Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Raping Your Nostalgia 2: "The Master Builder"

A long time ago I wrote a review of the Saturday morning Eighties cartoon Kidd Video that I happened to find on YouTube. This time I decided to review a cartoon that has always been near and dear to my sentimentalities, Transformers. When I was between the ages of five and seven, this was hands-down the coolest show on TV, but now that I'm an adult upwards of 25 years later, I look back on this show and wonder what the fuck I ever saw in it. The only thing worse than the animation is the script, and the voice acting isn't that far behind. The episode I'm reviewing today is one called "The Master Builder," which may or may not be a typical episode of the series, centered around the two Autobots Grapple and Hoist, who are so geeky in such a bad way that they make you want to shoot them directly in the face with Megatron's fusion cannon.

The episode opens with what looks to be a cutting room floor scene of miscellaneous Transformers footage that the animators couldn't figure out anything else to do with. This footage features Heroic Autobot Powerglide on a brave mission to go nowhere and do nothing while shouting clichés to himself. "Move over, blue skies!" he begins. What the fuck? If the blue skies moved over, you'd be flying in nothing, Powertard. To think, I used to like this character, mostly because he was a cool toy.

All of a sudden, and for absolutely no reason that is ever explained, two Decepticon Seekers, Skywarp, followed by Starscream, appear and attempt to shoot Powerglide down. Of course, the obvious reason is that the Decepticons and the Autobots are enemies, but this completely random attack ending a
completely pointless scene makes the Decepticon army seem less like military strategists and more like skyhogging bullies. First Skywarp appears and fires at Powerglide, and Powerglide stealthily dodges Skywarp's barrage of poorly-aimed laser fire and returns to shoot Skywarp out of the sky. Now, in case you couldn't tell from the name, Skywarp's special ability is teleportation. If your special ability is teleportation, is there any excuse why you should ever be shot out of the sky? I didn't think so either. After Skywarp fails miserably at life, Starscream comes in and successfully ruins Powerglide's day and ends this miscellaneous scene.

We fast forward to the real opening scene of the episode, where Autobot architect Grapple and mechanic Hoist are working on Grapple's latest invention, a model of a solar tower. The first thing I noticed in this scene, besides the fact that the energy dancing above the model glittered with a harsh jingling sound, was that both Grapple and Hoist's voices combined "gay old man" with "autistic train enthusiast." It also surprises me how easily these two Autobots can accomplish a small, intricut, working, scale model of a tower with only two hands between them. They kind of resemble autistic, gay old men too, come to think of it, going by the model of "autistic, gay old man" that I have in my neighbor, The Barber. Grapple wonders if Prime will like his invention and remarks that "If he's not impressed, I'll. . . be. . . depressed!" Way to go, Grapple, you came up with that all on your own? Fucking die.


They haul their invention past Wheeljack, who used to be the Autobots' main inventor. This is the guy who invented the Dinobots, for crying out loud, and now he's relegated to nothing more than a cameo while the Gay Autistic Duo waste their time building models. If Wheeljack built a solar tower, the prototype would be life-sized and probably some sort of bomb, which would have been much more entertaining later on, when the Decepticons try to use it. They present their device to Optimus Prime, who is learning to play basketball from Spike, and asks if he's "drooling correctly." First of all, you're the smartest of all the Autobots. Second, you have a supercomputer for a brain. If Spike tells you that the term is "dribbling," you should be able to remember that it's "dribbling" and not "drooling." Also, if Prime wanted to learn to play basketball, you'd think all he'd have to do is watch a game or two, or upload a video game or something and he'd have it down pat.

Spike asks Grapple and Hoist, "Did you guys make that slick doohickey?" No, Spike, they pulled it straight out of your ass; what the fuck do you think? It's been a long time since I've watched the original Transformers cartoons, but I didn't remember them having such atrocious dialog. Probably because I was around seven the last time I saw this episode. Hoist goes on to explain the technical benefits of a full-scale, working tower and Grapple shuts him up, rudely, in mid-pitch to ask Prime if they could build it. Maybe Prime could make a more informed decision if you'd explain to him what it fucking does. Prime asks Grapple how he intends to protect it from the Decepticons, chiding, "I bet you didn't think of that, did you?" Way to let him down nicely without ridicule, Prime. What about Omega Supreme, the Autobots' guardian who, if I recall, was present in this season of the show? I think any 100-foot robot with a plasma cannon for one hand, a giant claw for the other, and a gun on the back of his head would be adequate protection against the Decepticons. Did you think of that, Prime?

