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Remembering ‘Beast Machines’

Beast Machines is the most controversial Transformers series ever produced. Fans were polarized by this series. It is time to revisit this much maligned series to see how it stacks up today.

The Premise:

Beast Machines is the sequel to the popular Beast Wars series. After defeating Megatron on pre-historic Earth and preserving Transformers history, the Maximals returned to Cybertron. Unfortunately, Megatron broke loose and took over the entire planet turning it into a massive world of mechanical perfection.

On the run, the Maximals are reformatted by the Oracle into new and more powerful forms. They also discover that Cybertron was an organic world and make it their mission to restore the planet to its former glory.

Fan Reaction:

Fans hated this show.

The primary reason why because it was slowly eroding the concept of “robots in disguise” with organic beings. To suggest Cybertron used to be organic is sacrilege . The idea that the good guys were for an organic Cybertron was equally viewed as such. Insult to injury: every character was now acting differently than before.

Silverbolt does a great impersonation of his fan base.

How dare they try something new and different! How dare they create characters that they make characters multidimensional! Fans focused on the window dressing instead of the greater story and they missed out on a whole lot. Remember these were the same people who were chanting “Trukk Not Munky!” a few years earlier. If they reacted poorly to that, you get an idea how they reacted to this.

Remember this from my last article?

Obviously, I wasn’t one of the many detractors of the series. In fact, I think Beast Machines is one of the most brilliantly written Transformers series ever made. Here are five reasons:

5) Beautiful Animation

The series was produced by Mainframe Entertainment when they were at top of their game. Beast Machines was by far their most visually stunning show they ever produced. The CGI completely blew everything out of the water. CGI has been used in Transformers since, but has never matched this level of quality.

They perfectly rendered a cyber-punk atmosphere and breathed new life into a franchise. It defined the humanity of the Maximals and the cold alieness of the Vehicons. More impressive is that they did not use motion capture to render this series. Compare that to Voltron: The Third Dimension and Roughnecks: Starship Troopers Chronicles. Two series that relied heavily on motion capture and came out around the same time. They were bland and the action seemed unnatural by comparison.

Let’s also talk about the explosions in this series: Whereas most series use a combustion filter, the animators on Beast Machines rendered fully animated explosions that matched the atmosphere.

4) Talented Writers

The writers on Beast Machines are top notch. The entire series was a mastermind of Bob Skir, who was the story editor on the series. His previous writing chops were episodes of X-Men, Batman: The Animated Series, among others. The guy knows how to write a story that is true to the franchise but also covers new ground. The lion share of episodes were written by Steven Melching, who has written everything from Power Rangers to Guardians of the Galaxy.

Most notable was the inclusion of Len Wein. Yes, the Len Wein.

Instead of doing just another half-hour toy commercial these guys wanted to write an epic tale. They weren’t satisfied with moving toys, they wanted their story to have meaning. They also took great pains to be respectful for the source material. Regrettably, fans treated them like garbage, particularly Bob Skir, who once cancelled a convention appearance because fans wished his family was dead. Kind of a heartless thing to say when his father was on death’s door at the time.

3) Character Development

Up until this point every Transformers series was basically this: Transformers end up on Earth, the bad guys look for Energon and the good guys stop them. End of list. Even Beast Wars followed this very simplistic take. Beast Machines went into an entirely different direction. Instead of the typical good versus evil archetype used to sell toys, they went to the next level.

The benefit to the series was that, at the time, Hasbro was satisfied making new versions of previously established characters. With Beast Wars and later Beast Machines you still had the same cast of characters that people had been following for four years. There was no need to push characters to the sidelines in order to make room for new toys.

What made Beast Machines unique is that it put the characters in a totally new situation and as a result had their world turned upside-down, and this posed many challenges for the tightly knit cast.

For the character Rhinox to go from the peaceful guru who occasionally farts Energon into the brutal and ruthless Tankor was quite the shocking development. It was a demonstration of how a once proud character can be led down the path of darkness only to die for an ignoble cause and regret those decisions.

"TANKOR SMASH!" added dimensions to the character.
"TANKOR SMASH!" added dimensions to the character.

That they could take a proud and confidant braggart like Rattrap who had a quip for everything and a weapon or tool for every situation and turn him into someone so  unsure of himself was a masterstroke. Not only did he have to relearn something so basic as transforming, he had to get used to the idea of having to overcome his handicaps.

His greatest foe is stairs.
His greatest foe are stairs.

They also one-upped the conflict between Optimus Primal and Megatron. Primal wanted to restore Cybertron to its former organic glory. Megatron strove to turn it into the epitome of mechanical perfection. This wasn’t a grudge match, this was a war of ideologies.

2) It was Independent of the Toyline

The problem with past Transformers cartoons is that there was a lot of interference from Hasbro. Not surprising since they have toys they want to push onto consumers. Beast Machines stands out because the development of the show had little interference from the toy makers. It’s the main reason why the first run of toys looked nothing like the characters from the TV show.

"Can we make Optimus Primal skinless and frightening to children?"
"Can we make Optimus Primal skinless and frightening to children?"

That’s great because they could focus on other things. Like the plot.

1) The Best Plot

Beast Machines has one of the best plots of any Transformers series. Whereas most series were satisfied with the black-and-white “good guys versus bad guys” plot, Beast Machines was 26 part allegory.

It talked about spirituality and the dependence on technology. It was about warring idologies and how extremism leads to mass destruction.

Nice of our ancestors leaving this doomsday machine laying around.

Eventually, our heroes learn a valuable lesson: It’s not about one extreme or the other. Neither is right or wrong. What makes a society thrive is a balance between all ideas.

Written in a pre-9/11 world, this series was ahead of its time. The message that Beast Machines tried to convey is even more relevant now than when it aired sixteen years ago.

YOU RUINED MY CHILDHOOD WITH PEACE AND HARMONY! YOU !@#$ING MONSTERS!

It gives a chilling image of what will happen if our world continues on its present course. It’s disappoints me that more fans can’t respect this show for what it is.


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