Titan Maximum: Season One (US - DVD R1)
Gabe winds up his robot mecha...and punches the #&%@ out of this review...
Titan Maximum is clearly made by the same people that made Robot Chicken, in the same way Futurama is clearly made by (some of) the same people that made The Simpsons, and American Dad is clearly made by the people that made Family Guy. It’s not a total rehash, it’s more like successful branding. Series creators Tom Root, Matthew Senreich and Seth Green continue exploring their favourite themes, including pop-culture nostalgia, geek lifestyles and celebrity behavior, but the serialized narrative structure is the big change of pace, and it opens the writing staff up to actual character development. The tempo is still extraordinarily quick, and each episode is generally too short to allow the storytelling the proper breathing room, but moving away from the sketch comedy stylings of their original show is a step in the right direction for this particular team. Have no fear, Robot Chicken fans, the character based comedy and running gags are meant to support the writers gross-out humour, silly puns, and brutal sarcasm.
Most unpredictable is the fact that the arching season plot would be reasonably entertaining even without the comedy. Root, Senriech and Green spoof with real love, and one gets the feeling that they’re using their solid comedic history as the bedrock for a solidly plotted parody of/homage to Mecha/Super Sentai shows. Perhaps remarking on the outmoded nature of the genre, the series takes place after the heyday of the Titan Maximum team. Following a series of budget cuts the expensive mech (which connects in five pieces just like Voltron) was dismantled, and team was disbanded. In the interim three surviving team members – Commander Palmer (Breckin Meyer), Lt. Jodi Yanarella (Rachael Leigh Cook) and Lt. Junior Grade Sasha Caylo (Eden Espinosa) – generally live off their celebrity (which leads to plenty of Lindsay Lohan/Paris Hilton type jokes). Then a giant lava monster attacks the capital city of Titan, and the universe once again requires the services of a giant, groin punching robot. Palmer’s fanboy little brother Willie Palmer (Dan Milano) and Leon the monkey janitor (whose wordless, curmudgeony presence is actually one of the more regularly hilarious elements) fill the void of the two missing team members, and help to save the day. The monster is revealed to be under the control of ex-Titan team member Lt. Gibson "Gibbs" Giberstein (Seth Green), who has turned into a supervillain with revenge based plans for utter solar system domination.
The animation quality is a solid upgrade on the Robot Chicken base, in terms of both general production values, and the intricacies of character movement. I’m sure that designing stop motion puppets with specific animation goals in mind rather than recycling toys makes the whole process much easier, as does the more limited character and set base, but the overall look is cleaner, and the agile motion is comparable to feature film stop motion work, especially the eye movements (these sets and puppets are reportedly much larger than those used for most Robot Chicken sketches). Equally impressive is the upgrade in camera movement, which is more dynamic than even the best Robot Chicken work, and perfectly comparable to live-action handheld work. A few well executed focus pulls are the icing on the improvement cake. The production team also takes stronger strides into CG animation, and have found the correct balance between the two mediums. It’s still obvious enough when a CG augmentation is included in the mix, but the overall blend is seamless enough. Titan Maximum has raised the bar for television stop motion animation to near feature film levels, which is both a reason to celebrate, and a reason to pity the production team, who now have some big expectations to live up to.
Adult Swim misses yet another chance to release an HD transfer, even though this standard definition DVD is about as good as we can expect from the format. Titan Maximum is a huge upgrade on Robot Chicken in the transfer department thanks to the preparation made for the HD broadcasts ( Robot Chicken was shot for SD), and the repeatable character and background designs, which just look generally neat. The colour palette takes its cues from primary coated ‘80s Anime, and the bright hues are relatively sharply produced, with minimal blooming and blocking. Besides the colourful costumes and props, each set and planet features a key hue, culminating in the incredibly incandescent reds of Mercury, which could’ve easily turned into a mess of compression noise had this not been such a sharp transfer. The lilac and orange contrasts aren’t even muddied, though the hard edges are softened a bit. Details levels aren’t exactly incredible after years of hi-def transfer for comparison, but there are plenty of fine textures and busy compositions.
