Features / Film / TV Shows

Morphing Grid: Revisiting the Original Power Rangers Movie

There’s been much talk about the new Power Rangers movie, which opens in theaters this weekend. Here at The Joy of Geek, the majority of us grew up on the classic 90s series, filling our Saturday mornings with Megazords, epic battles, and the most delightfully cheesy one-liners. There was just something inexplicably cool about seeing teenagers in spandex battling monsters and having the best theme songs of any other tv show. What kid didn’t want to be Tommy Oliver and command a giant Megazord? And though I’m not quite on the same superfan level as Jordan and Kelsey, I was an avid viewer from the time of Mighty Morphin and up through Dino Thunder.

Like many kids born in the 90s, Power Rangers was a fundamental part of my childhood, and it remains a huge part of my geek-foundation. And on every family vacation I went on as a kid, there were three VHS tapes that I annoyed my siblings with the most by watching over and over again in the car: Beetleborgs, Turbo: A Power Rangers Movie, and the original Mighty Morphin Power Rangers: The Movie.

The year is 1995, and the phenomenal success of the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers tv show allowed Saban Entertainment to take the franchise to the next level with a major motion picture. With a budget of approximately $15 million and using the same actors as the tv show, the film opened in theaters on June 30, 1995. Distributed by 20th Century Fox, this mega-blockbuster raked in $13,104,788 on opening weekend, and eventually grossed a total of $66,433,194 at the box office.

Yet beyond the sheer scope of this film, what really set it apart from its tv counterpart was the fact that it didn’t use any pre-existing footage from the Japanese Super Sentai series Ninja Sentai Kakuranger. As discussed in Jordan’s previous Rangers articles, the original show regularly used archived footage from its Japanese basis, and reworked it for fight sequences. Though the filmmakers strived to still pay homage to the franchise’s Japanese roots in terms of style and aesthetic choices, they nonetheless created everything from scratch, including the Rangers’ costumes.

Whereas the tv show featured our heroes in colorful spandex, the movie gave the Rangers an armored update. The filmmakers essentially used the same design as the original costumes, but with a more metallic structure. Obviously the suits were a wonder to behold for childhood me who fantasized about becoming a Power Ranger, but even today they hold up well. It signified the commitment of director Bryan Spicer and the other filmmakers to remain faithful to the source material, while also creating a distinction between the movie and the show. A bigger scope and budget meant that the costumes had to really stand out, and they did.

Now let’s take a look at the story. Is it anything spectacular? No, but it serves its purpose and coincides with the blockbuster scope of the movie. Granted, Amy Jo Johnson (the actress who played Pink Ranger Kimberly) went on record as describing the movie as a cross between Star Wars and The Wizard of Oz. Obviously that’s a stretch, but looking back on it the film does attempt to tell a space opera/heroic fantasy tale. Even if it’s a poor man’s version of Star Wars, many of the spectacle elements are fully in place.

The movie opens with its own version of a Star Wars-style opening crawl. This intro recounts the origins of the Rangers, their master Zordon’s ongoing war with evil, and the soon-to-return villain Ivan Ooze. From there we cut to our heroes, Angel Grove’s very own teenagers with attitude, as they’re out skydiving for a city fundraiser. The team here is comprised of Red Ranger Rocky, Blue Ranger Billy, Pink Ranger Kimberly, Black Ranger Adam, Yellow Ranger Aisha, and White Ranger Tommy. It’s here that we also get a taste of the film’s classic rock soundtrack, with Dan Hartman’s “Free Ride” playing. The fundraiser they’re participating in is in anticipation of a Comet set to pass through in 48 hours.

Yet as the team’s slapstick comrades Bulk and Skull miss their landing, they accidentally arrive in a construction zone where a giant egg has been unearthed. The egg draws the attention of the core members of the Rangers’ rogues gallery: Rita Repulsa, Lord Zedd, Goldar and Mordant. From the egg stems the evil Ivan Ooze, who is without question the best and most memorable villain of the Mighty Morphin era. Having been in captivity for more than 6,000 years after Zordon overthrew him, Ooze is back and ready to exact vengeance.

