Rob's Pile of Transformers: Manic Ramblings

Manic Ramblings and Delirous Ranting
re: "The Reformatting"

 Well, folks, "Beast Machines" is now on its way... and the 
lucky attendees of BotCon '99 got the first taste with the pilot 
episode, "The Reformatting".  Following is a summary (as 
best as I can do from two watchings and some scribbled-in-
the-dark notes) and a review... but first, a gentle reminder.

 If you're going to discuss this stuff, please use spoiler 
protection.  Don't post explicit info in your Subject: header, 
and use spoiler space.  I saw this episode knowing almost 
*nothing* about it, and the experience blew me away.  Be a 
pal, and don't rob your fellow fans of the chance to have that 
same experience.

 Now then...  

 After some SPOILER space...





 [also, be warned: some of the dialogue is not exact.  Like I 
said, I only got to see it twice, and I couldn't do my usual stop-
and-rewind thing.]

 We open on a dark shot of a bizarre, Cybernetic flower... 
then pull back to reveal a figure running towards the camera 
from the horizon.  It's Optimus Primal in his original gorilla 
form, fleeing across a darkened, future-industrial landscape.  
After he passes, a tank tread rather predicably squashes the 
flower, as a whole army of Tankorr-style troops transforms to 
robot mode and opens fire.  Backed into a corner, Primal 
turns to face them: "I don't know who you are, but if it's a fight 
you want... Optimus, maximize!"  But instead of transforming, 
Primal surges with strange energy flashes instead.  Realizing 
he's stuck in gorilla form, he does some fancy gymnastics up 
a wall along a series of projections.  He hears some sort of 
voice in his head, and his eyes glow briefly, directing him to 
leap into a gondola-like freight car on a moving train.  The 
familiar voice of Rattrap tells him to beat it -- this is HIS hiding 
place!  But after a second RT recognizes his leader; they 
quickly compare notes.  The last thing either one remembers 
is being on the way back from Cybertron; neither can 
transform.  Primal hypothesizes some virus is responsible for 
both the tranforming impairment and the memory loss.  
Before they can think much further, the tank troops blast 
them from a nearby road.  They flee with the tanks on their 
tail, and Rattrap desperately shouting at his computer: 
"Rattrap maximize!  Rattrap maximize!  Rattrap pretty-please 
maximize!!"  Just when it seems they're cornered, Cheetor 
leaps from above, blinding the tank that has them pinned.  
They flee as one of the tanks misses and destroys another 
one, to Cheetor's disbelief ("You blew up your own guy!  That 
was ultra cold!")  Primal's eyes light up again and he hears 
voices, and immediately decides they should head into a 
huge pit that's just opened up from all the firepower being 
tossed about.  "What makes you think it's any better down 
there?!" Rattrap wonders.  But as more tanks arrive, he 
changes his mind: "I withdraw the question!" he wimpers.  
The three leap into the darkness, and Act One ends...

  *SPROING!*  Our Heroes land on a web, and from the 
shadows emerges Blackarachnia, in the same predicament 
as them.  Optimus says something's calling him, leading him 
to each of the others... and now drawing him even further into 
the depths of the planet.  They all decend along one of BA's 
spider lines (passing the site of a much earlier Cybertronian 
civilization along the way), till BA's webbing runs dry, and they 
all slip loose and fall again into the depths.  This time, they 
land in... nothing.  There's only blackness around them.  
"Ground control to Major Optimus," Rattrap says in response 
to Primal's optimism, "We're in the middle of nowhere!"  
Optimus is frustrated.  "I will NOT give up!" he roars, hurling a 
piece of junk into the darkness... and shattering it like glass.   
Fire and light surge around them, till at last a gigantic Spark-
like object is revealed.  Optimus identifies it as the Oracle, 
"the computer which prophesied the coming of the first 
Transformers to Cybertron."   "At last," the computer says, "A 
receptive Spark."  Optimus is scanned, speaking in synch with 
the computer, then enters into it the glowing computer-
sphere.  "You are about to make contact with the Matrix," 
Oracle says.  "The all-spark that links everything and everyone 
that ever lived... or ever will live."  We see an image of an 
Earth-like planet getting hit with a blast of green energy (for a 
split second I thought it was Jhiaxus nuking San Francisco 
from the Generation 2 comic), reforming the planet into 
something that could be Cybertron.  "The seeds of the future 
lie buried in the past.  Seek balance in destiny, Optimus 
Primal.  Transform, and transcend..."  Optimus walks out in a 
pretty tough looking ape form, eliciting this comment from 
Rattrap: "What in the name of [can't tell the word -- sounds 
like "goona"] happened to you?"  Op tells the others that they 
must allow the Oracle to "reformat" them... and they do.  
Cheetor's sleek, Rattrap's grungy, BA is lanky and tall, 
looming over the others.  Just in time, too... a squadron of 
fast-moving motorcycle troops arrives just then, transforming 
to attack.  "How 'bout we give these new bods a test drive?" 
Cheetor asks.  The group shouts as one: "Maximals, 

