Friday, August 10, 2012

Don’t take Power Rangers seriously.

As I type this, I’m trying to price check the new Power Ranger DVD sets. I really just want the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers, but I will accept Mystic Force if it’s out. I’m a little excited. When MMPR was first on, only a handful of VHS tapes came out. Hardly any of them topped out at an hour (most were just 25 minutes of program, plus an additional 8 minutes of ads, four at the start of the tape and 4 at the back, or a music video) and only a select number of episodes were ever put on VHS. If you did manage to collect all of the tapes, you’d have about 10-15 episodes total, all way out of order. So the idea that I can see this show in it’s entirety on DVD makes me happy.

But before I can get the price of the sets off of Amazon, I have to sift through an entire internet full of snarky reviews about the original series. Here are a few excerpts from a DVDtalk review: http://www.dvdtalk.com/reviews/55994/mighty-morphin-power-rangers-season-1-vol1/

“First and foremost, the acting is absolutely dreadful. I think the last time I saw acting this bad, was probably on those ancient, super corny after school specials. Yeah, it's baaaad. Also, as you can tell by my typical episode breakdown, the show can get pretty repetitive if you marathon a bunch of these episodes just as I did.”

I have a little issue with this statement.

Yes, the original MMPR (which by the way was the 13th Super Sentai in Japan, meaning that right off the bat we’re already missing 12 groups of Power Rangers) did have some schlocky acting, border-lining a Cinemax soft-core porn. But keep in mind, this was a 1993 TV show, pitched to 5-7 year olds. It wasn’t supposed to be serious.

I think a majority of these reviewers need to understand that this show was made by a California team (read: flakes) that made a show for kids to enjoy.

Enjoy, and enjoy in carefree bliss. Not to learn from, not to have shove morals down their throats, just to enjoy. It's not supposed to be as dramatic as Batman, as over stimulating as Yo Gabba Gabba or as educational as Bill Nye. Even with the FCC mandated PSA's Power Rangers had (the first ones I can remember were don't be a bully, we're just actors and don't pollute) it wasn't supposed to be taken seriously. None of the actors took it seriously, so why should we?

Saban wasn't hunting for a daytime Emmy or to be the Martin Scorsese of Fox Kids, he was looking for a quick buck, and all we kids wanted was to enjoy a 25 minute bit of superheroes.

1993 was a quirky year. One of the top family films was Mr. Nanny, Tiny Toons Adventures was a top cartoon, every kid had a Trapper Keeper and collected PoGs, men wore Tommy Hilfiger, women wore Ashley Stewart and kids wore French Toast. Bright colors were still all the rage and everything had to be extreme. So in a world where every 2nd commercial had a long, drawn out “BLAAAAAAAAAAANG” electric guitar riff and a voice over telling you that your parents suck and everything you own isn’t extreme enough, Power Rangers fit right in. Schlock and all.

Personally? I liked the schlocky, Mighty Morphin Power Rangers for a ton of reasons, but one thing I liked alot was that it didn't change very much episode to episode, until after the Ninja Ranger saga with Ninjor.

At the time that my Ranger fever was highest, everything in my life was changing rapidly, and never for the better, so it was nice to be able to watch something stable. Whether it was 4:30 in the afternoon, 8:30 in the morning on Saturdays, 7:00 in the morning on weekdays or 7:00 at night the week they debuted Lord Zedd, it was my 25 minute escape from reality.

When they did change an actor out or add something to the cast, it was a slow change that gave viewers a chance to accept it. But the general flow of the episodes stayed the same, and even when the main characters did go away, we were always reassured that they could (and often times did) come back, and that the good guys would always be friends and the bad guys would never totally sever their ties.

But for the most part, the episodes followed a simple formula:

1.A simple plot line develops. (The Power Rangers are hosting a food drive to raise money for the playground.) Calamity ensues with Bulk and Skull. (FOOD FIGHT!!)

2. Rita Repulsa (or Lord Zedd) sees the plot line, and has Finster develop a monster around said plot line. (Finster creates a pig.)

3. The monster wreaks havoc on Angel Grove.

4. The Rangers have to transform, and go into battle. Monster grows and the zords are needed.

5. Monster is defeated.

6. The plot line is wrapped up. (The principal buys the last cake, giving them the $20 they needed to finish the fund raiser.)

7. Everyone laughs and the credits roll.

It was a simple show. And with so many shows cramming our little heads with propaganda about the environment, politics, health, pseudo education and all kinds of other morals, it was nice to have something mindless to watch. Something to relax to. Something that the kids at home could daydream about and goof off with. I don’t think 25 minutes of relaxation is all that bad for a kid, especially when you look at what they have to deal with.

