I have never, NEVER been so excited about going to the cinema as I was on my way to see Power Rangers: The Movie in 1995. Not even for Jurassic Park, and I’m pretty sure I vomited about two hours before we left for that one. The reason for this was because I was obsessed with the Power Rangers TV show in almost unhealthy ways – ways that were unfortunately projected onto my family the Christmas before, when my dad lived his very own Jingle All The Way-style Toys ‘R’ Us Hell trying to get me all five Rangers in toy form. But it was the best Christmas I’ve ever had, so it was all worth it – right, Dad?
Anyway, I was especially excited because this was a movie, and millions of dollars (fifteen million, to be precise – almost double Pulp Fiction’s budget the year before) were thrown behind it, so it had proper special effects (which at the time I thought were as good as Jurassic Park – I take that back now), exotic sets, new monsters, and OH GOD THE SUITS LOOKED AMAZING. I was beside myself.
Thankfully, in my child’s mind, it lived up to every ounce of anticipation contained in my heart, brain, and also the toilet (I had a pre-cinema poo to make sure I didn’t miss anything – still do this today btw, highly recommended). It was everything a Power Rangers movie should have been: it had the cool martial arts fights, big zords smashing up cities, a distinct lack of teenage relationship drama, and a load of extra exploding stuff thrown in, like giant sentient dinosaur skeletons because WHY THE FUCK NOT KIDS WILL EAT UP ANY GOD DAMN NONSENSE.
And now, as a new Power Rangers movie gallops into cinemas this month, I thought I’d take a look back at the original and see how it holds up (Spoiler: it holds up).
In case you were unaware, the original Power Rangers TV show was not entirely American. The scenes with the high school kids were, but pretty much any time you see them in their suits, or there’s a big monster fighting a big robot, you’re actually watching footage from a Japanese series called Super Sentai. It was an extremely cheap way of creating the illusion of making a show from scratch, and it clearly worked – Power Rangers was massive.
This Hollywood spin-off film, however, was the first time that everything would be fully original, with no footage from Japan, hence the updated costumes on all the characters. Originally, it was to be directed by Steve Wang (director of genuinely my favourite film of all time, Drive – no, not that one), but alas, he left the project due to studio disagreements and the job went to Bryan Spicer. No worries though, because Spicer did a pretty bang up job, in my opinion. Good one, Bry: I liked your film so much that I watched your next one, McHale’s Navy. I did not like that one as much, so I did not watch your third one, sorry.
The “storyline”, which runs separately from (or at least parallel with) the TV show, starts with the Power Rangers doing some sky-diving, because, I dunno, extreme sports isn’t it? The white Ranger even jumps out of the plane with a snowboard and then, when they land, they go rollerblading around the city. Meanwhile a big pink bloke called Ivan Ooze hatches from a giant egg in a construction site (stay with me) and heads off to Power Ranger HQ to pull a full Finders Keepers on the joint and smash it up.
As such, Zordon (basically the Power Rangers’ dad) starts dying because the long, thin greenhouse he lives in gets a crack in it, and so he needs the Rangers to save him. To do this, he send them off on a special trip to some planet to get new ninja powers that will stop Ivan Ooze, who is currently back on earth hypnotising parents into building a giant wasp and scorpion to destroy the city. If you’re still with me, congratulations, you are under twelve-years-old.
From there, the Rangers meet an extremely annoying woman called Dulcea who can spin a stick around so fast that it makes a high-pitched sound – that is her power – and she helps them go and find a temple with some sexy new ninja suits in. Of course, everyone that has tried to reach it before has died, but these are the Power Rangers and no dinosaur skeletons or rock monsters are going to stop them getting their new magic silk dressing gowns.
Here’s the spoiler alert: they get there and don’t die, and it turns out their new frocks come with new giant robots, one of which is a frog, for some reason. So they travel back to earth to fight Ivan Ooze and his pet wasp and scorpion. To cut a long story short, and to bang out yet another Giant Spoiler: the Power Rangers save the day by transforming into a huge robot and kneeing Ivan Ooze in the nuts. This is no joke. Then they all kick back and watch some fireworks, and you genuinely cry even though you are watching this back now as an adult man, so you head downstairs to get the whiskey and, well, you get the idea.
Genuinely though, there are many reasons as to why this film holds up. Firstly, the Power Rangers are played by real-life martial artists. Or at least most of them are – Karen Ashley as the yellow Ranger seemed to be the only actor without previous martial arts or gymnastics experience. This meant we got some nifty fight scenes when they were out of their suits, as well as in. The new reboot only appears to have one cast member proficient in martial arts – Ludi Lin as the black Ranger – which isn’t ever a good sign. Still, if you’re in the suit, nobody will know, I guess.
In the original, all your big favourites made it to the big screen, too – Lord Zedd, Rita Repulsa and Goldar – and most had been gifted a wicked costume upgrade – Lord Zedd’s brain even did a weird pulsing thing that I remember made my mum feel sick, a fact she tried to tell me this afterwards but I was too busy screaming and kicking bins. This aesthetic upgrade included, most excitingly, the Rangers themselves – their suits looked thunderously amazing, far better than the sub-Iron Man fancy-dress of the reboot.
While not quite Jurassic Park, it had pretty damn good special effects, too. Considering the small budget, this was suitably spectacular for a 1995 movie (it’s still about as good as almost everything in Gods Of Egypt, which was made last year and cost $140 million to make). Unlike the TV show, the zords and robots weren’t people in suits, they were CGI, which worked in this case – big rubber costumes look even worse on the big screen. This was something that was clearly ignored for the next film, Turbo: A Power Rangers Movie, which went back to clompy suits and was not very good.This coming from someone who genuinely thinks that Power Rangers: The Movie is good, should tell you how very un-good the sequel is.
But it wasn’t all computer-based special effects: the main bad guy – one Ivan Ooze – was under a pretty spectacular layer of prosthetic makeup, and as such, his personality shines through. This was also down to hiring character actor Paul Freeman to play the part. Yes, that’s Paul Freeman of the Royal Shakespeare Company fame. Bob Hoskins’ murdered mate Colin in Long Good Friday. And, yes, that’s Paul Freeman of eating a fly on set and not giving a shit, fame:
No wonder he puts in such a dedicated performance – he’s a credit to his craft, is Paul. Thankfully, the reboot seems to have learned some lessons from this, and is casting actually good character actors in pivotal roles, like Bryan Cranston as Zordon, Elizabeth Banks as Rita and Bill Hader as Alpha 5, Zordon’s irritating robot assistant.
However, perhaps the most surprising, and essential thing about Power Rangers: The Movie, is that the soundtrack is a Grade A classic. It’s amazing – what other kids’ movie has artists as diverse as Van Halen, Dan Hartman, Devo, Shampoo, Red Hot Chili Peppers and They Might Be Giants on the soundtrack? Not many, that’s for sure.
That’s a ‘90s fever dream right there. A ‘90s fever wet dream.
To tot it all up, this is exactly what a blockbuster based on a silly TV show about people that ride around in big dinosaurs and fight people made out of putty, should have been: Stupid, really, but fun, and full of quality action. Of course, when I first watched it, I was laughing at it in no possible way whatsoever – I have never taken anything so seriously in my life – but the benefit of being able to do that now only enhances it.
There is genuinely nothing ironic about the way I like this film, although I can also now completely recognise its many flaws (especially spinning stick woman – wow, she almost ruins it). But this brings with it not only an added layer of humour, but also a fond sense of love and appreciation – there was zero pretense behind the film. It simply was, and is, a completely sincere attempt to make a colourful, dumb action movie with kids fully in mind, and you can’t fault it for that.
Also, the bit where Tommy does that corkscrew kick off the tree and dashes that monster into the wall and he explodes is so fucking peng that it blows my nappy off every single time.