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    Beast Machines: The "War And Peace" Of The Transformers Milieu
    By Hank Campbell | July 31st 2011 03:24 PM | Print | E-mail | Track Comments
    About Hank

    I'm the founder of Science 2.0® and co-author of "Science Left Behind".

    A wise man once said Darwin had the greatest idea anyone...

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    I am told "Transformers: Dark Side Of The Moon" is a good film.  I enjoyed the first movie well enough, even if it was noisy in all of the wrong ways.   The sequel hurt both my eyes and my sensibilities but at least the pain in my eyes had an easy explanation:  Michael Bay, or perhaps his cinematographer, read some science and discovered that flesh tones, which exist in the orange range, have a complement on the color scale in teal.  Two complementary colors next to each other give an image 'pop' visually, shows neuroscience and therefore color theory.   So if you want to highlight something, orange and teal around it will work.

    Result: The Transformers sequel.  Bay seems to have filmed the entire thing in nothing but orange and teal, which means the images are subtly vibrating the entire time you watch the film.  It may be a good movie, it's hard to say because it is literally difficult physically to watch.

    Megan Fox in Transformers 2 all orange and green
    You see the problem, right?  Instead of using some strategic color around the center piece of this shot, the entire palette for the movie is teal and orange.   It gets painful after a few minutes.

    In researching what-I-knew-to-be-wrong-but-was-not-sure-why I came across a posting by Todd Miro that explains this has been an ongoing issue in movies for a while, and his screenshots explain why I also have a hard time watching "Iron Man 2".   

    He also demonstrates how horribly wrong things would look it visual artists throughout history were infected with this same madness:


    The Mona Lisa in a Michael Bay world.  Credit: Todd Miro

    So not all sequels are great, but I don't want to talk about sequel failure, I want to talk about success.   Namely the "Beast Machines" version of "Transformers" that came out in 1999.   I am not sure who was behind the concept of this, a James Joyce of the cartoon world, I suppose, but it was and is downright revolutionary.   I will make a bold claim and say it is dark genius.

    You likely won't know the Transformers history so I will surmise quickly (thus, if you do know Transformers history you will tell me all the things simplified or wrong); for no reason that makes any sense, the 'reboot' of the cartoon "Transformers" series had them landing on a planet more jungle than urban.   It seemed to at first be primarily outside the original continuity (Optimus Prime is now Optimus Primal - get it??) but eventually they brought it around so that they had been thrown back in time to prehistoric Earth and had to have a 'beast' mode to survive.  At the end of the series, they leave Earth for Cybertron.

    Fans had to be surprised when this new series starts and most of the characters are gone and those remaining are in some kind of matrix and have a friend who is an oracle, coincidentally just like "The Matrix" movie also released that year.   Oh, and they have lost their memories.   And there are no humans in this series.  Ever.

    The CGI artwork was terrific, even for 1999, which was not exactly prehistoric days but few shows had done it well.  


    Botanica, credit: Transformers Wiki

    The storyline was what made it compelling for "non-fans" but earned it the enmity of die-hard fans who liked the goofiness and cartoon-y aspects of the previous Transformers shows.

    The story is big and deep, more "War and Peace" than a kid show, yet kids who watch it - and have no legacy preconception about the personalities of the characters, seem to love it.   It certainly does not talk down to them.   Instead of being beasts or machines, they transform into technorganic warriors - you will actually be excited when they finally learn how to transform, even though that is the name of the show.   And the mental issues of Optimus Primal are fascinating, as is the conflict they have between the organic and the technological world.

    At one point, Optmus becomes a progressive zealot who wants the technological world of Cybertron to become completely organic, believing it is the only way to stop Megatron, who is an actual three-dimensional character.

    They have suspicions, they have doubts, about each other and the oracle.   They argue, they discuss the freedom of the individual versus the needs of the group.

    It's powerful stuff for a Sunday afternoon but my kids are rooted to the television.