Countless are the days I spent wondering why there weren’t yet any purple or orange Rangers, or daydreaming that they’d eventually meet up with the Japanese Rangers I had just read about in a magazine. It’s the kind of youthful make believe that I’m sad to say most children’s programming does not allow.

Think about it. You never hear kids daydreaming aloud anymore about their own, made-up characters or asking honest questions about why there are and are not certain storylines. They just accept that this is all there is, and they don’t even try to daydream at all these days, not without some teacher or pediatrician threatening to pour Ritalin down their throats until they “stop that free thinking idiocy” and act like an adult. Nope. My generation was the last to have an imagination, one that didn’t require a late night DeviantArt post, based on sexual frustration, stranger hate and the lack of parental guidance.

We all had different levels of daydreaming and different levels of Power Ranger fandom. Some kids were content to just watch the show, while others collected the toys and cosplay. Rich kids even sent away their $30 to join the official fan club, so that they could obtain their mass manufactured 8 x 10’s and a coupon for the fruit snacks. A $30 rip-off, but one that we broke kids used to banter about on the playground, hoping to be one step closer to becoming Rangers ourselves one day. The carefree mindlessness was so strong, not one of us even minded that the toy zords would fall apart if you played too roughly, though the desire to collect them all was strong.

While the parents complained endlessly about the violence, there really wasn’t much to speak of. The fight scenes were carefully choreographed dance moves, and the actors themselves would even film segments, reminding us that this was staged, and we shouldn’t try it at home. The explosions were done either through Toei’s trick camera editing or via post production special effects, so while we kids could take in the idea of a life or death battle, there was never anything too severe for television.

I wish this was something that could have stayed this way forever.

The mindless enjoyment of the series in my opinion stopped right after the Ninja Ranger saga, when they added the first blonde Ranger, Kat. And while she was a likeable character by the time Turbo started, her arrival sparked the death knell for a happy chapter in my days as a Fox Kids viewer.

Kat was replacing Kimberly, the valley girl brunette we’d all grown to love (nasty attitude aside) and more than half of that season revolved around Kat, getting to know Kat, getting Kat to stop being evil, and teaching Kat how to use a zord ~ issues that Tommy (the last evil turned good ranger) didn’t need more than 5 episodes to work out. Other take over Rangers Aisha, Rocky and Adam only needed 4 episodes before we were all satisfied with them taking over for Jason, Trini and Zack.

Kat needed almost her own full season to get acclimated. That is inexcusable. Especially for a Power Ranger.

Aside from Kat (who needed her hand to be held through each episode) the final episodes of MMPR started adding in extra villains that took away from Lord Zedd and Rita, and the entire 13 episode finale where the Rangers became children and needed the Alien Rangers, took a ton of the fun out of it for me.

After that, the Rangers changed out every year, and it became hard to get emotionally invested in any of them. We went from 30 episodes a season down to 13 every February, plus an additional 6-7 in the early summer, and then another handful to wrap up the series in time for the next batch. 30 episodes for MMPR just meant that the cast would come back next season, ready for action. With se exception of Samirai/Super Samurai, 30 episodes for any other set of Rangers means that come next season, they won’t be around.

And since then, we’ve expected too much from the Power Rangers. As we grew up, we started to forget that this was supposed to be fun and light hearted.

Of the many things we started expecting of them, we’ve expected them to be more serious, more brooding, and a whole lot less trusting.

The original MMPR only allowed the Rangers to have trust issues In episode one and in select episodes where the Green Ranger was under Rita’s control. Our of 145 episodes, I think that 2-7 trust issue episodes is a fair amount.

Now? Good grief! Every team since Power Rangers in Space has had trust issues. Brooding Red Rangers that eye the others with suspicion, questioning the yearly authority figure who granted him his power, while the other rangers bicker over who should be leader and “can I REALLY trust you??” One Emo Ranger would be fine. But 3-6 of them and I’ve had it.

We’ve also complicated their powers.

The Mighty Morphin Rangers had a simple wrist communicator and a belt buckle morpher. Items that are super easy to conceal and require absolutely no instruction booklet to operate. Just scream out “IT’S MORPHIN TIME!!” and the name of your dinosaur, mythical creature or animal, and POOF you’re a Power Ranger. Need a zord? Yell for it. That’s all!

But starting with Zeo, it’s become a rigorous routine to transform. Zeo and Turbo required you to wear dual gauntlets that needed to be fit together like a puzzle, while in Space gave you an enormous keypad gauntlet, that required you to punch in a different code for everything you needed.

