Remembering The Beast Wars

Why Beast Wars was the next evolution of the Transformers
September 28, 2009

Twenty-five years ago when I was just six a television show unlike any other before it aired called Transformers. It told the tale of a race of artificially intelligent alien machines capable of emotions as well as the ability to change their form at will. On their home planet of Cybertron a war for supremacy raged between two factions: the peace-loving Autobots and the power hungry Decepticons. From the television series to the motion picture and back again the Transformers saga lasted until the final three part episode titled, (ironically,) "The Rebirth" in 1987. I watched every second of it until that final episode. I lamented the fact that another episode did not follow it. So life went on. Nearly a decade later in 1996 I was stunned to find the Transformers had returned with an all new CGI show called Beast Wars! I was shocked and amazed as I watched the original two part pilot. Watching in awe I realized this was exactly what was needed to revitalize interest in the Transformers because despite its similarities to the original show, it was its differences that made it phenomenal!

Like the original the show began with two strange vessels dueling in space above an unknown planet. However the difference is the ships appear from out of some kind of vortex in space. We learn that aboard the ships are the descendants of the Autobots and the Decepticons known as Maximals and Predacons respectively. They are from the future of the Transformers universe where the Autobot/Decepticon "Great War", as it's called on the show, is over. A peace between the two factions now exists. One rogue Predacon however is tired of living under Maximal rule. Taking the name Megatron he organizes a crew and steals the golden disc. The disc is an ancient Cybertronian artifact capable of leading them to a limitless Energon supply. Their heist successful they promptly steal an experimental transwarp cruiser called the Darkside with the intent of finding the Energon, taking over Cybertron, and conquering the universe. The only ship in the area to intercept the now fleeing Megatron is the Maximal exploration ship Axalon which is commanded by the descendent of Optimus Prime: Optimus Primal. He and his crew lock onto Megatron's warp signature and pursue. The Axalon follows the Darkside through the transwarp portal and into the unknown. Both ships are severely damaged and crash on the planet below. As they assess the damage to their ships they find an enormous amount of Energon on the planet. So much in fact that prolonged exposure to their robotic forms could result in severe damage. Unlike the original show where they were merely "Robots in Disguise", these Transformers needed their alternate forms to survive.

I was hooked from minute one. Watching the episodes play out I knew this was the perfect upgrade for the Transformers universe: it could do things on this show that the old one could not. The developers were free to be a little more creative. They could be more violent, show worse battle damage than before, use old cartoon site gags like enlarging eyes for emphasis or having characters look at the camera and speak for additional comedic effect. Not to mention the basic difference in forms. Unlike the original show Beast Wars had a quality that made you relate to all the characters that made them as close to human as a shape changing robot can get. A few examples would be the Maximals themselves: Rhinox the gentle giant. (Don't make him angry!), the young childlike inexperience of Cheetor, and finally the sarcastic, annoying, pessimistic Rattrap. Who just about every episode said "We're all gonna die."

"I know, I know. `Shut up, Rattrap!'"

They would joke with each other, poke fun at one another and sometimes at the show itself. Rattrap himself is a perfect example. He would call anybody a variation on their appearance, their rank, color, or beast mode. My favorite examples would be: Dinobot, who's teeth were quite sharp no matter what form he was in, he called "Chopper-face". Silverbolt, the Maximal fuzor whose beast mode was a fusion of a wolf and a bird, was called "bird dog". Finally Optimus Primal, a gorilla, would either be called "big banana", "boss monkey", or my personal favorite "fearless leader". This series is not only a welcomed addition to the Transformer mythos but adds to it as well. First example is in episode 15 "The Spark". It shows where all Transformers are who they are. While we would call it our souls and have never seen what they look like, Transformers would call it their Spark! Without this they would be piles of scrap lying on the ground. In fact in the first live action motion picture Optimus Prime said he would merge the All Spark with the one in his chest to save the universe.

A Transformers Spark

Next is how these Transformers talk. Instead of just transforming these beast warriors have voice commands. For the Maximals its "Maximize!" while the Predacons "Terrorize!" Moving on let's all face it: at one point or another we all swear. Well now so do the Transformers! Though unlike us they use swears associated with the melting of metals. The most commonly used is "Slag!" or any other variation. Episode 10 "Gorilla Warfare" finds Optimus Primal infected with a rage virus. In his overly aggressive state he takes it out on his team mates saying "..then smelt you all!" Speaking of Primal he made a point of saying from time to time "Well that's just Prime." Either he or his fellow Maximals would say it. Both groups had their own sayings as well. Predacons would say "By the pit!" while Maximals would say "By the Matrix!" Either saying referring to where their Spark eternally rests when they cease functioning: join with the Autobot Matrix of Leadership, or rot in a pit. (I wouldn't be a Pred just based on where you go in the afterlife!)

Happy looking bunch

Also unlike the original series the entire Maximal crew is not on the planet surface. In fact some were asleep in stasis pods that were ejected during the battle once they arrived in the past. Thus making them a valuable commodity for once a stasis pod made planet fall it was a race. If the Predacons reached the pod first they could reprogram the sleeping transformer within from Maximal to Predacon. Finally these Transformers told time differently than we do. Instead of seconds they had "Nano-clicks." Instead of minutes they had "Cycles." And so on. It was a different language altogether!

Women were also more prominent in this series. I concede that in the original series had Arcee and yes Optimus Prime did have a girlfriend but it seemed too forced! This approach felt more natural. Plus the Predacons had a female among their ranks, the Decepticons never did. Proving that anything a male bot can slag, a woman bot could slag better!

Romeo and Juliet.. Beast Wars style

These Transformers were so close to being human in my opinion than any Transformers that came before because they can feel extreme emotions. Take for example the fact that some characters fell in love. The Maximals Tigatron and Air Razor fell in love during season 2 while they were exploring the damage done by the alien heat ray. However a true Romeo and Juliet style romance developed later that same season between Maximal Silverbolt and Predacon Blackarachnia. Love however was not the only human emotion explored. Hate and animosity was present in season 3 between Maximal Depth Charge and Predacon Rampage. Furthermore Rampage would be the only Transformer I considered a serial killer. After destroying the colony Depth Charge was head of security on Rampage, (then called Protoform X,) escaped to space to kill and destroy again. Depth Charge was hot on his trail. See the serial killer/cop dynamic? In the end the battle between hunter and prey would end with their own destruction. Touched on briefly in the original series death is more evident in this series than any other. Depth Charge would die killing Rampage in season three. But the most heart wrenching death would be Dinobot's. He would perish defending the first human tribes by taking on all six Predacons then using the last of his energy destroying the golden disc. It is in my opinion one of the most epic episodes ever. (I believe Mainframe got an award for that episode too!)

"I am a warrior. Let the battle be joined."

The Vok

An interesting aspect I hadn't touched on yet would be the alien factor. From the beginning of the series to the very end the alien race known as the Vok make themselves known. From the first episode of season one the Maximals discover standing stones similar to Stonehenge. Giving them clues that someone else's hands were at work on this planet. From there they encounter an alien probe, a hidden floating island full of tricks, traps, and a weapon of awesome power, an alien golden disc, a heat ray shooting "planet buster", a quantum surge, and then two Maximals are abducted in exchange for a ship. After Megatron's attempt to kill Optimus Prime is thwarted the Vok notice the disruption to the time flow and send a new emissary to Earth. Using their prisoners Tigatron and Air Razor they merge their bodies together to form the Maximal fuzor Tigerhawk and send him after Megatron. Using the alien powers at his disposal Tigerhawk makes short work of the Predacon base and Megatron's soldiers. The battle between Tigerhawk and Megatron is also short. In the end however the Vok presence would be cast out of Tigerhawk's body by the ever scheming Tarantulas and they would sacrifice themselves to put an end to Tarantulas himself. Tigatron and Air Razor's sparks would merge and enter Tigerhawk making him an addition to the Maximal force.

Tigerhawk.. Emissary of the Vok

This show did pay its respect to the original. In fact some characters were named after others from the original series (aside from the obvious Optimus or Megatron.) Like Scorponok, Inferno, Rampage, Silverbolt, and Dinobot. (Majority of them sadly were Predacons.) In fact those who remember the original series will note that the Decepticon descendants are named after a five member team of transformers called Predacons who not only had beast and robot modes but merged to become the giant robot Predaking. It should be noted that in episode 21 "Possession" Waspinator gets possessed by the ghost of the second most illustrious Decepticon himself Starscream! Another visitor from the original series was one of Soundwave's favorite cassettes Ravage.

Covert Agent Ravage

He arrived during the final three episodes of season two with orders from the Tripredacus council to eliminate everyone involved in the Beast Wars. My least favorite touch with the original show is also my all time favorite. During the third part of "The Agenda" Megatron manages to break into The Ark. (The ship that originally brought both Autobots and Decepticons to Earth.) Flying past his giant ancestors he targets a single helpless Autobot... the first best himself Optimus Prime. With full power to his cannon he fires a blast at point blank range to Optimus's head. It should be noted here that in 1984 when the Decepticons awaken first it's Starscream's laser blasting that causes the first of the Autobots, Prime, to fall over and be reformatted. Now imagine that same scenario again only take into account the fact that Prime is dead. He doesn't wake first. In fact no one does. Time is changed significantly. A former friend of mine's reaction says it best to what Megatron did: "That's just MEAN!" It was also the end of season two. Hell of a cliff hanger!

Optimal Optimus Primal in his 4 modes

The season three opening episode "Optimal Situation" sees the Maximals attempt to return history to its proper path and avert themselves from being erased from existence. With little time Optimus Primal has no choice but to remove Prime's spark from his body so that they can repair it. The result is phenomenal! Optimus Primal's body reacts to Prime's additional spark by reformatting his body as an amalgam of Prime and Primal making him Optimal Optimus Primal. He now had four modes: flight, vehicle, beast, robot and even a cockpit compartment for Prime's spark. Also Primal's voice alters and gets deeper. He says "Stay close Maximals. It's time to transform and roll out!" A phrase Prime was known for saying almost every episode. Not to be outdone Megatron in the episode "Master Blaster" manages to return to The Ark and swipe the original Megatron's spark. The end result is staggering. Megatron's body reformats into the form of a giant red dragon. The ultimate touch came in the last episodes of the series "Nemesis" parts one and two. Megatron is without a base and finally on the defensive until he comes across a secret installation of Tarantulas's. Hidden deep under water is the very ship that shot down The Ark and was never heard from again. The original Megatron's flag ship The Nemesis. Anyone who's watched the original series remembers that ship just falling away never to be seen again. Now we have our answer as to where it went! With that at his command Megatron would use it to destroy The Ark and unravel history permanently.

"Enter the dragon!"

Love, hate, blood, (well mech fluid,) guts, (okay gears,) war, jokes, guns, and action. The Beast Wars had it all! It was the most interesting show ever in Transformer history... mostly because it took place before recorded Transformer history and as such has it's own place. I found it interesting to note that before the originals started their war on Earth there was a war for the preservation of time itself between an Optimus and a Megatron. Two names forever intertwined in the eternal battle of good vs. evil.

Beast Wars has been and always will be my favorite series. I enjoy it as much as I did writing this. I hope you enjoyed this as well. Special thanks to my beloved fiancee' for her assistance.
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