 And nothing happens.

 "Do these upgrades come with a warranty?" Rattrap 
wimpers.  Optimus has a realization: "The seeds of the future 
lie buried in the past... the original Transformers had to *learn* 
to transform.  It took discipline... purity of Spark... and years of 
practice!"  "We ain't GOT years!" Rattrap informs him.  "Then 
we'll just have to split up and work with what we've got," BA 
says.  RT, BA, and Cheets make handy work of some of the 
cycle troops (including an awesome shot of Cheetor leaping 
back and forth across a hallway, jumping from one second-
story archway to the next.... eh, ya kinda gotta see the shot to 
understand. :]  The troops get the drop on Op, however, 
knocking him off a ledge into yet another Bottomless Pit.  But 
Oracle's voice sounds once again in his head: "To unleash 
the beast within, you must tame the beast without."  Primal is 
surrounded by a bright glow that reforms his limbs and body.  
"I... am... transformed!" he shouts, before flying up and 
kicking much motorcycle booty.  He gets two of 'em at his 
mercy, and grill them: "Who are you?!  Why are you attacking 
us?"  But at this critical moment, he lapses back into gorilla 
form, and the two troops go tumbling into the abyss.

 The others marvel at the transformation, and wonder what 
the secret is.  "I... understand!" Primal says.  "Great.  That 
makes one of us," BA relies.  Primal tells them that their 
"training" begins right now, and leads them away.  Meanwhile, 
a computer states that Maximal energy signatures have been 
detected... and Megatron's voice mutters that they've 
managed to survive.  We pan up what might be Megs' body... 
but if so, he's like nothing we've seen before; he looks like a 
giant steel-grey cylinder with a pair of eyes shrouded in the 
dark.  Megs then launches into a schpiel that I didn't quite 
get... something about mongrel beast forms, so foul, so 
organic, that he will destroy them.  And the story ends... for 
the moment.

 "The Reformatting" was a HUGE adrenaline rush.  The 
audience was cheering as the show started and our heroes 
appeared, oooing and ahhhhing at the tanks and cycles and 
amazing stunts, laughing at Rattrap's wisecracks.  The music 
was a driving techno-style assault, nothing like the more 
savage, tribal Beast Wars music.  The backgrounds were 
dark dark DARK, and positively ominous.  There was some 
great use of shadow -- for example, when they're rappelling 
down the spider web, we see Rattrap's shadow on the wall 
before we see him.  And the whole show had a Terminator-
esque post-apocolypic future feel to it, something we haven't 
seen much of in TFs, outside of certain Cybertron comic 
issues.  The show sets up many mysteries, the resolution of 
which will no doubt be part of the show's on-going plot.  At 
the end, we viewers don't have much more idea of what's 
going on than the Maximals do.

 Near as I can tell, we're in a future where Megatron controls 
Cybertron... completely and utterly, with armies of non-sapient 
drones at his disposal.  Why he would recall Optimus and 
company, though, is beyond me.  He seems totally 
uninterested in anything organic apart from destroying it, and 
if he's in charge, why would he risk setting four Maximals 
loose on Cybertron?  Did he have them in cold storage, 
perhaps?  Did he somehow zap them off the shuttle as it 
returned from Earth?  If not, why is *that* their last memory? 
(Real world answer: it directly bridges the gap from Beast 
Wars.)  And why are they back in their original beast forms? 
(real world answer: it makes them easily identifiable, and ties 
the soon-to-be-on-Fox BW reruns into the show.)