After a brief showdown with the Rangers, grimacing at the sheer smell of these teenagers, Ooze unleashes his minions upon them while he escapes and lays siege to their headquarters. When the Rangers return to base, they discover that their powers have been stripped from them and that Zordon is dying. With no time to spare, Zordon’s lovable robot assistant Alpha-5 sends the Rangers to the planet Phaedos in order to obtain the Great Power and save Zordon. Meanwhile, Ooze usurps the throne held by Zedd and Rita, trapping them inside a magic snow globe while he uses his special ooze to manipulate the citizens of Angel Grove and create an army. In a race against time, the Rangers must find this power source and stop Ooze before it’s too late.

Perhaps the greatest accomplishment of the movie is that it provides these characters with a legitimate threat. As fun as the original series is, the Rangers are practically invincible in it. Rita just looks like a wacko, trying to throw every C-list villain that she can muster at the Rangers and desperately hoping that one of her elaborate schemes will work. Particularly in the first season, our heroes never seem to face any real danger. The only instance in which one of Rita’s schemes might work is when she creates her own Ranger in the Tommy Oliver origin arc “Green with Evil”; but that of course ends with Tommy joining the heroes and going on to become the most famous Power Ranger of all time.

Here however, Ooze is a grotesque and imposing dictator who effortlessly outmatches the other villains. Unlike Rita, he shows no signs of desperation or fear, and will ruthlessly push aside anyone who stands in his way. Next to Ransik from Power Rangers: Time Force, he ranks among my favorite Rangers adversaries.

The second major standout element of the film is its settings. We’ve known since the beginning of the franchise that Zordon and Rita stem from an intergalactic conflict, but most of Mighty Morphin consists of battles kept within the confines of Angel Grove. Here in the movie however, the story takes us to a mystic planet which is not unlike the one from Flash Gordon. With its desolate landscape and the various creatures that inhabit it, Phaedos certainly evokes a mythological aesthetic. Much of the film was shot in New South Wales and Australia, thus helping give the scenes on Phaedos a distinctly foreign feel. Then there’s of course the Rangers’ guardian angel Dulcea, a great warrior whom they meet on their journey. She dresses and talks like a character straight from a 1930s sci-fi/fantasy pulp magazine, and it’s that kind of influence which will either delight or dismay viewers.

MIGHTY MORPHIN POWER RANGERS: THE MOVIE, Johnny Yong Bosch, David Yost, Jason David Frank, Amy Jo Johnson, Karan Ashley, Steve Cardenas, 1995

Also, as to Johnson’s Wizard of Oz comparison, the birdlike creatures that Ooze sends to attack the Rangers are undeniably similar to the flying minions who serve the Wicked Witch. Again, it’s the fact that the film is able to merge classic fantasy tropes with the feel and stylistic components of an 80s/90s action movie that continues to fascinate me.

This is especially true of the climactic final battle. Replacing the traditional daytime fight sequences that viewers were so familiar with from the show, the Megazord-showdown here takes place at night. As the Rangers return to Angel Grove with their newfound animal spirits, the stakes are high as Ooze is on the verge of enslaving the entire planet. The special effects here are far from spectacular, but again everything seen is a huge step up from the routine battles on the show. And after many rock em sock em style punches and dogfights in the sky, we see our heroes triumph once more and save Zordon in the nick of time.

One other thing the movie does involves a young boy named Fred, whose father becomes one of the adults under Ooze’s mind-control. He teams up with Bulk and Skull to lead the other students from Angel Grove so they can save their parents. At the end of the movie, this kid, who’s only about 12 or 13 at the time, shares a moment of comradeship with the Rangers. Tommy then makes a side-comment about Fred joining the team, which could be a precursor to Blue Ranger Justin from Power Rangers: Turbo, who was also around the same age.

I’m not saying that Mighty Morphin Power Rangers: The Movie is an unparalleled work of art (or maybe I am), but the film is unique in that it exists as both a blockbuster and a cult classic. So strap in this week as the reboot hits theaters, because it’s Morphin time!

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