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A Tale of Two Transformers

June 16, 2009 By Dennis Burger

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Bonecrusher and Long Haul final transformation -- Rhino
Bonecrusher and Long Haul final transformation -- Shout Factory
Optimus with Ax

It seems that the goal of the entertainment industry these days is to make me feel old. This fact first hit home for me a few years ago when Guns N' Roses' seminal Appetite for Destruction turned 20. It occurred to me, reflecting upon that fact, that as I terrorized the streets of my neighborhood during the summer of '87 in my beat-up old Camaro of Many Colors, pushing my newly acquired Learner's Permit to its limits, screaming "Paradise City" at the top of my lungs, Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, itself turning 20 that year, seemed like old fogies' music. Or, at least, I pretended to think of it as old fogies' music. But if "A Day in the Life" was oldies music then, what does that make "Mr. Brownstone" now?

Anyway, that year also saw the original Transformers cartoon series come to an end in the US, but by that point I really didn't care. Or, at least, I pretended not to care. I had a '78 Camaro now (soon to be traded in for an Army Green '79 Datsun B-210); I couldn't be bothered with the exploits of cartoon robots anymore. At least not openly.

It would be a few years before I had the confidence to freely admit my love for Robots in Disguise (and the Fab Four, for that matter), but I eventually did. And I've eaten up just about every incarnation of the Transformers ever since. Yes, even the Michael Bay movie.

But the original animated series (Generation 1, or just G1 to hardcore fans) is still nearest and dearest to my heart. So when Rhino released their Generation 1 DVDs a few years back, I received them graciously—wacky, tacky remixed and "enhanced" surround soundtracks and all. I loved them, despite the ridiculous animation errors—a result of Rhino's returning to the original, incomplete animation workprints for their remastering efforts. I put up with every instance of Starscream cross-dressing as Thundercracker. I ignored all of the missing and incomplete transformations. Because jacked-up Transformers on DVD was better than no Transformers at all. And besides, this is a 30-minute toy commercial we're taking about here, not an Ingmar Bergman classic.

But thankfully the fine folks at Shout Factory have acquired the rights to the original series, and their new Transformers: The Complete First Season—25th Anniversary Edition (on shelves now) undoes all of the damage done by Rhino. Sure, the video isn't quite as pristine (Shout Factory had to return to the broadcast masters, not the original film, to ensure a more faithful viewing experience), but what's a tiny bit of dirt and grime compared to finally being able to see Constructicons transform completely? Because here's what it looked like when Bonecrusher and Long Haul finished their bending and folding in the original Rhino DVD release:

(Pretty, but where are their heads? And why are they levitating?)

And here's what the exact same frame of animation looks like when done right by Shout Factory:


 (A little grittier and grainier? Sure. But correct, at least. Kinda like Han shooting first, right?)

And so it goes for pretty much the entire video presentation of Transformers: The Complete First Season—25th Anniversary Edition. Sure, a bit of the sparkle is gone from the Rhino "restoration," but the colors are truer and the few mistakes that remain were there way back when Transformers hit the airwaves in 1984, so they're excusable.

Sound quality of the two-channel audio track follows suit: a little midrangey, and not quite as crisp as Rhino's reinvented 5.1, but without all of the distracting, made-up sound effects that marred their so-called upgrade.

Granted, I'm going to have to hang onto those old Rhino Transformers G1 DVDs, nonetheless: Shout Factory's new bonus features are nice, but a little slim by comparison. That's just nitpicking, though. My only serious complaint about Transformers: The Complete First Season—25th Anniversary Edition is its name.

Really, Shout Factory? Did you have to remind me that it's been 25 years already? Thanks to you, I had to spend last weekend rocking out at the Fray concert in Atlanta, in the middle of a raging thunderstorm, with a bunch of young'uns who were still soiling their nappies when Transformers debuted, just so I could feel young again. If I had been struck by lightning or dislocated my hip, it would have been entirely your fault. 


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