Written by Chad Derdowski
“One Shall Stand” was originally presented as a massive, seven-episode story arc during the first two seasons of the popular Transformers Prime animated series, currently airing on the Hub. This summer, SHOUT! Factory, in conjunction with Hasbro Studios, brings the universe-shattering epic to DVD as a seamlessly edited, uninterrupted movie. Featuring the legendary voice talents of Peter Cullen and Frank Welker along with Adam Baldwin, Gina Torres, and Ernie Hudson, Transformers Prime: One Shall Stand delves deep into the back story of Optimus Prime and the history of Cybertron while delivering the ultimate adventure for fans of the series.
Anyone familiar with the Transformers should recognize the phrase “one shall stand” and understand the implications that go along with it. First uttered in 1986’s Transformers: The Movie, it is synonymous with the final battle between Optimus Prime, the leader of the Autobots, and his nemesis Megatron, ruler of the Decepticons. It also conjures images of Unicron, the “chaos bringer” of the Transformers Universe (or to be more direct, “a freakin’ huge robot that turns into a planet that eats other planets”). So when the Emmy Award-winning re-imagining of the classic series decides to invoke the phrase, it’s safe to say that the energon is going to hit the fan in this one.
And indeed it does! Speaking of energon, the story opens with Megatron falling under the influence of something called “dark energon”, which I was completely unfamiliar with because – well, honestly, I don’t even watch this show regularly. Luckily, the folks behind Transformers Prime caught me up to speed pretty quickly and I learned that dark energon is the stuff that powers Unicron. Oh, and Unicron? Yeah, it turns out he’s inside the earth’s core… correction: he is the earth’s core. So when he awakens, all sorts of earthquakes and natural disasters start happening and it takes more than a few fancy robots to defeat him; a temporary truce is required between the Autobots and Decepticons and Optimus Prime surrenders the Matrix of Leadership in order to light their darkest hour.
As a result of these actions, Optimus reverts to his pre-Prime state as the historical archivist Orion Pax. As Pax, he remembers little of the war that destroyed Cybertron and finds himself agreeing with Megatron on more than a few hot button issues. Next thing you know, he’s joining the ranks of the Decepticons and causing all sorts of headaches for his former teammates.
I appreciate Transformers: Prime as a successful reboot of the franchise that respects the original continuity while creating something entirely new. I love the fact that the show doesn’t talk down to its viewers and features darker themes and complex characterizations and storylines. When detailing the history of the Cybertronian War, Megatron isn’t initially presented as a villain, but as something of a revolutionary figure. The choices made by Optimus Prime in order to defeat Unicron (and his decision to eliminate Megatron once and for all) don’t necessarily fall in line with typical black-and-white “good guy” thinking, and it gives us a much more compelling story than the Transformers cartoons we grew up with. While it’s definitely a story of good vs. evil, the battle between Autobot and Decepticon is presented as an actual war, with hard choices and sacrifices being made as well as a fair amount of collateral damage.
I’m a huge fan of origin stories as well as historical ones. One Shall Stand gave us a look at the cosmology of the Transformers Universe and the story behind the war that these transmutable machines have been waging over millennia. As I previously mentioned, we learned the motivations behind Megatron’s revolt as well as the story of how Orion Pax became the last of the Primes. If the rest of the cartoon was absolutely terrible, I would still give it a good rating based on the inclusion of these storylines. But the rest of the cartoon isn’t terrible! The computer-generated animation is insanely detailed and at times almost rivals what we’ve become accustomed to in animated feature films. And I’ve already spoken of my appreciation for the depth of the story.
But just as a red semi is guaranteed to turn into a 25-foot tall robot, there is guaranteed to be a downside to all that greatness. And clocking in at 2 ½ hours, the downside of One Shall Stand is that it gets really, really boring at times. But it isn’t just the length that makes the program dull: as interesting as the story may be, there are plenty of instances where the story sort of breaks down and the show just boils down to either sad music and sad faces or a bunch of robots shaking angry fists and issuing monologues about destiny, justice and the price of freedom. Over and over and over. It’s awesome that this epic story was edited into a seamless story, but it’s also unnecessary; perhaps it would’ve been better served as a two-part epic or better yet: one that edited out the repetitious scenes?
At the end of the day, Transformers: Prime: One Shall Stand gets a thumbs-up from this reviewer. It’s not a strong thumbs-up, but it is definitely a solid one. The good in this show more than outweighs the mediocre and this DVD release seems to capture the series at its peak. While I’m not going to tell most adults that they need to rush out and buy it, the show has got enough throwback appeal and well crafted storytelling to keep an old Transformers fan satisfied. With a 3rd season in the works, it’s obviously keeping younger viewers pleased as well.
If we could only get a decent live-action movie…