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This may be call out my age or my generation, but there’s something comforting about the hand-drawn style of 80s cartoons, along the likes of TRANSFORMERS and G.I. JOE. And yet there’s nothing comforting, cool, or even remotely appealing to the new style of computer animated cartoons, as they look and feel like you’re watching a goddamn video game play out in front of your eyes and not an animated story. And while some do it better than others, TRANSFORMERS PRIME: DARKNESS RISING is the epitome of this style of crappy animation that I’ll never warm up to or find the least bit appealing.
However, looking past the whole look and feel, DARKNESS RISING turns out to be a pretty entertaining entry in the TRANSFORMERS universe, pitting Optimus Prime, Bumblebee, Arcee, Ratchchet, and Bulkhead against Starscream, Megatron, and an entire army of evil-doing Decepticons. And like the original series, the Auto bots become friends with a group of kids, none of which turn out to be annoying or too childlike, but just the right amount of awe that you’d expect from kids who become heroes in this type of situation. Hell, even the majority of the film is set in the desert, making this about as classic TRANSFORMERS as they come.
Once Megatron returns to wreak havoc on Earth for this second coming, they introduce something new that had the horror fan in me smiling from ear to ear: Decepticon Zombies. Yes, Megatron has figured out a way to revive fallen / dead Decepticons into raging, zombie-like warriors or the undead that beckon to his every call and demand. When you can only handle so much giant fighting robots duking it out left and right throughout the desert, throw in some zombie robots into the mix and you have yourself a party! I really dug this aspect of the film and it definitely added that much-needed extra oomph to set itself apart from the rest of the TRANSFORMERS franchise.
To top it all off, the musical score and theme was soothingly familiar and as epic as always, and the voice of Optimus Prime (Peter Cullen) was as genuine and legit as always. There were a number of big names lending their voices here, including The Rock and Jeffrey Combs, but I couldn’t pin-point which characters they were playing. Which I guess is a good thing, as there’s nothing worse than watching an animated flick and only hearing the celebrity voicing the characters—and not the characters themselves.
Audio: Blast your speakers with the 5.1 Dolby Digital surround sound and be impressed by the film's theme/score and metal-crunching robot fighting. The mix is adequate, nothing more... nothing less.
A Look at Set Design: Like the above piece, this is a collection of stills of drawings to final design of the film's sets (locations, locations, locations) presented in a slide show format with the film's theme playing in the background. It's about as exciting as it sounds.
Animatic for Episode 1: You can watch the entire first sequence of the film as presented in storyboard format, with the collection of black and white drawings strung together with sound effects and dialog. What's cool about this is seeing how they visualized the scene from the beginning to how it eventually came out... which is, more or less, spot on.