Optimus Prime is interrupted by a computer alert that Powerglide has been shot down. He sends Grapple and Hoist to the rescue, which makes me wonder where the Autobot medic, Ratchet, is. First Wheeljack takes a back seat for these two emo clowns, and now Ratchet. I also wonder why Powerglide just had to sit in a field and wait on repairs instead of just Transforming and walking home or something. Once finishing repairs on Powerglide, the two discuss the possibility of building the tower themselves in very poorly timed dialog with emphasis on every possible wrong word. Think it would be fun to use inflection like theirs in everyday conversation with unsuspecting victims who would look at you like you're some sort of retard. Eventually Grapple comes to terms with the fact that he's too narrow-minded to plan for every contingency, which is a very important trait for an architect to have.

Luckily for them, the Constructicons overheard their plans and took pity on the Autobots' special ed autoshop students. The first thing I noticed about the Constructicons that I seem to have forgotten over the years is that Scrapper talks almost exactly like either Hoist or Grapple, with the same melodramatic inflections over nothing. In fact, most of the Transformers talk this way, as if they all came from a planet full of incredibly inept thespians. The plot kind of drags through
this section and results in the Constructicons offering to build the solar tower and the Decepticons spying on their conversation via a state-of-the-art camera mounted inside of a rock in a canyon in the dead center of nowhere. Megatron must be the most ingenious strategist of all time for possessing the foresight to install a camera in a canyon just in case someone might someday chance through it. What's even more amazing is that he chose the exact moment the Constructicons were conspiring with the Autobots to decide to see if nothing is still happening inside the canyon of desolation and GASP!!

Starscream is fast to point out the treachery of the Constructicons to Megatron, just in case Megatron became momentarily distracted by a giant streamer of drool hanging from the left side of his mouth or something, but Starscream pointing out anyone's treachery is like Michael Jordan calling your junior high school point guard a semi-competent basketball player. It's basically the pot calling the kettle black when the pot's void of color is strong enough to erase time and space. I'm sure Megatron is aware. Megatron should have shot Starscream right there just to proactively punish him for any future betrayals that are bound to spring up.

Grapple's mind is alight with the possibilities the Constructicons' offer presents, but Hoist points out, "But they're Decepticons; can we ever trust them completely?" NO! BECAUSE THEY'RE DECEPTICONS! Why are the Autobots always so naïve about trusting the Decepticons? THE FIRST HALF OF THEIR NAME IS "DECEPTION"!! Grapple wisely requests proof. The Constructicons reveal their plan to Megatron and Megatron gives them some Energon to offer as proof. When Megatron suggested for Scrapper to give them his most precious possession, followed by a sinister laugh, I was almost certain he was going to offer them Starscream, but, no, it turned out to just be Energon cubes.

The Constructicons raid a nearby construction site for materials to build the solar tower. They show up as ordinary, neon green construction vehicles with purple windows, and the foreman of the site begins yelling at them to get the vehicles off his land before he realizes that the vehicles have no drivers. Okay, the Transformers have up to this point made no subtle attempts to disguise their presence on Earth. The Decepticons have for several years been constantly attacking power stations, oil rigs, national monuments, and major metropolitan areas, and the Autobots have been consistently arriving to thwart them. There's no reason any human should not be at least passingly aware of the great alien robot menace, of which one of the warning signs is vehicles that drive themselves. It appears that the main reason for the Transformers' continued, uninhibited existence on the planet is that they'd happened to crash land on the one planet where the inhabitants are dumber than they are. "These vehicles are driving themselves! How can this be!? Holy shit! It's one of those giant, killer robots I keep hearing about ont he news! I never saw that one coming!"


The next six minutes, which is pretty much an eternity in a half-hour cartoon that caters to children with short attention spans, is spent watching the Constructions build the tower and Grapple masturbating all over the place with excitement. Figuratively. . . I think. So far, the action in this episode consisted of an irrelevant aerial battle, Optimus Prime playing basketball, and a cubic shitload of talking. This leads us into the
third and final act of the episode where, guess what: Grapple and Hoist's new friends betray them. It was all a Decepticon trap, which they should have suspected by the fact that they're called Decepticons.

