Friday, 13 March 2015

Power/Rangers: A lesson that good things really can come in small packages


Earlier this week, my esteemed colleague Rosstefer posted a retrospective article on the Power Rangers franchise and assembled a kind of all-star team using Rangers from all across the the length and bredth of the show's history. Coincidentally, around the same time the article was being written, Director Joseph Kahn unleashed his short film Power/Rangers upon an unsuspecting internet.

At a mere 14 minutes in length, the film is a dark reimagining of the popular children's show based primarily upon the characters of the original American series Mighty Morphin Power Rangers. With explicit sexual references, drug use and extreme violence, it takes the recent Hollywood trend of the gritty reboot to it's logical conclusion (arguably the director's intention).

The plot supposes that the Rangers were defeated by the Machine Empire and, with no forces left to protect them, Earth's governments capitulated to the machines. The surviving Rangers are disbanded and go their separate ways. Several years later, the Machine Empire has taken over planet Earth and the few Rangers that remain are being stalked by an unknown assassin. With the Rangers being picked off one by one, former second Red Ranger Rocky DeSantos, who has defected to the Machine Empire, interrogates an imprisoned Kimberley Hart over the whereabouts of Tommy Oliver and the identity of the mystery killer.

Like many others out there, I grew up watching Mighty Morphin Power Rangers and loved the show dearly as a boy. I vividly remember the release of Mighty Morphin Power Rangers: The Movie back in 1995 as one of the most exciting movie events of my young life, up there with Jurassic Park & the Star Wars Special Editions (Say what you like, but at 11 years old with Star Wars on a cinema screen, you KNOW you'd have been excited too). I had every Zord, every Ranger action figure, every toy weapon. If it was Mighty Morphin Power Rangers, chances are I had it. Unlike Ross however, I lost track of the franchise sometime just before the release of Power Rangers Zeo (it aired on the Fox Kids network and Satellite packages weren't as affordable back in the day) and I promptly moved on to geeking out over other things (mainly Star Wars and Super Mario Bros).

22 years later, I am shocked to learn that not only is the show STILL going, but that a big budget reboot movie is in the works. I quickly shrugged off the news and went about my day. In my mind, The Power Rangers were a cultural touchstone of the 90s; a relic from my childhood. Certainly not a viable franchise for a jaded, post 9/11 audience.

Then came the gritty reboot. Again, I shrugged. After so many grey, dour, depressing adaptations of child-friendly franchises, I'd had my fill. Hell, even Superman and Spiderman aren't allowed to be fun anymore. Remember when those characters were fun?

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But eventually curiosity (and everyone on social media sharing it over and over again) got the better of me and I sat down to watch it. 14 minutes later, I was surprised to the point of laughter at just how much I'd enjoyed what I'd seen.

Despite being pretty much exactly what I thought it would be, the reboot is so dark that it enters the realm of absurdity. By utilising a franchise so beloved by young kids of the 90s, Kahn takes the entire premise of the gritty reboot and exposes it's ridiculousness and shines a light on it's ubiquity in modern film. Unlike so many of it's big budget equivalents, Power/Rangers is extremely self-aware; the actor's tongues firmly in cheek. The very fact that you have serious, big-name actors like James Van Der Beek and Katee Sackhoff delivering such corny dialogue with utter sincerity serves only to reveal the film as a loving parody of it's source material.

In the weeks following it's release, there has been a storm of controversy surrounding the film, with Saban having the short pulled from Youtube and original Green Ranger actor, Jason David Frank, expressing his displeasure at the film, citing the fact that the series is still out there and very much marketed to children as his main reason for not giving the film his blessing. Whilst Mr Frank is very much entitled to his opinion, I would argue that whilst the main series is indeed aimed at children, this film was not made for them. This was a film aimed squarely at people like me; those who grew up with the Power Rangers. The ones who remember sitting in their pyjamas at 7:30 every morning before school in the mid-90s to catch the latest adventures of their brightly coloured heroes. The ones who eagerly awaited the release of their first feature-length movie and helped it make over $66 million at the international box office. The ones who still have a huge box of Power Ranger action figures in their parents' loft space for our future children to play with. These people are now adults. They have seen entertainment take a turn towards the darkness over the proceeding two decades and understand the comedy behind the bleak outlook of Power/Rangers.

As for Saban, it would appear that the backlash of angry fans has given them cause to relent in their pursuit of copyright infringement. The film has now been restored to the internet in both NSFW & SFW versions, with the NSFW carrying a disclaimer warning viewers exactly what they're in for.

What did you think of Power/Rangers? Were Saban right to pull the short? Or do you think the film has the right to exist separately from the franchise? Let us know in the comments or on Facebook and Twitter.

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