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"Ben 10: Alien Force" Vol. 7: "Dump on Ben" Is Not a Fun Game to Play

I discovered Ben 10: Alien Force with volume 4 of the DVDs, and was very pleasantly surprised at how accessible and enjoyable the show was. My enjoyment of the series was even enough to sustain a generally positive outlook over the next 2 DVDs, even as they began to show diminishing returns. Unfortunately, volume 7 (which begins the third season of the show) can’t be called anything but a disappointment. There are too many problematic episodes on this disc, some with flaws so deep that they derail the show entirely.

Ben Tennyson is the wielder of the Omnitrix, a wristwatch-like device that allows him to transform into a number of different aliens and wield the special powers at their disposal. At the conclusion of the last season, Ben ended the threat of an alien race on a mission to destroy all life in the universe, although at the cost of losing the enhancements that completely unlocked his Omnitrix and granted him access to all the alien races inside it. At the start of this disc, the adoration given to him by nearly all sentient life in the universe has gone to his head, making him insufferably arrogant and over-confident in his own abilities and nearly driving away his closest friends: his energy-wielding cousin Gwen and her boyfriend Kevin, who can transform his body into any material he touches. While Ben was always a little cocky and overconfident, this season ramps those aspects of his personality up so much that he becomes an obnoxious little jerk that we can’t wait to see getting the comeuppance he so richly deserves.

with the sole intent of killing Ben in battle and claiming the Omnitrix (and the Earth in the bargain). Ben and Kevin’s attempt to hack the Omnitrix to upgrade it again goes horribly awry, leaving Kevin massively disfigured and seemingly breaking the Omnitrix. After that, it becomes a race to repair the Omnitrix in time for Ben’s big battle with Vilgax. Unfortunately, after a tremendously effective opening sequence to prove Vilgax’s bona fides as a heavyweight baddie, it’s hard to see his ultimate undoing as anything other than a cheap story hack added on because the show had wasted a bit too much time on its “fix the Omnitrix” plotline . Even worse, Ben’s expected comeuppance never comes, and if anything, his victory over Vilgax and events in the rest of the episodes make him even worse. The rest of the episodes attempt to get more mileage from the malfunctioning Omnitrix as a running plot point, which would be more effective if it was ever anything more than a minor annoyance.

The episodes following are competent at best, and surprisingly disappointing at their worst. “Inferno” is an average “stop the alien” tale, with Ben, Gwen, and Kevin taking on a lava monster alien seeking to forcibly terraform the Earth. “Fool’s Gold” makes a stab at humor, centering on aliens who come to a rural town every 17 years to eat popcorn and engage in Spring Break hijinks, and pooping gold to more than compensate the locals for any damage. It’s exactly as mature as it sounds, and can’t even sustain its goofball tone before it changes gears to pit the crew against a gigantic, city-stomping monster. “Simple” aims to be cutting-edge satire, as a little alien girl sends Ben a request to stop a long-running war on her planet between two sides distinguishable only by their color. Unfortunately, the edge of the satire feels more like a butter knife than the razor that’s required. Even worse, Kevin takes a role in the conflict that initially looks like his own scheme to stop the fighting, but unless I missed something extremely subtle, it ends up making him look like a scumbag knowingly making a profit off of other people’s suffering and death. He was always a bit rougher around the edges than Ben or Gwen, but it seems like a pretty bad idea to turn him into the worst kind of war-profiteer.

This DVD comes with two more episodes than other volumes, and they’re the ones that put the show back on track, although just barely. “Don’t Fear the Repo” is probably the best episode on the disc, as two dimwitted alien repo men come to repossess Ship, the shapeshifting alien pet of Ben’s girlfriend, Julie. She, Gwen, and Ship are left on Earth to hold them off while Ben and Kevin head off to galactic court to contest the paperwork. It’s more successful than it has any right to be, even if it ends up feeding into Ben’s growing arrogance more. “Singlehanded” involves an alien baddie coming to Earth to try to take the Omnitrix from Ben, but he only succeeds in sending Ben to the Null Void dimension while his hand with the Omnitrix is left behind on Earth. The result has the same sort of macabre humor of Sam Raimi’s early Evil Dead movies, child-proofed for the TV-Y7 set, of course. Both these episodes manage to balance silliness and seriousness much better than the others, and bring it closer to the kind of superhero adventure that made the show so appealing last season.

Like the past volumes of Ben 10: Alien Force, the disc scores high for presentation and low on extras. All the episodes look and sound great, with anamorphic widescreen presentations and a solid Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo soundtrack. As always, there are a good number of chapter stops within episodes, allowing easy skipping over the opening and closing credits if you opt for the “Play All” option. The last two episodes are considered “bonuses,” and there’s also an “Alien Database” that contains dossiers on three of Ben’s transformations and three supporting characters.

One of the reasons why I stopped watching ER after a few seasons was that they tended to rely on what I called the “Dump on Carter” sections. The show would suddenly turn the young Dr. Carter into an insufferable jerk and/or drop a million problems on him all at once, with no apparent warning or reason other than to manufacture dramatic grist for the mill. The sudden and complete artificiality of the changes became irritating after a while, and it’s that same vague sense of irritation that I’m getting from the early episodes on this disc. It feels like the show decided that the best way to make Ben into a better hero would be to drop him into a personality pit and let him claw his way out of it. That’s a fine storytelling tactic and it should be work in theory, but the execution of it so far doesn’t work because it’s so obvious that Ben didn’t fall into that pit as much as he was pushed. Ben 10: Alien Force has done better in the past, so let’s hope they do better in the future.

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  1. […] It also helps that Thundarr (as a show and as a character) possesses the same kind of muscular sensibilities that elevated Robert E. Howard’s Conan novels and Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Tarzan novels above the disposable pulp trash that surrounded them. It might be tempered a bit for the Saturday morning cartoon set, but it’s not hard to see the DNA of the prose Conan and Tarzan in Thundarr. It’s certainly easier to see its roots there than in what we kids at the time assumed was a rip-off of Star Wars (which, one must remember, had its first sequel released only a few months before Thundarr premiered on ABC and had not yet turned into the insular, juvenile product we get today). At heart, Thundarr is an extremely simple character driven by little more than a love of adventure, a faithfulness to his friends, and an intense hatred of the tyrannical wizards that oppress much of the Earth’s populace. He’s also interesting because he’s incredibly arrogant without ever becoming unappealing. As an example, when Thundarr realizes that a wizard’s magic is ineffective on him, he immediately starts trash-talking, mocking and taunting the wizard before declaring what a royal ass-whipping he’s about to hand out. Frankly, he’s also a bit of a meathead, happily leaping before he looks and repeatedly treating Ariel like a fragile porcelain doll despite her protestations and demonstrations of her prowess. However, one never gets the impression that Thundarr is stupid, especially since he comes up triumphant so often in those battles. I’m not sure whether to credit the writing or the delivery by Robert Ridgley more, but it’s all hilariously funny and charming rather than being off-putting (as, say, Ben Tennyson can be). […]

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