Every episode of Titan Maximum (following the pilot) starts with a literal bang, and an aggressive rock/techno opening title theme, which itself features more explosions. Adult Swim thankfully opts for a full Dolby Digital 5.1 surround mix to fully explore the immersive sound design. Some of the sound effects are spatially misplaced for some reason, for example, a character will slam his fist on a table in the direct center of the screen, and the sound will come from the right. For the most part directional effects do work however, from big, explosive space fights, to whooshing fistfights, and even subtle vocal movements. My personal favourite moment of surround sound design comes early in the first episode with ‘archive video footage’ of Spud Cunningham (the original green ‘ranger’) falling to his death from a very tall building. The only complaint I can muster is that some of the vocal performances get a little screechy at high volumes, which is very likely a side effect of overzealous actors overwhelming the microphone.
Though it’s not listed on the back of the box, or under the extras menu, or under the set-up menu, there is at least one audio commentary track per episode. These can only be found by selecting each episode, one by one on the episode selection menu. Creators Seth Green, Chris McKay, and Tim Root are featured on every single episode, occasionally joined by composer Shawn Patterson, cast members Breckin Meyer, Billy Dee Williams, Eden Espinosa, Dan Milano, Hugh Davidson, Rachael Leigh Cook, Edie McClurg, Kevin Shinick, and Abraham Benrubi. These follow the lead set by numerous Robot Chicken commentaries. Some commentators contribute a whole lot more than others, and the creators have to prod some of the actors, but for the most part these tracks are fun, and just informative enough. Episodes 1, 2, 3, 4, and 7 feature addition crew commentaries where Chris McKay moderates various collections of crew members, including Specer Laudiero, Jeff Matsuda, Ross Shuman, Rosa Tran, Bryan Gaver, Andrew Racho, Kyle Arneson, Nick Mariana, Laurie Olson, David Tuber, Savelen Forrest, Elizabeth Harvatine, Ethan Marak, Sihanouk Moriona, Trisha Gum, Tom Keiser, Jeanette Moffat, and Rob Ronning. These tracks are a more technical minded, and a bit more focused, though clearly not as much fun. I actually recommend watching both tracks in most cases for fans.
Under the ‘Anatomy of a Sequence’ menu are a series of choices including ‘Animatic’, ‘First Assembly’, ‘Rough Cut’, ‘Final Visual Effects’, ‘Final Sound Effects’, ‘Final Music’ and the completed sequence. I recommend hitting the ‘play-all’ option. The 40 second sequence is run through all seven times, equating about 4:40 total. This is followed by a general look behind the scenes (15:20). This section includes interviews with the cast and crew, who run down both the general history of the show, along with a list of reasons they were excited to work on the show, and some basic production details. The interviews are augmented with behind the scenes footage of the production meetings, visual development, set construction, CG animation, and recording sessions. ‘Crew Mugshots’ (1:30) is quite literally a series of staged mugshots of the show’s crew set to select pieces of the show’s score. The disc also features 20 deleted animatics with creator introductions (17:10), four ‘Design Showcase’ narrated slideshows (32:10), an ‘Episode Re-Dub’ (a commentary track where the actors ‘re-dub’ an episode), a look behind the scenes of a read-through (2:20), and five trailers.
Titan Maximum is another Adult Swim series that deserves a wider audience, and its apparent production cost could keep the channel from ordering any more episodes. The creators claim they have at least five seasons of ideas, and personally I’d like to see them get the chance to continue building up this wacky little universe, rather than going back to the fish in a barrel gags of Robot Chicken. There’s nothing wrong with Robot Chicken, but this series feels like its building somewhere, possibly even to more original series with narrative arcs, and well rounded characters. Maybe even, gasp, something dramatic. A Blu-ray release would be ideal, since the show is prepped with high definition in mind, but this standard definition DVD looks and sounds pretty good considering. The extras are plentiful, informative and entertaining.
Review by Gabriel Powers
Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian
Release Date: 10th August 2010
Disc Type: Single side, dual layer
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1 English
Extras: Cast and Crew Commentaries,
Easter Egg: No
Cast: Breckin Meyer, Rachael Leigh Cook, Dan Milano, Eden Espinosa, Seth Green
Genre: Action, Animation and Comedy
Length: 114 minutes
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