MIGHTY MORPHIN POWER RANGERS: THE MOVIE is easily the crappiest movie in my Summer of ’95 retrospective so far. Maybe less offensive than BATMAN FOREVER, since it doesn’t seem to be made by professionals who should know any better, but it’s really something. I know it’s an extension of a cheesy kids TV show made up partly of stock footage from Japanese shows, but it’s amazing that a soundtrack album and a little bad CGI was enough to get this into theaters alongside real movies. APOLLO 13 and
JUDGE DREDD came out the same day. Watching it 20 years later POWER RANGERS does not seem like it belongs in the company of either, and the dark, low quality transfer on the DVD isn’t helping things. It didn’t get completely killed at the box office, though. That weekend it came in below APOLLO 13, POCAHONTAS and BATMAN FOREVER, but above JUDGE DREDD.
Like APOLLO 13 this is the story of an elite team of squares chosen to put on uniforms and helmets and fly into space. The Power Rangers are five teenagers chosen by a giant face in a glass tube named Zordon (Nicholas Bell, DARK CITY) to “transform into a superhuman fighting force” and defend the Australian-looking city of Angel Grove, California. That means morphing into masked and color-coded martial arts super heroes and piloting robotic dinosaurs called Zords that combine into a bigger, humanoid robot called Megazord to fight giant monsters. In their spare time the Power Rangers like to skydive, rollerblade and act as role models to local children who don’t know they’re the Power Rangers because it’s a secret identity, although that is never relevant to the story. As far as we see, none of them have parents, schools, jobs, homes or alone time.
Usually I guess they fight a sorceress lady and a skinless HELLRAISER type guy who have a pigman and an apeman with golden wings as their lackeys, but today some construction workers accidentally dig up an ancient egg that hatches into “Ivan Ooze” (Paul Freeman, DOUBLE TEAM, HOT FUZZ), a blue wizard dude who cackles and puns, shrinks those bad guys into a snowglobe and hatches an ingenious plot to hand out jars of purple slime that brainwash all of the local adults into digging up his two giant robot insects that are buried in the dirt because that way he can take over the world but first he has to go to the “command center for [Zordon’s] never-ending struggle against evil” and smash a bunch of stuff so that the Rangers become Powerless and Zordon’s tube breaks and he’s an old alien guy laying on a bunch of crystals slowly dying. Therefore a robot beams the now regular teens to a planet where they will have to obtain “The Great Power” in order to save Zordon and be able to turn into Power Rangers again. Obviously.
This sounds like an inexcusable suicide mission to send some unarmed kids on, because many people have tried before and all have failed. The ground is strewn with the skeletons of giants who tried before them and failed. The middle of the movie is a pretty dull quest on this planet of rocks and woods. There’s a lady named Dulcea (Gabrielle Fitzpatrick, Snowy River: The McGregor Saga) who looks like the Barbarian Queen, but otherwise the only lifeforms are a dinosaur skeleton that comes to life, statues that come to life, and birdmen sent by Ivan Ooze, all of whom they have to fight and kick into walls and things so they explode.
The quest earns them new animal symbols and ninja costumes. There’s an actual kind of funny joke where they’re told their new animals in a ceremony (wolf, falcon, etc.) but one guy is sad because “I’m a frog.” (I don’t want to be Mr. Pink.) Later they’re fighting in giant robots of their animals and he seems okay having his make a “ribbet” sound, so that’s nice.
The martial arts scenes are kinda fun, but could use more variety. The gag where they kick a guy and he goes flying on a wire and slams into something and explodes into slime is the best effect in the movie, so they do it over and over again. Still, it’s fun how much they flip around and travel from point A to B using handsprings. Even though they can basically fly they like to use grappling guns and swing around like Batman. And they do moves like that thing where you jump up and just run on a guy in the air, a whole bunch of kicks in one. You guys do that move too, right? I love that move.
Credited second unit directors are Gary Hymes (action choreographer for HOOK), Jeff Pruitt (fight choreographer for MARTIAL OUTLAW) and Jeff Imada (John Carpenter’s favorite stunt guy) for the “ooze fight.”
It wouldn’t be fair to complain about all the cheesiness in the movie as if it’s not part of the appeal. For example, the bland interchangeability of the characters is pretty funny. They are ethnically diverse and they wear different colored uniforms, but otherwise the only difference I notice is that the Pink Ranger (Amy Jo Johnson, who it says here was also on the tv show Felicity playing some sort of troubled roommate who is a guitarist/singer-songwriter and searching for her birth mother or something like that, who knows) gets more emotional about everything. Also they have just enough of two painfully broad “comic” relief characters to make things weird – they forget to put on their parachutes and almost jump and the Rangers laugh about this near-tragedy. Those goofballs. Almost died horribly and caused this skydiving company to be sued out of existence. Ha ha ha.
And I gotta approve the use of animatronic monster dudes just hanging around. There’s a pigman with a monocle. Coulda used one of those in BATMAN FOREVER for sure.
That kind of stuff was pretty goofy and out-of-date for movies of the time, but it holds up much better than the stuff they did to try to play with the big boys. The decision that really doesn’t withstand the test of time, among other tests, was to replace the show’s lo-fi robot costumes with computer animation which, at least at their budget, was not yet up to snuff to handle giant robots. The “Mega Ninja Zord” vs. Giant Ivan Ooze scene beats even the MUMMY RETURNS Scorpion King scene for hilariously terrible digital effects released in theaters. It’s hard to even remember a time when animation this crude was played on TV.
So you get a laugh, but not the cool robot action they were probly going for. Hats off, though, for trying to make what I believe is the first digital giant robot effects (beating MARS ATTACKS! by a year) and for the deadpan use of an “Emergency Only” button that makes their robot knee the other robot in the balls. And it works! I guess Ivan shouldn’t have built his with that testicular pain simulator.
So, other than the embarrassing computer animation what distinguishes this from episodes of the TV show? Well, the score is by Graeme Revell (DEAD CALM, HARD TARGET, THE CROW, STRANGE DAYS) and music supervisor is Happy Walters (JUDGMENT NIGHT), who put together a soundtrack featuring The Red Hot Chili Peppers, Devo and Van Halen, I guess maybe to help the parents survive through the movie. But the catchiest song is pretty obnoxious, it’s “Trouble” by a group called Shampoo and it sounds kinda like a fake-bratty cheerleader chant.
The Ranger costumes look very similar to on the show, but they’re armourized, they’re not just spandex. The Yellow Ranger has headlights on top of hers (“Activate power beam!”) which I assume is a movie thing, but I could be wrong.
THE MOVIE director Bryan Spicer had come from TV (Parker Lewis Can’t Lose, SeaQuest DSV) but he followed this with McHALE’S NAVY and FOR RICHER OR POORER. And then obviously he returned immediately to TV where he has been extremely prolific. Just a few of the shows he’s directed for: The X-Files, The Lone Gunmen, Dark Angel, C.S.I., 24, Prison Break, Heroes, Human Target, V, etc.
Co-writer Arne Olsen had written RED SCORPION and COP AND 1/2, his subsequent works have included ALL DOGS GO TO HEAVEN 2 and GRIZZLY RAGE. The other writer, John Kamps, has gone a little more respectable with THE BORROWERS, ZATHURA, GHOST TOWN and PREMIUM RUSH.
Of the Rangers in the movie, Pink Ranger Amy Jo Johnson has had the most high profile career. She was the lead in many TV movies including the Lois Duncan adaptation KILLING MR. GRIFFIN and the Olympic gymnast eating disorder story PERFECT BODY before being in the casts of Felicity (50 episodes), The Division (22 episodes) and Flashpoint (75 episodes). Last year she was on 8 episodes of Covert Affairs.
But Black Ranger Johnny Yong Bosch has been the most prolific, racking up 159 acting credits on IMDb, mostly as a voice artist for anime and video games (he even plays Kaneda in the dub of AKIRA). In 2005 he co-directed a DTV horror movie called DEVON’S GHOST: LEGEND OF THE BLOODY BOY, co-written by Yellow Ranger Karan Ashley. And he’s also in a few cheap-ass action movies:
White Ranger Jason David Frank has a couple of those under his belt too. The one I need to see is the one where he plays stuntman John Stewart in FALL GUY: THE JOHN STEWART STORY, written, directed and produced by John Stewart (ACTION U.S.A.). I don’t usually spend twenty-some-bucks on a blind buy I expect to be cheesy, but I just ordered it after watching this trailer:
In 2010 Frank began competing in mixed martial arts, going undefeated in 4 amateur fights and 1 pro. From what I have read none of his opponents exploded into slime when he beat them.
