Sunday, August 25, 2013

Original Power Rangers on DVD

You can find at most Targets, Walmarts, and other stores a plethora of DVDs, re-releasing the Original Power Rangers on DVD. Usually selling for around $15, for half a season (30 or so episodes), the chance to revisit a part of my childhood was too good to pass up.

There are a lot of things that where awesome in my childhood, that still in some way appeal to me today as an adult. While Super Sentai amazes me as an adult, it's the original Power Rangers that did not exactly survive in quality, these many decades later.

Now, don't get me wrong -- these show are still great; but more in an a "looking back at my past" kind of way. The antics and forced plot narratives of the American casts simply fall flat; which isn't the shows fault - they where appealing, successfully so, to a younger audience. Unlike with Super Sentai, or even current day Power Rangers, the appeal of these shows simply doesn't translate any further than 10 to 12 year old. For me, it's mostly nostalgia.

That said - there is still a critical eye to all of this I wanted to examine.

The series begins with the 5 initial Power Rangers, introduced as "Teenagers with Attitudes" - recruited by an inter-dimensional being named Zordon, to battle the forces of evil. Its all as hokey and cheesy as it sounds - and completely looses the Epic and Mythological aspects of the original Japanese series: Zyuranger.

Still, the combination of street level fight scenes, and giant robot battles -- to my young mind this was nothing short of incredible! I believe my exposure to Voltron, another 5-robot Combining mecha, helped to make the likes of Power Rangers and the Megazord familiar to me.

While American actors replaced the Japanese characters, the footage of villains was mostly kept as-is, dubbed over and renamed - so the Evil Witch Bandora became Rita Repulsa. I actually think Rita Repulsas voice over matched the original actresses' voice nicely. (Though with none of the nuance the character had in the Japanese series.)

I remember pretty clearly when Power Rangers seemed to get it's act together - more of less - as they had worked out some of the bugs in chopping up and re-dubbing the Japanese shows to their American counterparts. It all came together with the introduction of the Green Ranger. I think, purely because the characters where facing a foe they where unfamiliar with, and also repeatedly unsuccessful in fighting against, that the Green Ranger saga won me over so much. For a young kid, there was simply nothing cooler than the introduction of this character.

Thing is, the show wasn't able to use the Green Ranger all the time. Burai, in the Japanese Zyuranger, came into the group with an explicit expiration date, so his appearances in the show and in fights where limited. Thats why they always had Tommy somewhere else, repeatedly catching up with the Rangers later in the fight sequences. They similarly had to get rid of the Green Ranger later on, seeing as Burai died midway in Zyuranger.

I clearly remember my mother telling me something she had read in the paper - that the producers where considering canceling Power Rangers. I thought that was silly, at the time -- its was explosively the most popular show on TV at the time. Yet I now know the reason this was being considered - as Saban was running out of Zyuranger footage to exploit. They probably had three choices - either change the series, changing the Rangers over from Zyuranger footage and costumes, to Dairanger footage and costumes -- OR, what they ultimately did -- was keep the Zyuranger costumes, but change to the Dairanger robot footage. They did, for a time, choose a third option, of having Japan shoot more Zyuranger (called Zyu2), specifically for Power Rangers -- but I imagine that would have been difficult and costly to keep doing that.

Still, Zyu2 gave the show the chance to return the Green Ranger to the group, and extend the series life a little longer. For young kids, introduced to Power Rangers only the year before - this was probably a wise move - as suddenly changing the series (or cast) so abruptly, would have cost them viewer's attention.

The beginning of Season 2, for me, was a potent memory - as the show broadcast (for the first and only time) on prime time scheduling, to show the destruction of the original Zords, and the introduction of the new Thunder Zords (the Dairanger robots).

The series began producing their own fight footage, which was considerably weaker compared to the effects extravaganza the Japanese always provided; but it served it's purpose, of giving us fight scenes with the Zyuranger costumes, even while transitioning to the Dairanger Robots.

Season 2 also introduced Lord Zed - a powerful and awesome villain, who would later be pointed out by Parents groups as being too frightening and scary for young kids. Speaking as one of those young kids - I LOVED Lord Zed! He was indeed scary -- but thats what made him such a good villain, ratcheting up the threat level against the Power Rangers.

Season 2 continued to use some Zyu2 footage - retaining the Green Ranger throughout; though his powers where continually waning. His powers eventually dried up, with Tommy once again leaving the series. Yet it wouldn't be long before they introduced Tommy back, as the new White Ranger - new leader of the Power Rangers. I absolutely loved this turn of events. The thing I didn't know back then was that this White Ranger was actually one of the Dairanger cast. KibaRanger - Dairanger's 6th Ranger, was actually a kid who changed into an adult form when he transformed. They mostly used footage of KibaRanger piloting his robot,  and any scenes where he was fighting alone (without the other Dairanger cast around). The American-made fighting scenes picked up the slack, giving us the mix of the Zyuranger and KibaRanger costumes. They also seemed to be getting better at creating their own footage; again, nothing like the Japanese versions. But they seemed to be getting more proficient in what they where making as the season went on.