 Morphing.  Eek.  I know a number of Transfans were 
disgruntled at the prospect of TFs morphing instead of 
rearranging their parts, and I'm among them.  I've never cared 
much for the Japanese animation technique of "surround 
with glowing light to transform".  If nothing else, it's not 
accurate to what the toys do.  The toys will always TF by re-
arranging parts, and IMO the show characters ought to as 
well.  I guess this is where I draw the line at altering tradition, 
then... :]  I'm just hoping that Optimus's transformation wasn't 
literal, but more something abstract, representing 
tranformation of the Spark or some such... but given that he 
changed modes like this *twice*, I'm not optimistic.  But, we'll 

 The charcters themselves seem basically unchanged.  
Rattrap shines throughout the episode, spouting off plenty of 
great lines.  BA has a few herself, and Cheetor's his usual 
ultra-gear self.  On the side of the bad guys, we have... a 
bunch of drones, apparently.  There will be more bad-guy 
(Predacon?) charcters, though, including Tankorr, the leader 
of the tank drones (incidentally, Jim Byrnes -- the voice of 
Inferno -- will be portraying an as-yet unknown character on 
the series.)  As for Megatron, if what we saw was actually 
him... well, he looks like the Sogmaster.  That's right, the 
Sogmaster.  Go back and read the ads from your G1 comics 
if you don't know what I'm talking about.  All we really saw of 
ol' Megs was a big steel-grey tube with some wires and a pair 
of eyes on top.  Guess we'll have to wait till he steps into the 
light... but it would seem that Megatron has undergone his 
most radical transformation yet.

 The show was very heavily dependent on previous 
knowledge of Beast Wars.  With all the talk of sparks, 
maximizing, transforming, and so on, a newcomer would have 
a tough time figuring out what exactly is happening.  
Hopefully this won't be a problem for anyone, though, with 
BW airing 4 days a week in the same timeslot as BM.  

 At the same time, though, the series is moving forward.  
FORWARD.  I jotted that word down several times as people 
in the post-showing panel with the Hasbro reps asked 
questions along the lines of "Will we see the Maximals going 
back to retrieve the stasis pods?" and "Will there be G1 
Transformers in the show?"  The BM writers have taken a few 
of our old, familiar characters and tossed them into an entirely 
new situation.  This is going to be an all-new direction, with 
*new* ground to cover... and accordingly, little or no time to 
rehash the past.

  If BM is indeed set in a distant future, then it takes the same 
ambigous leap that Beast Wars did -- skip past a whole 
bunch of stuff, leaving it to the imagination.  Over time, we 
may find out some of what happened between the end of 
"Nemesis" and the opening of "Reformatting".  But don't 
count on a thorough chronological account.  Most of that time 
-- like the gap between G1 and BW -- will be left to our 
imaginations, I wager.  And in a way, that's good.  It leaves 
tons of room for speculation, for discussion, for fanfic, for 
interpretation... for other, untold stories.  I find it pleasing that 
we *don't* see every little thing that happens.  It'd be boring, 
most likely.  It would detract from the focus of the story.  I'd 
rather see a good story with only a sketchy background, 
personally, than a thorough background that limits the 
options and takes up story time.  The past will doubtless be 
revealed bit by bit, much of it only as needed (like Protoform 
X, for example.  In the writers' minds, I'm sure, there WAS no 
Protoform X until Season 2 rolled around.)  Accordingly, I 
wouldn't worry too much about whether this character will 
appear or that character will be accounted for.  I'm sure we 
*will* get some guest appearances... but I bet it won't be for a 
while, not until the show has had time to establish itself on its 
own merits (just as BW didn't have Starscream as a guest 
until the first season was almost over.)  Obviously, it'd be nice 
to know what happened to the other BW survivors, but don't 
be surprised if we don't hear Rhinox and Silverbolt's names at 
all; they might just be explained away with a line like "most 
Maximals didn't survive the take-over."  On the other hand, 
don't be surprised if we *do* get precise knowledge of what 
happened to them; the writers are certainly aware of BW 
history, and probably know how much we fans want to know 
the fates of our heroes.  I suppose it depends greatly on 
whether or not the Maximals can find out what's happened 
since they were on the Autobot shuttle...
  Well, that was more of a rant on the series than a real show 
review.  Ah well.   Go read Chris Meadows' post if you want a 
better show review -- he kicks my butt at this reviewing stuff 
anyway.  :]

Back to Rob's Pile of Ramblings