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Featured TV on DVD Review: Reboot: The Definitive Mainframe Edition

August 17th, 2011

Reboot: The Definitive Mainframe Edition - Buy from Amazon

Reboot holds the record for being the first fully digitally animated weekly TV series, ever. Clearly this will help with nostalgia for those who watched it when it first came out, but it has been a decade since the last episode first aired, and a decade in digital animation is like several lifetimes in most other mediums. Can it still have the same impact today? Or is the appeal limited to just nostalgia.

The Show

The show takes place inside a computer called Mainframe and looks at the lives of the denizens who live within. It's quite a dangerous place for the citizens of Mainframe, most of whom are simple binomes (beings that look like ones or zeroes). Mainframe has been infected by two viruses, Megabyte and Hexadecimal, and there's little the binomes can do to stop them. Even the more advanced people in this computer city, the Sprites, (Dot Matrix, her younger brother Enzo, and the wise Phong) would have trouble with these two villains, even if they didn't have to deal with the games. Whenever a user plays a game, it takes up a large section of the city. And if the user wins, anyone caught in the game is nullified. Fortunately, they have help from Bob, a guardian who arrived from outside Mainframe from a mysterious place called the Net.

(You almost forget that when the show started, the World Wide Web barely existed. This does date the show to a large degree, but it is part of the charm now.)

Over the course of the first season, we learn a lot about the people and places and the day-to-day life of Mainframe. Mainly we see Megabyte try and take over Mainframe and / or find away to escape and spread his infection. Hexadecimal is less particular about plans; she more or less just wants to destroy. They also hate each other and both spend a great deal of energy trying to eliminate the other. Most episodes are quite self-contained, but there are a few late in the season that do introduce new characters or set up some continuing storylines. For instance, Megabyte hired a hacker, Mouse, to take over Bob and use his Guardian abilities to open a portal to the Super computer. She instead becomes one of heroes, starting in season two. Speaking of season two, the show started having a lot more continuing storylines in season two, and added another character, AndrAIa, a sprite from a computer game. Normally when games are finished, all the sprites leave with the game, but she developed a crush on Enzo during the game and figured out a way to remain in Mainframe.

After season two, the show was no longer being shown on ABC, but became a first run syndicated show. This actually helped greatly. Usually leaving a network for syndication means a huge drop in the budget. But not having to deal with ABC's Standards and Practices meant they could have a more mature show with darker themes. (Also, the technology improved and the character models and animation were more detailed.) The sheer number of changes that happen this season (Bob's missing, Enzo and AndrAIa suddenly age to adults, they get lost in the net, etc. ) are a bit disorienting at the beginning, but the overall effect is solid improvement. Season four is actually two TV movies that were later split into four episodes each. It would have been nice to have the movie versions, but I think when they were made, being able to split them into four episodes was a consideration, so it is not too detrimental.

One of the highlights of the show when it first came out was the massive number of pop-culture references, specifically to, well, Geek Culture. Obviously TV shows and movies like Star Trek and Star Wars are mentioned frequently, while almost all of the names have something to do with computer terminology. But there are also references to games like Dungeons & Dragons or Dragons Lair, Elvira, Evil Dead, and, many, many more. Some of these do tend to date the show, but most are still as fun today as they were back then. I was impressed how well the writing and acting aged.

On the other hand, I was shocked how primitive the animation was when I first started watching the show. It had literally been nearly a decade since I've seen the show; in fact, I don't know if I saw the two TV movies when they first came out. It was quite jarring. (My initial impulse was to compare it to animatics made today, although that is a bit unfair.) That said, it wasn't long before I was drawn into the show and after the initial shock wore off, I actually enjoyed the retro look to the show.

The Extras

Extras start with an audio commentary on the first disc that is not scene specific, but details the overall creation of the show. (I had some issues trying to get this to work. It is supposed to run over the first three episodes, but it only ran about 15 minutes spread over the first three episodes before suddenly stopping. A system update on my PS3 didn't seem to fix it, nor did trying to play it on my old DVD player. I'll see if I can find a solution and if so, I will update this review.) There are still some good stories that we get to hear, including how they got breasts on Saturday morning TV, how they nearly ran out of money, etc. On the first disc of season three, there's another audio commentary with the same format that is filled with interesting stories. If you bought the two volumes separately, that's it for extras.

If you buy this nine-disc set, there's a bonus disc with three featurettes. The first is a 23-minute archival making of featurette that includes the very early origins of the show, as well as some of their other work. (For instance, I didn't know they did the music video for "Let's Get Rocked" by Def Leppard.) It's equal parts information and goofiness. Alphanumeric is a 32-minute retrospective with the co-creator Gavin Blair. This featurette is very in-depth and has better replay value than the first featurette. Finally, there's a seven-minute demo reel of character animation, sets, early tests, etc.

The The Definitive Mainframe Edition comes with a booklet that includes an introductory essay and postcard with a 3-D Lenticular image.

The Verdict

Reboot was the first computer animated weekly TV series. It debuted on TV a year before Toy Story hit theaters. And while the technology has clearly improved dramatically over the years, the writing and the acting are as solid as ever. The Definitive Mainframe Edition is worth picking up.

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