I wanted to point out, even though it never did reach a comparable level to Super Sentai, the American side did seem to be getting quite good when it came to depicting their own monsters. Goldar got a face redesign, but was scary and well detailed. It may have just been for the villains to stand around, talking -- but they managed to create very haunting looking scenes, with an atmospheric throne room, which matched perfectly with the scary Lord Zed. Their work in this seemed to only get better as the series kept going along.

I don't recall wether I noticed this as a kid or not, but there's an episode where you suddenly notice that Jason, Zack, and Trini are suddenly gone! What happened? They quit because, as actors on a children's show, they were not being paid fairly. I have to wonder, wether the producers decided to pay the other actors more, to keep them around, as Tommy, Kimberly, and Billy would have equally been my choices to retain, over the others. Some half-baked attempts to cut them out of the show, and have other people do their voice-over action sequences, eventually lead to the introduction of Rocky, Adam, and Aisha, to take over the roles of the Red, Black, and Yellow Rangers.

The casting of Adam and Aisha, particularly, probably helped the show - as they where able to shed initial parental complaints of racism in the shows casting. Having Zack play the Black Ranger, for instance, initially made Anti-Discrimination groups angry; yet, I try to think of Zack in the other roles, and he doesn't fit as well with them. Trini, the only asian character, was the Yellow Ranger -- another accusation of racism; though, I believe she wasn't even up for the part originally -- the Yellow Ranger, in the Japanese version, is fact a man! The actress apparently impressed producers enough that they changed the role to that of a woman; so I don't think there was racism in either casting of the Black and Yellow Rangers.

Other instances of parental group intrusion where those against the amount of violence in Power Rangers. Not just the karate -- but, the fact the monsters are killed every week. (Upon the monsters defeat, I now laughingly think "Another Problem Solved with Murder, by The Power Rangers!") So songs and themes in the show repeatedly buck those accusations, by emphasizing your brain over brawn, and warning that you should never escalate a situation unless others force you.

Next on the Parent Groups chopping block was Lord Zed - who was softened up by the return of Rita Repulsa. You didn't know it as a kid, but they had a different actress portraying her (though with the same delightfully nasty voice-over work). Rita used a potion to make Lord Zed fall in love with her, which lead the villainous power couple to marry. Suddenly the dark and villainous Lord Zed was part of a family - and one that was only just starting to grow.

Season 3 was interesting, as it once again cast away the Dairanger robot footage, in favor of the new series Kakuranger Robot footage. I really liked how devastatingly they destroyed the Thunder Zords -- perhaps shilling out some more cash to actually create their own giant robot fight. This lead the Rangers to seek out the origin of their powers - from a guy named Ninjor, a comical Ninja-like character, made more silly with a Mighty Mouse voice over. While they still stuck with the Zyuranger and KibaRanger costumes - they added Ninja Powers to it all (without any training, too; some lesson that is to kids!)

This new season noticeably clashed with the continuity-free Power Rangers movie, introducing the same robots and powers - but with a bigger budget providing for CGI Zords.

Kimberly, the girl every young boy had a crush on during the series, eventually made her departure from the series during season 3 - though not before setting up a replacement and bowing out gracefully (instead of up and quitting).

Lord Zed got a new arrival for his family with the skeletal foe from Kakuranger, Rito Revolto, who also brought Tenga (not Tengu???) Birds to replace as putties. Later Rita's father, Master Vile, comes to ruin everything for the Power Rangers - again destroying their powers and zords, yet this time Saban was prepared to actually change the show properly - making the series OhRanger into Power Ranger Zeo.

That's where I'm going to stop looking back - but I'm sure they are going to continue releasing DVD sets for the other seasons of Power Rangers. These shows really are only for young kids, or Tokusatsu fans looking for some nostalgia. Special features and behind the scenes are not included -- unless you bought a special edition package with all of these episodes collected together.

One thing that bothers me, watching these old episodes, is the reported homosexual bigotry David Yost (the Blue Ranger) faced from production, staff, and producers. He was apparently having a very hard time with his sexual identity, and after leaving the show, tried conversion therapy - which resulted in a nervous breakdown and hospitalization. He's since accepted himself being gay - but it makes me sad to think that, especially for a show that sought to preach tolerance to kids, would treat one of their stars so unfairly. Then again, someone at the studio must have liked him - as he stayed on the series as a side character, even after giving up being a Power Ranger.

It was nice revisiting these old episodes - but, both on camera and behind the scenes, Power Ranges does not stand the test of time very well. For young kids, this is an excellent series to show them -- and well worth the value of each $15 DVD set; but the nostalgia factor only goes so far when watching the episodes from an older perspective.

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