Part three starts with a scene that lasts about five seconds with two lines of dialog and almost as much movement. It's amazing how short some of the scenes in these shows actually were. They felt like they look longer, but it might have been because most of the characters on the screen seemed to be frozen in time. The Autobots roll to the rescue, or at least to wreck Megatron's shit. For some reason, they bring Spike with them. Maybe Prime was secretly hoping Spike would get shot through the chest by a stray laser blast or stepped on by Devastator. I'm thinking it must be frustrating for someone who is supposed to be one of the smartest creatures in the entire known universe to hang out with a kid who sits inside you and makes remarks like, "That's so tall the top is in a different time zone than the bottom!" Prime should have opened his door and flung Spike under Brawn's tires right there. TIME ZONES GO BY DISTANCE, NOT HEIGHT FUCKTARD!! GO BACK TO SCHOOL!!

Upon finding out that the Autobots are attacking, Megatron's commands are to "Fall back and regroup! Regroup, I say!" Regroup? There're only seven of you there! Megatron and the Constructicons; where is the rest of the massive Decepticon army? Probably off strategically eliminating relevant activities from their lives. Cliffjumper employs a shot of glass gas to freeze up Devastator, but the one thing he isn't counting on while fighting in an open field is wind. Warpath tries to take down Devastator by shouting out random words he made up such as "Wag! Zag! Zorj!" like he's running a color commentary of the 60's Batman TV series. Instead of simply picking up the tank or kicking it, considering that Warpath's blasts have no affect on Devastator more than announcing his presence, Devastator instead burrows his arm underground, stretches it like Mr. Fantastic to extraordinary proportions, and uproots the tank from below. Seems like putting a lot more effort into it when simply stepping on Warpath would be just as effective and take far less time.

Eventually Prime does form a plan to use Devastator's own might to destroy the tower. Megatron gazes upon the resulting heap of scrap and vows that "You Autobots shall pay for this!" He then exacts his revenge by flying away. He barely lifted a finger to fight the Autobots in the first place, and the battle was more of a friendly schoolyard game of hide-and-seek than dire combat. Yet somehow Megatron sees the destruction of his tower as the deciding factor of the battle. No wonder he got his ass handed to him in each of roughly ninety-five different episodes. What most leaders would consider a minor setback in a typical battle, Megatron views as a crushing defeat. Once the Autobots started cheering, he could have easily just started picking up chunks of rubble and hurling it at them, or I don't know, used the giant fucking nuclear fusion cannon he has mounted on his forearm. Instead, though, he has to retreat. Perhaps Optimus Prime isn't such a great leader, but only seems that way by choosing only to fight incompetent enemies.

Also, the Constructicons viewed the blueprints, and their brains are giant, vast supercomputers. Considering that computers don't just selectively choose to remember crap, but actually record every digital detail, wouldn't they have the equivalent of a photographic memory? Couldn't the Constructicons simply rebuild the tower after having viewed the blueprints once? Anyway, the battle is over, and the Autobots uncover Grapple and Hoist in the rubble. Optimus Prime forgives them and they learn a valuable lesson about pride and obsession. Everyone is happy.

I fully understand that the point of the Transformers cartoon was to sell toys, and in the second season they had a lot of toys to sell, which meant a lot of one-off stories focused primarily on individual characters. Here, Hasbro had Hoist, a retool of the Trailbreaker mold, and Grapple, a retool of Inferno, to try to make appealing to kids. Hoist was a mechanic and Grapple was an architect, not exactly bursting with selling points there. They knew they had to make these two characters exciting, or at least memorable enough, for kids to want to rush out to the stores and buy them. I completely understand the reasoning behind the story focused primarily on these two characters. However, I can't comprehend how the writers could have conceived that the best way to make the two characters appealing to kids would be to make them anal-retentive, whining, emo nerds who talked like hammy Shakespearean actors. I'm sure every kid wanted to be the first on the block to own the two wussiest Autobots that look and talk like fat, old, gay men.

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