Thursday, November 8, 2012

The Lost of The True Power Rangers and Eventually, Our Childhood

Four things that defined by childhood from pop culture include: Harry Potter, Walt Disney, Smallville, and Power Rangers. I have been a big fan of the spandex-wearing youngsters who fight to save their worlds since the first season was aired in Malaysia on RTM channel. If memory serves me correct, my eldest cousin was the one who introduced it to me while or before I was in pre-school, I cannot remember exactly when the show started airing in Malaysia, though it was first created in 1993 in The States.

When I started having siblings and more cousins, we each started to assume our favourite Power Rangers characters. I would always be the red Ranger since I'm the second eldest of our group. Those were the good old days. I followed the three Mighty Morphing seasons religiously. I remember that the Malaysian censorship board once banned the show for a few months. I was furious! Apparently whenever the Rangers were going to morph, they would say, "It's morphin' time!" Naturally, they would pronounce 'morphing' as 'morphin', which sounded like the drug morphine. Some believed this would encourage youngsters to take drugs. Fortunately, the ban was lifted after a while, but this left us Malaysian viewers far left behind compared to American viewers. However, the word 'morphin' would be bleeped out each episode.

Seasons 1 - 3: Mighty Morphing Power Rangers (1993 - 1995)

Looking back now at the Mighty Morphing seasons, I would dislike them had I been watching them now. That is simply because they were so badly made, and not to mention the amount of recycled footage. But I was still a kid back then. So everything, from the Rangers' martial arts moves to their Zords formation sequences would just blow my mind away. The opening theme was just as iconic as the show itself. I remember some kids from rural areas would call the series "Go Go Power Rangers" rather than just Power Rangers because of how popular and catchy the theme song was. There was something admirable about all five original Power Rangers too. 

Jason was very matured and a good leader. He was also the Karate expert who displayed most of the cool moves. He teaches Karate at their favourite hangout spot, the Juice Bar. He was the alpha male of the group and was the epitome of manliness and what it took to be macho. But what he never seemed cocky, which was really cool. 

Zack was the super cool one and friendly boy next door. Despite being Jason's best friend, he had an almost different personality. He was the wackiest of the lot, and hardly took anything seriously. After graduating from Jason's class, he created his own form of fighting - Hip Hop-kido, which is a cool combination of break dancing and Karate. 

Trini was the caring and smart one, but in a sociable sense. She was also a martial artiste. She was always running some environmental project or something to save the city. As the Blue Ranger's best friend, she would always translate his techno talk into layman language. The actress playing her tragically died in 2001. 

Billy was the nerdy, geeky one. Not really sociable and always getting picked on. But he was the intelligent kid at school, and teachers who watched the show with their kids would always advice my classmates and I to be like him! He would stay the longest in the show, even after he stops being a Ranger. 

Then there was Kimberly, the pretty one. But she's no dumb blonde. She isn't even blonde actually. But she is a gymnast and super friendly and girlish. She is the stereotypical valley girl who loves shopping. Her main interest is in gymnastics  though she is a trained martial artist as well.  

And let's not forget Bulk and Skulk, who never failed to make me laugh. Even though Rangers come and go, these two last for a total of six seasons. Despite having limited screen time, they go through the most changes in terms of character development. From starting of as comic relief, they would soon go on to stand up for their beloved city in the face of evil. 

Some of the show's best moments includes Green With Evil. Before that, we thought nothing could stop the Power Rangers. When Tommy came as the Green Ranger, he totally scared me. He made Zordan disappear, broke Alpha 5, trapped the Zords underground, sent Jason to the Dark Dimension and destroyed half of Angel Grove with his Dragon Zord. This was probably the first time I watched a kid's show with 5 parts instead of individual stand-alone episodes. Tommy would soon grow to be one of the most famous Rangers of all time. But yes, he started out as a creapiy baddie. 

Then Lord Zedd came along and he was a villain through and through. He was so powerful that Zordan had to upgrade their Dinosaur Zords into Thunder Zords. It was refreshing to see both new villains and new Zords. 

Then Tommy was modified into the White Ranger, the new leader of the group. He was just as good a leader as Jason. He was heavily featured in most episodes, and had the coolest weapon of all -  a white saber with a talking head. Cheesy nowadays, but back then it was awesome!

Speaking of Jason, the big brother figure of the group, he then left the show along with Zack and Trini. The latter two had to leave because many parents felt it was racist to portray an Asian actor in a yellow suite, and an African-American actor in a black suite. Honestly, for us kids, that was a little far fetched. The three new Rangers - Rocky, Adam and Aisha were likable, but nobody could replace the original three in my eyes. Later on, Katherine came along. She was another teenager under an evil spell. But once she became good again, she was made the new Pink Ranger as Kimberley left the show too. It was really sad to see the original Rangers leaving one by one.

