Wednesday, December 19, 2012

"Behold the Viewing Globe!"

Back in September, I wrote about Amy Jo Johnson's film BENT and casually mentioned that I had discovered it because I had been wondering about her "[f]or reasons which will become clear soon enough." And then? NUTHIN'! I've been meaning to follow through on that statement, and it just kept getting pushed back. Well, today is as good as any to explain a little further.

If you know me, you have probably guessed. It's all about the Power Rangers, baby.

If we flash back in time to when I began writing seriously (that is, for public consumption), it was the Power Rangers that got my foot in the door at KAIJU REVIEW. Even earlier, it was as much my disagreement with Roy Ware about the merits of Power Rangers as it was my admiration for his work that led me to write to him care of HERO ILLUSTRATED during the time when he wrote a column for that magazine. Roy graciously chose to ignore any youthful obnoxiousness on my part and generously offered to help get me started in a fandom that had long seemed an impossibility for someone like me to enter. As I have told him, I owe a great deal of who I am today to Roy Ware. And, indirectly though it might be, I also owe the Power Rangers for driving me to write him.

The thing is, I lost interest in the Power Rangers early in the process. In 1996, I declared myself pretty much over them. In print, no less! Since then, I've occasionally checked out episodes here and there, and even endured TURBO: A POWER RANGERS MOVIE in the theater. But I've never felt the need to return to the fold and the fandom I was part of before it even was a fandom.

Recently, Shout! Factory has licensed many of the Saban shows for DVD. This has led me to being confronted by 2 separate volumes of MIGHTY MORPHIN POWER RANGERS marketed as being "Season 1." Of course, I was helpless before the allure of the shows that had actually intrigued me way back in the day. Of course, I had to buy them. It wasn't even a question.

The first thing that struck me in revisiting these episodes almost (gulp!) 20 years after I first watched was how much I actually remembered. There were many, many things that I hadn't thought about in a long time that all of a sudden were as clear (and silly) as yesterday. Oh, I had forgotten plenty, and that was to expected. But it was a little surprising how much about Power Rangers was still lurking in my brain.

What was almost as surprising was how entertaining the show was. Now, I won't argue with you that it is classic TV, and I sure hope I never made that argument back in 1994-95. But it moves at a lightning clip and has a surprising amount of action. I know the usual busybodies protested this, since we must NEVER EVER have anything resembling action in a children's show. I am sure that is still an ongoing discussion, though not as much since those people can't get noticed by going after the Power Rangers since it's not as popular.

You can analyze it all you want, but the reason Power Rangers was such a sensation when it made the airwaves was because it was fun. It didn't hurt to have the dinosaur tie-in right when JURASSIC PARK was hot (a lucky coincidence!), but that wouldn't have mattered if the show hadn't been able to capture the imagination of kids. Yes, it was goofy, sometimes preachy, often incoherent, and the American footage is so cheaply shot that it almost physically hurts. All of that is immaterial when you consider the video landscape when the show premiered. It's not fair to compare it to its Japanese counterparts, or even the still-new BATMAN: THE ANIMATED SERIES. No, MIGHTY MORPHIN POWER RANGERS is the spiritual brother of fare like ELECTRA WOMAN AND DYNA GIRL and SHAZAM! - the 1970s live-action Saturday morning adventure shows from the Kroffts and Filmation. Compared to them, MIGHTY MORPHIN POWER RANGERS is the pinnacle of excitement.

The Power Rangers franchise was also capable of doing clever things that injected a genuine sense of suspense. Surely no one saw the Green Ranger coming, right? I don't think even Saban anticipated that popularity explosion, as they had to scramble to find a way to write him back into the show. Still, he was the lynchpin of the most memorable stories of both halves of the first season.

Ah yes, both "halves" of the first season. This is not even accurate, since they don't divide equally, but it's the most elegant way to phrase it. But what is commonly forgotten/not known among the general public is that MIGHTY MORPHIN POWER RANGERS only had an initial order of 40 episodes. In case that was all there was, the 39th and 40th episodes form a nice wrap-up for the series. It's even heavily implied that Rita Repulsa and her gang had been permanently defeated!

The demand for new episodes was too strong to leave this sit for long, so Fox and Saban brought us 20 more that conclude the first season. It is sort of amusing to see the production team scrounge around and try to figure out what they want to do. Toei was even commissioned to film new Power Rangers-exclusive footage that integrates into the stories a bit better. It's a fascinating glimpse into what might have been. I tend to think of this batch as weaker than the original 40, and that was a feeling that continued as the show progressed. Still, they ably restore the status quo before having to blow it up every year thereafter.

The acting of the Rangers themselves has taken a lot of heat over the years. Some of it, I am sorry to say, even came from me. The revelation in watching the show with fresh eyes is they are all pretty good. None of them deliver embarrassing performances; they are simply doing the best they possibly can with material that is honestly ridiculous. Also, when it came to the fight scenes, each and every one of them works their butts off. Remember, no stunt doubles for these kids! I still think Amy Jo Johnson was the best actor of the bunch, and this seems to be reinforced by her appearance in any story that comes across as particularly "challenging." But, all of them did a fine job, and don't deserve to be heaped with the bad acting scorn. Reserve that for the scripts they got if you must.

I'd be remiss if I didn't mention Bulk and Skull here. Much of what these poor slobs were charged with doing was incredibly juvenile and physical comedy at its most obvious. Still, you have to admire the gusto and skill they brought to it. They hung around for a long time for a reason, and turned in some genuinely funny stuff during their time on the show.

I've had friends who grew up with this show express to me disappointment when revisiting it as adults. I can understand that, but they are approaching the show all wrong. They want Power Rangers to be just as awesome as they remember it when their age was in single digits, and the problem is that IT WAS NEVER THAT GOOD. Some shows, like the Adam West BATMAN, work on multiple levels. MIGHTY MORPHIN POWER RANGERS is not that show. It is aimed squarely at the kiddie demographic, and if you don't factor that in before you rewatch it, you'll be shocked to learn that your childhood favorite is kinda cheesy.

Sure it is. But it always was. It helped that I was already a (technical) adult when it came on the air. I never expected it to appeal to me on a gut level, and was startled when it came close a few times (like the Green Ranger 5-parter). MIGHTY MORPHIN POWER RANGERS is fun and fast-paced, but it's not some sort of lost classic. If you can take it on its own merits, it's enjoyable. But if you demand it be something more than a low-budget 1990s kid's show with recycled footage, it's probably for the best to leave it an object of nostalgia and fond memories.

I don't know if I will be purchasing any further Power Rangers volumes. I did like some of the episodes that came after the first season, but my gradual loss of interest back in the day is something I cannot ignore. Still, for the first time in many years, it was good to welcome the Power Rangers back into my imagination.

No comments: