatron’s dragon mode looks stripped down because he’s been trying to purge all organic elements from it. I’m not entirely sure why his anger would trigger a transformation to beast mode though, since he’s still operating under the old technology rather than technorganic like the Maximals. The little AI drone has no free will, something that will be made clearer later, but who programmed the thing with its snooty personality? Why does Megatron put up with it?
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Re: Revisiting BEAST MACHINES

Postby Onslaught Six » Tue Oct 11, 2011 4:55 am

andersonh1 wrote:I’m sure Rhinox having no toy in the line made his inclusion problematic, hence the solution the writers came up with which will be touched on in later reviews.


I dunno. I think "Rhinox = Tankorr" was intended from the very beginning, for both the toyline and the show. Remember that BM had its show and toyline being developed 'in tandem' rather than kind of after-the-fact with BW, because by S3 BW had been successful and Hasbro wanted more control over their brand.

Overall: The first episode makes an effort at bringing new viewers up to speed with some expository dialogue (this is our home planet, Cybertron, right? Why would our own kind shoot at us?) and situations (the memory loss as a plot device allows the characters to “meet for the first time”). But it’s much easier to follow when you already know who the players are. I’m not sure how accessible this storyline would be for a new viewer who knew nothing about the characters. G1 had a narrator to fill us in on the basics, something Beast Machines obviously doesn’t use. Regardless, it does set up our four main characters as fugitives on the run, with no knowledge of why they’re in the situation, allowing the audience to discover the answers with them.


I started showing my girlfriend BM without ever showing her BW, and (with a little filling in) she was able to follow along pretty well.

I’ve often theorized that his prolonged exposure to the original Megatron’s spark may have had something to do with developing a hatred for organics, but the writers never explain it, because it wasn’t important to them. Megatron needed to be the extremist in favor of technology for this series to work, and so he became one.


This is indeed one of the, well, problems of the series. Another theory says that Megatron's organic Beast Mode parts would have gotten damaged in space which caused him great pain and made him hate organics in general. It's a little bit of a stretch (given that we barely know how "real" those Beast Mode parts are, especially after the vaguely defined "Transmetalization" process) and it just heaps more facepalm-inducing crap on the fact that they turned a goofy end-of-series joke that was funny at the time into 'a plotline for a new series,' which is never good.
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Re: Revisiting BEAST MACHINES

Postby Dominic » Tue Oct 11, 2011 8:28 am

I just figured Megatron was never a huge fan of organic life, and that taking a beast mode was just something he had to do for a time. Either way, I was never terribly bothered by Megatron hating on organic life.


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  I dunno. I think "Rhinox = Tankorr" was intended from the very beginning, for both the toyline and the show.   


It depends on where you count "original intent" from, but I substantially agree. Remember, the Beast Machines series was originally supposed to be the polar opposite of what it ended up beaing, with heroic vehicles hunting for wicked beasts. There is evidence in both toy designs and early ad copy to indicate the Jetstorm/Skybolt was always intended to be Silverbolt for example.

But, I would guess that Rhinox was always meant to be Tankorr. There are hints as early as the 4th episode, which was Tankorr's second appearance on the show.


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Re: Revisiting BEAST MACHINES

Postby Shockwave » Wed Oct 12, 2011 2:06 pm

Actually, didn't Megatron make a few anti-organic comments while trying to eradicate protohumans in BW?
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Re: Revisiting BEAST MACHINES

Postby Dominic » Thu Oct 13, 2011 9:11 am

I always put those down to hating humans more than hating carbon based life. In "Beast Machines", he did not even want an organic looking for. Megatron was apparently scraping bits of himself off. He was mutliating himself. That is much more severe than "I want to step on people".
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Re: Revisiting BEAST MACHINES

Postby Shockwave » Thu Oct 13, 2011 12:09 pm

It's variations on a theme really. Yes, self mutilation is an extreme but it's not that big a leap from "I wanna step on things" to "I wanna tear the stuff off my body that looks like those things I used to step on".
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Re: Revisiting BEAST MACHINES