Season 4: Power Rangers Zeo (1996) 

The next two seasons were not that appealing to me. But Power Rangers in Space really got me interested again. The show's darker and more mature themes showed that the show was growing alongside the fans. I did not like Zeo and Turbo that much, despite the return of the heroic Jason to take up the role of the Gold Ranger. The Machine Empire was not as intimidating as Lord Zedd though they were really powerful. Lord Zedd and Rita were also reduced to a bickering married couple. And to see poor Billy reduced to a technician in the new Command Center was absolutely devastating. He left the show eventually, as the longest serving one among the Original Five. It was only many years later that I found out he was continually harassed because of his sexual orientation, and he left because he underwent depression. Gosh...

Season 5: Power Rangers Turbo (1997) 

For some reason, the Turbo movie did not make it to Malaysian cinemas. So you can imagine my shock when the Rangers suddenly had new suites and new villains to fight. This was probably the worst season from the Zordon era. The movie, which I watched a few years later, was not too bad. Divatox was more silly then funny. Also, Dimitria who replaced Zordon's role as their guru contributed almost nothing. In fact she literally only asked questions, and never supplied any information. Goodness! And what in the world was a kid doing replacing Rocky as the Blue Ranger? Sure Rocky is no Jason, but replacing him with a kid?! 

What?! And did I mention? Bulk and Skulk were reduced to chimps! Alpha 5 too was replaced with an Alpha 6, whose voice was not as fun as the original Alpha who always said the iconic line, "Aiyayayayai!" I almost gave up on the show. To make things worse, halfway through the season, Tommy, Adam, Tanya (who replaced Aisha in Zeo) and Kat left the show and were replaced by TJ, Carlos, Ashley and Cassie. The big hype would have been that TJ was the first African American Red Ranger, and that would have been a big deal. But as a kid in Malaysia, that was nothing to me. I suppose I was growing up and the show was getting less and less appealing to me each season.

Season 6: Power Rangers In Space (1998)

But if Turbo failed me throughout the season, it definitely made up for its mistakes thoruhg the finale. It was amazing. The Turbo Zords were destroyed. So was the Command Center. And apparently, Zordon was abducted from his home planet of Altar. Alpha and the Rangers leave for space with a spacecraft made by Zordon and left at NASA. Justin, the child Blue Ranger could not follow due to his age. And honestly, who cared? But this was the beginning of the best season of Power Rangers since Mighty Morphing.

Power Rangers in Space was supposed to be the final installment. However, the new take on the Power Rangers world gave a great boost in ratings that the producers at Saban decide to continue on. But still, it was the last season for the Zordon era. This season was surprising darker and more emotional. It was a space opera essentially, though the Rangers were still shown attending high school. There were lots of amazing plot lines, like the ones about freakishly powerful Psycho Rangers. 

It was horrifying to see how much the Psychos hated the Rangers and wanted to destroy them. They were probably the most powerful monsters the Rangers had faced yet. It took all six Rangers, and in some case even some extra help from Alpha, to destroy just one Psycho. The rivalry between the Psychos and with their leader also gave them some depth, something other monsters lacked.

The story of the Red Space Ranger Andros' search of his sister and eventual discovery of her real identity was quite entertaining as well. The main villain, Astronema's character is very dark and there was lots of character development for a baddie in the Power Rangers world. She was raised by her current general, Ecliptor, who himself was an interesting character. It's always interesting to see a villain with layers. 

Then there was the epic finale, with the whole nation of villains coming out of the dark to take over the universe. Finally, the death of an important character was required in order to save all that was good. For a kid, that was just deep. Witnessing an old character doing the ultimate sacrifice, and seeing how the people of Angel Grove, led by the once dumb Bulk and Skulk talking the bullet for their heroes, truly made for the best finale in the Power Rangers universe. All the episodes, apart from the crossover with Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, were amazing and fully entertaining.

Season 7: Power Rangers Lost Galaxy (1999)

With the end of the Zordon era, the long-running continuity from season to season came to an end. Lost Galaxy is the first post-Zordon season, but it had lots of connections to the Zordon era no doubt. Being the first season to be set outside the city of Angel Grove, it was mostly set on Terra Venture, a giant city-like-spaceship in search of a new planet. 

There is nothing much to like or hate about the new Rangers. Once again, it's me: purist Power Rangers fan who cannot stop comparing every new season to the original one. But the villains are even more interesting than In Space. They always discussed the theme of loyalty to one's leader. This season is not as dark as the previous one, but it was a very deep theme to me. Naturally, there were lots of firsts in this season; it was the first since Mighty Morphing to start out with a complete new set of characters. It was also the first to feature real animals as Zords rather than machines. Most importantly, it was the first to have a Ranger die! I could hardly believe it when it happened. A Ranger dying?! 

But like I said earlier, this season was not completely disassociated with the Zordon era as a former In Space alumni would join the cast as the new Pink Ranger, and there were lots of reference to her past. All in all, this was a better season than Zeo and Turbo, but not as epic as In Space or as iconic as Mighty Morphing.

Before Disney came along and completely changed the tone of the Power Rangers universe, the final Saban produced season was Time Force. There was nothing appealing in its story lines, apart from the relationship between the Red Ranger and his greedy father, who was forming his own army with Ranger technology to save people only for money.That was a very mature them indeed. Capitalism! But one thing good about this season is the acting. The Pink Ranger this time was the leader, and her eyes and speech delivery ensures you she is the best actor the Power Rangers universe has ever seen. Even Kimberly was a bit too girlish and too depended on the others but this, but Jen is totally a powerful woman. Sadly, the whole premise of the season was flawed. As a time travel show, there were lots of plot holes.

Forever Red (2003) 

Then, during the mostly uninteresting season of Mystic Force, came an iconic episode, probably the best since Countdown to Destruction, the In Space finale. Forever Red was a reunion episode which featured all ten Red Rangers since Mightly Morphing till Mystic Force. As one blogger mentioned, this episode made him get a "nerdgasm." Haha!

As amazing as this episode was, I could not help thinking it could have been better. I mean, this was the tenth season reunion show. They should have been multiple episodes like Green With Evil and the Psycho Rangers. And wouldn't it have been much cooler if they resurrected their original Zords to fight off the baddies. And what were the the producers even thinking when they recycled the Big Bad Beetleborg costumes  Did they think nobody would have noticed? And how was it a flying motorcycle could destroy one of the most powerful evil machines ever built? Well, I've got lots of issues with what could have been the best Power Rangers episode ever made since the Zordon era. But there were some cool references to previous seasons too, which was a real treat for fans. 

There is a new Alpha, Alpha 7 who basically has the voice of Alpha 5 but the body of Alpha 6. Ahem, no budget for new costume. The Space Rangers' new megaship is modeled after the Astro Megaship. Ahem, no budget for new set. There is also the return of Bulk and Skull, though they only appear briefly. They were also shown playing checkers on the set  the Space Rangers used to plan their attack against the Psychos. 

Writer Amit Bhuamik initially had the original story line much more exciting, and controversial too. Why did if fail to make it to the screen? That I will go into later. But lets first see this exciting first script.

The original concept of the episode involved a cult of robed alien priests that were trying to resurrect Dark Specter on a volcanic planet. There was supposed to be much more dialogue regarding why only the Red Rangers and being recruited for this new mission. While the other Red Rangers are arguing on who the best Red Ranger is instead of Tommy, Andros originally says, "Hey, I destroyed Zordon!", to which Jason replies, "You destroyed Zordon?" Since the delivery appeared as if Andros was bragging about killing their original mentor, the final cut Instead had him says, "Hey, I saved two worlds!" Yawn...

There was also more dialogue for the Bulk and Skull scene, which would have been so much more fun. They would have been seen naming all the foot-soldiers. Tommy was also supposed to be shown as their boss, who would reject wanting to work with Andros as he claims to be retired. But once he finds out its the Machine Empire generals they are dealing with, he promises to contact the other Red Rangers. 

Sadly, the actor who played Rocky could not make it as producers could not get in touch with him at that time. It would have been amazing to see him in his Ninja costume. Originally, Kat was supposed to make a appearance at the end of this episode as Tommy's wife picking him up from the space port.

There was also supposed to be a subplot about how Tommy and Jason are no longer friends, and the entire show would have them behaving awkwardly around each other. Jason was supposedly to have turned into a punk, and the ending of the show would see him reunite with Tommy. This would have explained why Jason was behaving so arrogantly during the episode. Turns out, the old Zords were indeed supposed to be featured on the show. Ten Megazords were supposed to go against the main villain. 

This episode was originally intended as a multi-part big budget episode. It was even going to be released as a direct to DVD movie. But Disney only had the budget for one miserable episode. When the budget for Forever Red was running low, the producers turned to Bandai, the company that designs the Power Rangers toys to fund the remainder with the promise of using the episode to promote one of their toys. Bandai agreed, requesting that the episode be used to promote the Wild Force motorcycle rather than one of their old Zord toys that were no longer in the market. Way to go Disney and Bandai...

Next year, Power Rangers would be celebrating twenty years of airing. I hope they are planning something much better and of better quality, now that the series are back with Saban.