Monday, June 16, 2008

Transformers Animated: Transform & Roll Out - DVD Review

Watching the 68 minute pilot for the new Transformers cartoon was a lot like one of those old Frosted Mini-Wheats commercials: The adult in me appreciated the fact that the series had an updated storyline that would appeal to kids, but didn’t alienate the old school fans. I enjoyed the manga-influenced animation style and the since I’m a Michigan native, I especially liked the fact that it’s based in Detroit. The kid in me just loved the fact that The Transformers are back!

The new Transformers Animated series combines elements of the classic 1980’s series and the new Michael Bay blockbuster film to create a continuity all its own. In this series, the Cybertronian Wars are long-over and have been relegated to t he arena of myth and legend. Optimus Prime leads a very small group of Autobots who are basically an outer space cleanup crew. They stumble upon the All-Spark, get chased by Decepticons and end up on Earth at the bottom of Lake Erie. 50 years later, Detroit has become the leader in cybernetic technology, due to a local professor’s discovery of Megatron’s head, which was severed in the explosion that put the Autobots in stasis at the bottom of the lake half a decade prior. Starscream discovers that the Autobots (and the All-Spark) are on earth, and high-tech hi-jinks, action and adventure ensue.

I wasn’t sure about this new Transformers series when I first heard about it, but it’s definitely grown on me, and I actually like it quite a bit. This is mainly because of the interaction between the characters. The Autobots aren’t written as battle-weary soldiers; instead, they’re presented as a ragtag group of misfits who don’t always get along. As they wage their battle to destroy the evil forces of the Decepticons, the Autobots learn how to function as a team, and what it means to be a hero. It’s got a good message for kids, but it isn’t too heavy handed that adults will want to wretch. The subplots involving their human friends and the foreshadowed return of Megatron are interesting enough to keep both child and adult entertained.

The few problems I had with Transform and Roll Out were really just nitpicky geek stuff. I didn’t like the fact that the Autobots operated out in the open and were essentially a team of robot superheroes. To me, this goes against the very idea of “robots in disguise”, but it’s really a pretty minor gripe. Also, the feature felt more like three episodes smooshed together, rather than an actual movie. I’m guessing this is because it actually was just three episodes smooshed together. Again: not really a big deal.

In addition to the feature, there are also two shorts on the DVD, each about 5 minutes long. These are basically little comedy spots, focusing on the individual personalities of the Autobots. They’re actually pretty funny, and I’m sure the kids in your household will enjoy them. All-in-all, Transformers Animated: Transform and Roll Out is a welcome continuation of the Transformers franchise, and in my opinion, should appeal to old and new fans alike.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

CHiPs Season Two DVD Review

The 1978-79 television season saw the brave men and women of the California Highway Patrol, also known as CHiPs, return for a second season. Focusing on the hot headed Frank “Ponch” Poncherello (Erik Estrada) and his straight-laced partner Jon Baker (Larry Wilcox), this four-disc set features 22 episodes full of sunny days, cool cars, pretty girls and a bunch of cops who smile a lot and never draw their guns.

CHiPs featured a charming blend of comedy and drama and is a great example of a bygone era of police television. This isn’t CSI: Special Rape Unit, Law & Order: Crooked Cops or one of the many current shows featuring flawed characters and violent police officers. Everyone working for the California Highway Patrol is a good, honest cop: clean cut, well groomed and mannered, and always showing off their enormous, sparkling teeth. I don’t know much about law enforcement, but if CHiPs is any indication of how things are run out west, they’ve got one hell of a good dental plan.

These cops are not out to fill quotas or abuse their power; they’re on the road to serve the cause of justice. Oh, and sometimes to pick up chicks. Actually, that’s pretty much every episode. I don’t know if it’s the teeth, the motorcycles or the tight pants, but the ladies really dig Ponch and Jon. Nary an episode goes by that doesn’t feature them hitting on or being hit on by attractive women. I guess it’s all in a day’s work for the California Highway Patrol.

As far as the show goes, I have to say I was pleasantly surprised. I remember watching a lot of CHiPs reruns as a kid, and I remember my older sister’s larger-than-life poster of Erik Estrada that hung in her bedroom like a shrine to a golden god, but I couldn’t remember whether or not the show was actually any good. To be honest, I didn’t expect much. I figured it would be another old TV show that brought back fond memories and lots of laughs, but didn’t really hold up. Have you ever watched The A-Team or Knight Rider lately? Those were two of my favorite series as a kid, but I can’t even stomach more than 15 minutes of an episode now. No wonder they call television “the boob tube”.

But CHiPs was pretty good. Okay, it was pretty cheesy, with some corny dialogue and bad jokes, but the stories weren’t too bad. I’ll admit, the sweet clothing and funky music of the 1970’s was often more appealing than the actual plot, but in the defense of CHiPs, the plot did hold my interest. Maybe it was my low expectations or maybe I was just mystified by the wit and charm of Ponch and Jon, but I actually did enjoy watching these DVDs. I figured I’d have a hard time getting through this series, but I ended up relishing my time spent on patrol with the good men and women of CHiPs.

I don’t really think anyone is reading this review in order to determine whether or not they’ll purchase the second season of CHiPs though. I have to believe that anyone buying it is a longtime fan who wants to relive the halcyon days of their youth, when cops didn’t pistol-whip suspects into submission and television was a bit simpler. If you do fall into the first camp, I don’t really know what to tell you. You’ll most likely be disappointed with this rather dated cop show. If you’re in the second group, I’d recommend that you go ahead and pick up CHiPs Season Two. It’s a great trip down memory lane that just might surprise you.

The four-disc set features 22 episodes and two special features, though I’d use that term very loosely. The first is a featurette in which Erik Estrada interviews some actual California Highway Patrol officers. It’s pretty dull, but worth watching just to hear Estrada say “us” and “we”, as though he is actually a cop. The second “special feature” is just a two hour flashback episode in which Ponch and Jon’s teammates relive the duo’s greatest adventures of the first two seasons. It’s not a bad episode, but it hardly qualifies as a special feature.