MIGHTY MORPHIN POWER RANGERS: THE MOVIE seems to have been a successful outreach for the afternoon kids show which started in 1993. The movie made $66 million, which is not a huge amount of money, but if it wasn’t profitable then somebody got fuckin ripped off because none of that money is onscreen. It was followed by the 1997 sequel TURBO: A POWER RANGERS MOVIE which was even more like a TV show and should probly be called TURBO: THE LAST POWER RANGERS MOVIE because it made less than $10 million worldwide.
Actually, Lionsgate is working on a new rebootening or adaptification of some kind, from the director of PROJECT ALMANAC (Jonathan Liebesman’s cousin). Meanwhile, Wikipedia informs me that the TV show has stayed on the air this entire time! After three years under the original title they started a tradition of revamping with a new name and robots and stuff each season (Power Rangers Operation Overdrive, Power Rangers Jungle Fury, etc.). They only took a break in 2010 to play re-edited versions of the original episodes. This year it’s called Power Rangers Dino Charge.
appendix: Joseph Kahn’s POWER/RANGERS
Earlier this year director Joseph Kahn (TORQUE) released this completely unauthorized 14-minute Power Rangers short that looks much more slick and cinematic than the actual MIGHTY MORPHIN POWER RANGERS: THE MOVIE. That caused some initial legal troubles because of the official reboot in the works.
We’ve all seen (or purposely not seen) fan films before, but this is of a different breed. Producer Adi Shankar (THE GREY, DREDD, A WALK AMONG THE TOMBSTONES) is the kind of guy who does what many nerds think they would do if they had a bunch of money: spend it on the kind of movies they want to see, money be damned. So he started what he calls his “Bootleg Universe” where he gets real directors and actors to do weird shorts based on characters he doesn’t have the rights to.
I know that one is popular, but I’m not a fan. Thomas Jane already did my favorite Punisher movie. He gives a great badass performance in what is basically an ’80s action/revenge movie with some extra absurdity and over-the-topness to honor its comic book origins. I disagree that it’s an improvement to put him in this fake-gritty bullshit as a white avenger beating digital blood out of the all black “fuckin animals” and “savages” as Ron Perlman’s character calls them. I prefer him fighting the guitar playing assassin and the oaf with the striped shirt who nearly takes down the apartment building wrestling him.
POWER/RANGERS has an even more aggressive poser-grittiness, but in this case I believe it’s a joke. Following in the footsteps of the stories that followed in the footsteps of ’80s super hero revisionist stories like The Dark Knight Returns and Watchmen, Kahn and co-writers James Van Der Beek (!) and Dutch Southern move the light-hearted adventures to a dystopian future where Power Rangers are physically and psychologically scarred from their battles, they turn on each other, they become murderers, they die, they curse, and dude it is sooo fucked up man. They make the point that recruiting teens to fight monsters is basically enlisting child soldiers.
It’s a great looking short, a very detailed, fully-realized world, the opposite of the real movie. There’s a cool fight scene in the middle between the Black Ranger (Gichi Gamba, TORQUE, THICK AS THIEVES) and gangsters/soldiers/something led by Will Yun Lee (THE WOLVERINE). Even though he’s wearing the Power Rangers uniform (now with fake rubber muscles) it’s a fight that seems more inspired by THE RAID, with the Ranger stealing people’s guns and knives and using them against them. (Choreographers: Don Theerathada, Daniel “Danimal” Hernandez.) Maybe the coolest bit is when he takes a couple bullets to the helmet. It jerks his head a little but he keeps going.
But I think there’s a joke that some fans (who said that this is what a Power Rangers movie should be like) don’t get: this deliberately removes most of what is appealing about Power Rangers. I mean wasn’t it a show about people who do kung fu poses and shout commands as they get into robotic animals and dinosaurs that combine into a bigger robot to fight giant monsters? Yes, it was, and none of that shit is in the short. The only robots are glimpsed briefly from the distance, blurry and shakycam, in an opening flashback. Most of this movie is about the star of Dawson’s Creek acting tough, shouting exposition and knocking furniture over in a futuristic interrogation room.
And what about colorful villains? Not gritty enough. As soon as they bring back Rita (apparently played by an actress who played her on some of the shows, but not the movie) they cut to the credits. “People love these silly Power Rangers. How can we do it without all the silly stuff?”
It’s such an effective parody of the “gritty reboot” that people seemed to actually like it. Which hopefully will influence the actual reboot they’re doing, because that could be some funny shit.
VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.