MIGHTY MORPHIN’ POWER RANGERS (1993-1997)
This is the first of “Geoffrey only” reviews.
Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers, for me, is one of the most 1990s things you can possibly get. This is a show that defined most of my middle elementary school years (2-4 grades). I came to the party a little late; the series began in August, and it was while I was down sick with walking pneumonia at the end of April that I discovered the show.
This show was the imputes for this blog’s creation. I recently received the morphenomenal Seasons 1-3 box set, and was hit by how awful and yet still wonderful the physical show was. So, what will follow will be part snark, part nostalgia, and part respect for the show.
Because the first season is 60 episodes (and many episodes are the same basic plot), I will be highlighting 26 episodes in total. The ones I will focus on either introduce something new weapon-wise, key plot points in the over-all series, or had some interesting relevance to the series overall. And then of course my favorite episode is being included, because, well, it’s my blog series and I can :).
Episode: Day of the Dumpster (1×01)
Director: Adrain Carr
Teleplay: Tony Oliver and Shuki Levi
Cast: Amy Jo Johnson, David Yost, Walter Jones, Thuy Trang, Austin St. John, Paul Schrier, Jason Narvy, David Fielding, Richard Steven Horovitz, Richard Genelle, Barbara Goodman
Original Air Date: August 28, 1993/January 2, 2010 (re-boot)
Two astronauts are on the moon…where it’s surprisingly sunny and vaguely Arizona-esque…and stumble across what looks like a giant flower pot with a lid on it. They decide to open it up, for some inexplicable reason, and to no one’s surprise their own space aliens pop out. To be more specific, Rita Repulsa (head villain for S1, voiced by Barbara Goodman), Goldar, Squatt, Baboo and Finster. Rita, naturally, declares war on the nearest planet, which naturally, happens to be Earth.
Meanwhile, down on Earth, we meet the main cast at Ernie’s Juice Bar in Angel Grove, California. Jason (Austin St. John) and Zach (Walter Jones) are goofing off before Jason’s karate class. Billy, the resident geek (David Yost), meets up with the two guys and expresses his anxiety over taking the class. Kimberly (Amy Jo Johnson) is practicing back handsprings on the balance beam while her best friend Trini (Thuy Trang) watches.
The comic relief for the show, Bulk and Skull (Paul Schrier and Jason Narvy, respectively), arrive at the Juice Bar and awkwardly hit on Kimberly and Trini, before the girls put them in their place.
Meanwhile, back at the moon, Rita has had time to not only build a gigantic palace, but has made it always night time, thus eliminating that pesky Arizona view. She makes plans to conquer Earth. Because that’s what you do when you’re a space villain.
They then proceed to crash Jason’s karate class and make Billy feel about two inches tall. Because that’s what bullies do. But it’s ok, because Jason shows Bulk up with a tornado kick, like ya do, and then decides to relax with is friends with some juice.
Unfortunately, Rita has other plans and causes a massive earthquake. Ernie (Richard Genelle), owner of Ernie’s Juice Bar, tells everyone to remain calm, which of course no one does, and they all start to promptly run into the streets…where theyare all in a panic and suddenly, all Japanese. Apparently, no one in SoCal or Japan (where the stock footage is from) is used to earthquakes by now.
We quickly cut to the Command Center, located somewhere in the desert outside of Angel Grove. Zordon (voice of David Fielding) instructs Alpha 5 (voice of Richard Steven Horvitz) to find him “five over-bearing and over-emotional humans” aka Teenagers. Alpha 5 whines but does as he is told. Before the soon-to-be Rangers can leave the Juice Bar they all freeze and comment that something strange is happening…and then they teleport, because you can feel a teleportation coming on, similar to a heart attack.
The soon-to-be Rangers arrive in the Command Center and are shocked to discover Alpha 5. And then, because they haven’t had their supposedly 14 year old minds blown enough already, Zordon appears. Zordon informs them that they have been chosen to save the world from evil and have been granted special power coins that take their power from “ancient creatures we call dinosaurs.” Kimberly, who must have had blonde hair naturally, seems confused by this…because apparently dinosaurs aren’t taught in the Angel Grove school system.
These power coins will allow them to morph and ultimately call the Zords, which are massive dinosaur robots that form an even more massive dinosaur robot man thing. Zach becomes the Black Ranger, powered by the Mastodon. Kimberly (“graceful *and* smart, Zordon says…yeah…right) becomes the Pink Ranger, powered by the Pterodactyl (a word I couldn’t spell correctly forever because of the silent ‘p’). Billy becomes the Blue Ranger, powered by the Triceratops. Trini becomes the Yellow Ranger, powered by the Sabre-Tooth Tiger. And, finally, Jason becomes the Red Ranger, the leader, who is powered by the Tyrannosaurus Rex (stumpy, useless arms be damned).
The teenagers scoff at this, thinking that the whole thing is too weird and decide to leave. By walking. Through the desert. Back to Angel Grove. Cause, that’s smart. Rita Repulsa, through her magical telescope, sees what Zordon has done and sends the Putty Patrol, her band of strange guys in spandex with rock masks to attack the Rangers. The Rangers are very quickly frightened out of their minds and we go to commercial break.