Postby andersonh1 » Thu Oct 13, 2011 2:54 pm

Mercenary Pursuits
Jetstorm, Tankor and Thrust are tortured for their failure to kill the Maximals and sent back out to try again. And in true villain fashion, Thrust and Jetstorm start fighting among themselves, while Tankor is the one who unexpectedly finds the Maximals and attacks. We get our first hints that Tankor is not as dumb and slow as he appears. He’s quick enough to dodge attacks from the smaller, more nimble Maximals and has enough tactical skill to trap them under a radar dish or something similar. Credit has to be given to Tankor’s voice actor who makes it sound as though Tankor is constantly struggling to get words out.

So four episodes in, and Megatron has succeeded in capturing the Maximals. He insists on gloating before finishing them off, which proves to be a mistake as Rattrap’s uncontrollable transformations disrupt the power bonds and allow him to free the others. Still, Megatron is having a pretty successful run as the villain, since his creation Tankor is able to disable all four Maximals once again, and only Optimus Primal’s Oracle-given ability to interface directly with his spark allows them to escape. Of course, Megatron quickly turns the tables by deleting Tankor’s memories, turning him back into an enemy.

This is the third episode in a row with a downer ending. Blackarachnia comments that at least the Maximals are no worse off than they were, but every gain they won in this episode is temporary. Rattrap is briefly able to transform, though it turns out to be an uncontrollable liability. Tankor is swayed over to the side of the Maximals, but Megatron is able to regain control. About the only good thing that can be said is that Primal and the others have survived to fight another day.

Forbidden Fruit
I guess not every new character can be a winner, or even likeable. Nightscream is introduced in this episode, which may or may not be a good thing depending on your opinion of him. I find him irritating more often than not, and probably the most dated when it comes to characterization, but I can’t say I hate him. Nightscream improves considerably in the second season once he has Noble to worry about and stops being so self-focused, but he’s still pretty annoying here. And his robot mode is the ugliest of the bunch, hands-down.

The revelations about the fate of Cybertron continue to be parceled out as Nightscream describes what he lived through. I still have a hard time buying that Megatron could create a virus that would decimate an entire planet so quickly that there was no time for anyone to respond. Plagues just don’t spread that fast. I understand that demanding plausibility in a Transformers series is probably a lost cause, but still…

Left unexplained is the magic tree that disintegrates when Cheetor slices through the trunk and which produces fruit that turns the Maximals into animals mentally as well as physically. What in the world is this thing, other than a waste of screen time? Sure, it establishes that Cybertron supports organic life (like the flower at the beginning of the first episode), but it’s nothing more than a plot device to provide some conflict rather than a genuinely interesting discovery by the Maximals.
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Re: Revisiting BEAST MACHINES

Postby Dominic » Thu Oct 13, 2011 4:11 pm

Not every character has to be likable though. Nightscream is supposed to be an obnoxious jerk. That was the point.


I am pretty sure that the tree's job was to show the viewers that BM was about balance. The (purely organic) tree did not help the Maximals at all. In fact, it hindered them. Megatron may have been overly technological. But, being wholly organic was not good either.

In context, the tree would have been a naturally occuring, though not necessarily benign, plant.


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Re: Revisiting BEAST MACHINES

Postby andersonh1 » Thu Oct 13, 2011 4:44 pm

Dominic wrote:Not every character has to be likable though. Nightscream is supposed to be an obnoxious jerk. That was the point.


True, fair enough. And the writers did a good job, because I don't like him. :)

I am pretty sure that the tree's job was to show the viewers that BM was about balance. The (purely organic) tree did not help the Maximals at all. In fact, it hindered them. Megatron may have been overly technological. But, being wholly organic was not good either.

In context, the tree would have been a naturally occuring, though not necessarily benign, plant.


I'm fine with all of that, up to the point that the tree disintegrates when Cheetor slices it with his sword. An actual tree should collapse, not disappear. Optimus Primal does later refer back to it as evidence that Cybertron once held organic life, so it serves a purpose in the overall plot. It just has properties which aren't really explained as well as I'd like.
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