And now we have flip phones, each with it’s own series of spells that need a special number to activate, and the Super Samurai Rangers now have to write in Kanji, draw a circle and then say a spell. I am not even joking. Do you know how hard it is to write in Kanji?? By the time you get the word right and then draw the circle, the monster of the day could have stepped on you, eaten the other rangers, blown through the town and moved onto the next city. And don’t be bad at spelling in Kanji, you might just seal away your Power Ranger transformation.

Another big issue I have with the new gadgets? Plot holes.

The MMPR morphers and zords both had a simple explanation. This is ancient technology that Zordon has been sitting on for several thousand years. Just pop the coin into the morpher and let nature do the rest. And as kids we all accepted that. It was simple. We didn’t care what it looked like and we didn’t need another explanation. The gadgets worked and that’s really all that mattered.

The Super Samurai and Mystic Force Rangers were also supposed to be based on ancient technology. So why then do they have to transform with cell phones?? Think about that for a second, the Super Samurai and Mystic Force powers were supposedly created during the Edo period and Renaissance periods respectively. There were NO cell phones back then!! NONE!!

It’s sloppy storytelling to add modern day technology to ancient powers. And judging by the slumping toy sales, the updated technology is not enticing today’s kids to buy into it.

We also pay too much attention to the world outside of the daily battles and expect the Rangers to be more dramatic.

Episodes of MMPR dealing with each Ranger’s family life were few and far between. We only needed one episode to explain that Tommy lived alone or that Kimberly’s parents were divorced. We never needed a special story arc to tell us twice when Kimberly’s mom got a boyfriend or that Billy’s parents were stuck up dorks. A passing cameo or sentence once every 30 episodes was more than enough to satisfy our curiosity.

RPM needed extra episodes to tell us that Summer was a spoiled brat debutante with doubly self-centered and controlling parents, and that Flynn was from Scotland, and not you know, California. They needed another three episodes to explain that Gem and Gemma are twins. A good chunk of Operation Overdrive was devoted to the Red Ranger coming to terms with being an android, and Dino Thunder had to drive it home that the moody and cantankerous Dr. Oliver was once MMPR’s Tommy. The later series spend so much time focusing on the background stories and adding drama, that the Rangers often forget “Oh DERP I’m a super hero, and like ah.. the villain is gonna step on me.”

From the people in charge of writing and filming right down to the TV critics themselves, people have forgotten that Power Rangers is supposed to be schlocky, funny and always, action packed. It’s escapism in it’s purest form, and we’re not supposed to let so-called “real world” drama taint that.

While DVDtalk may not appreciate it, I want to embrace it. It’s a shame we don’t have more shows like this on for any age group, but more so for children. The acting was goofy, the plotlines were radical, and isn’t that how television was supposed to be?

On the rare occasion that I pop in my old VHS tape, complete with lines from the many times I’ve skipped past the audio cassette and toy ads, I try to enjoy MMPR for what it was. I don’t pick at the hack and slash editing of Kyōryū Sentai Zyuranger, I don’t tear apart the acting or even try to hunt for realism. I just watch the show. I let the show entertain me.

So bring on the goofy, rubber mascot villains from Toei and the skinny, Technicolor, spandex suited warriors in their slow and difficult to maneuver Dino Zords, and let them bring along their blanket of questionable teenage morals, clumsy plastic weapons and unnecessarily drawn out pose and introduction routines.

It’s Morphin time, dammit! And I wouldn’t want it any other way.

6 comments:

  1. All i can remember was having a Green Ranger doll as a 5 year-old and hearing the theme

    GO GO POWER RANGERS!!!!!!

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  2. yeah and when you are 5 your brain has not yet processed that Dolls are mainly a girls toy so for me it was acceptable

    *heck at 4 i had a Ken doll thinking they were boys barbies at a later age he ended up with his head ripped off and no clothes*

    Besides a plushie can be a male oriented thing too i guess

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    Replies
    1. G.I. Joe is a doll line aimed at boys. Power Ranger dolls were intergender.

      Even Ken was initially sold to boys in 1961, with Football Ken being one of the most popular.

      There's no shame in it.

      Delete
    2. Well this is strange sorry to Ken then

      Delete
  3. found the SHOUT factory season 1 DVD of the Saban's

    Mighty Morphin Power Rangers

    and lemme tell ya you would LOVE my city's walMart they got Power rangers Hello Kitty and AND!!!!!!! Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (i might go back and get the Turtles cause the torrent i got had only 9 seasons i think)

    ReplyDelete