The Rangers attempt to fight off the Putties but are quickly overwhelmed. It is now that they think “Maybe that floating head guy was right!” and with no other real alternative, they try out the new Power Morphers. As soon as they have morphed, Alpha 5 and Zordon, teleport them to a different part of Angel Grove to fight Goldar…Rita’s second hand man/bat/dog/thing who has been sent to destroy the Earth.
The newly morphed Rangers show up on the scene and each say part of what, on a better written series, would be a nicely rhyming speech ala Team Rocket or Sailor Moon. They then begin to kick some Putty butt, which makes Rita nervous, so she uses her magic wand to make Goldar grow to Godzilla height. The Rangers then call upon the power of the Dino Zords for the first time, which they then combine to make Megazord. Again, they each get a sentence when they land in their Zords the first time. Most are appreciative of what they’re doing, but Kimberly seems mostly concerned with the quality of the stereo.
The Rangers very quickly acclimate to driving the Zords, which honestly can’t be that much more difficult than driving a car, just on a bigger scale with more potential property damage. They do some Zord-to-claw combat with Goldar before realizing he is still too powerful…so Jason looks at the sky, sort of exclaims “Power Sword” (really, it doesn’t sound like he’s calling it, more like off-handedly remarking as if driving a gigantic robot and fighting space villans is de regure for him already) which terrifies the pants off of Goldar (figuratively, he doesn’t wear pants) who flees back to the moon. The Rangers rejoice in having saved the day, and Rita complains about a headache.
Back at the Command Center, Zordon and Alpha 5 congratulate the Rangers on a job well done…even though they really didn’t quite do much. Zordon then tells them they have the option of going back to their normal lives, which all readily agree to…except Kimberly. PSYCH! (How 1990s is that statement?) They put their hands together and cheer for being Power Rangers.
As most of you out there probably know, the Power Rangers was a unique series for several reasons. For one, half of the footage was stock footage, taken from a Japanese franchise called Super Sentai, most specifically Kyōryū Sentai Zyuranger. This means that when the cast are in their Ranger uniforms, you are actually watching footage from Japan (1992-1993), explaining the sudden shift in film quality.
Along with this, because the show was on such a shoe-string budget, any outdoors scene frequently required the cast to dub themselves, causing occasional lip-synching issues as well as some moments where they don’t sound live (because they weren’t).
The writing for the most part is incredibly variable, due to how fast the scripts were being churned out. In fact, in hindsight, I am very impressed that they didn’t make a single Wizard of Oz reference about Zordon, and seemingly, none of the articles I’ve found from and about the series mention a few of the parallels. Rita, a wicked witch, has one flying simian-like assistant, and three other simian-like assistants, as well as travelling on a bicycle. The teenagers are given magical tchotchkes that are ultimately their only real defense against her, and their leader is a gigantic floating head. A joke or two would have been very easy to throw in, and yet they managed to take the high ground and avoid the obvious joke.
Overall, the pilot is one of the more…together… episodes. Because of the set up for the series, no one is really required to act so much as react. Amy Jo Johnson, one of the better actors on the series, gets more of the dialogue, however Kimberly is so two-dimensionally written at this point that she comes off really badly. At this point, they also haven’t really started tailoring the roles and direction to each person’s talents, which is why Billy and Zach seem to do very little actual fighting. In fact, what little fighting Zach has to do seems to have come from the Jerome Robbins’ School of Fighting.
I could take this time to point out the awkward racial insensitivity by having Zach, an African-American and Trini, a Vietnamese-American playing the Black and Yellow Rangers, respectively…or the fact that it’s ironic that an grossly overweight guy is running a Gym and Juice Bar…but I won’t.
The pilot is also notable for a few things:
- A rare shot of the Rangers outside the Command Center. The actual building is The House of Book on the Brandeis-Bardin Campus of American Jewish University. Most Star Trek fans will recognize it as the location of Camp Khitomer in Star Trek V: The Undiscovered Country and Lore’s Borg compound in the episode, “Destiny” from Star Trek: The Next Generation. It has also been featured in: The Lawnmower Man, the Tenacious D film, Tenacious D in the Pick of Destiny, as well as on an episode of The Mentalist.
- The Rangers wearing their Power Morphers. Usually, they are just in street clothes with the Power Morphers “hidden.”
- The full Putty Patrol creation sequence. Occasionally you’ll see one of the Monsters-of-the-Day on the conveyor belt, or being sculpted, but you rarely see the press being used.
- The only use of the strange teleportation beams (see picture).
- An extended Megazord sequence. Probably because this is the pilot.
- Robert Axelrod voices Goldar for this episode alone. After this, Kerrigan Mahan will assume the role. Axelrod will continue as the voice of Finster and eventually as the voice of Lord Zedd.
Honestly, the pilot does hold up against time pretty well. And, knowing what’s coming, it’s probably a very good thing for our generation that it does. If it didn’t hold up well, I probably would not have continued watching it.