Sunday 22 July 2012

Movie REVIEW: Mighty Morphin Power Rangers: The Movie

Before moving onto season three of the series I thought it would be worth looking at something that happened at the very peak of Power Rangers popularity, a full length cinematic feature film. Mighty Morphin Power Rangers: The Movie was released in 1995 to mixed reviews, but has somewhat of a cult following thanks to the popularity of the series. The film features elements from both the Super Sentai series season three would be based on, Ninja Sentai Kakuranger, and some original concepts that would be seen on the television show.

The film opens with the six rangers (Tommy, Rocky, Adam, Billy, Aisha and Kimberly), Bulk and Skull taking part in a charity sky dive for Angel Grove observatory in anticipation for the passing over of Ryan's Comet (aka plot point) in the next few days. Meanwhile, construction workers dig up a giant purple egg which is subsequently opened by Lord Zedd, Rita, Goldar and Mordant (new character, will come onto him later). Inside is the evil Ivan Ooze, a being who Zordon had locked away in the egg 6,000 years ago. The rangers are sent to investigate, coming across Ivan and battling his subordinate oozelings. While the battle is going on, Ivan Ooze infiltrates and destroys the command centre.

The same yet different

Realising something is wrong when they demorph following the battle, the rangers rush to the command centre where they find a dying Zordon outside of his time warp. While Zordon tells them there is no hope, Alpha explains that there may be a power that can save him on the distant planet of Phaedos. Travelling to Phaedos, the rangers come in contact with the planet's guardian Dulcea, who gives them the power to harness the sacred animals of the Ninjetti in order to successfully retrieve the great power. Meanwhile on Earth, Ivan has overthrown Rita and Zedd and taken control of the parents of Angel Grove to dig up his Ectomorphicon machines - titans which will cause massive destruction if awoken.

The rangers must retrieve the Great Power to harness new zords and abilities in time to save both Zordon and the world from Ivan's evil plan.

Go ninja go ninja go ninja go

The first thing that's noticeable about Power Rangers: the Movie is the very different look and feel of it. Its a wholly American venture, and with it came certain aesthetic changes that were probably considered to suit a film better. The most obvious one is the ranger suits, which featured a much more detailed armoured look than the standard spandex as well as the power coins featured on the chest piece (much like the Power Rangers toys). Some people dislike these suits because the "dinosaur teeth" motif of the white diamonds is lost on them, but I felt at this point in the show the dinosaur motif was mostly lost anyway aside from the helmets. The addition of the power coins also helped add a little bit extra when they gained new powers (the dinosaur logos being replaced by the Ninjetti animals). On top of all this, some of the rangers had new weapons (two of which were part of their helmets) and Tommy finally called out "White Tiger" when morphing rather than "Tigerzord", something I always found off in the show.

The rangers aren't the only things to have received a makeover. The most prominent ones being Goldar, who is much shorted and feline-like, and the Command Centre. Obviously a bigger budget warranted a more impressive Command Centre, along with a shiny new Alpha-5 and a very different looking Zordon (but with the same voice). The exterior of the Command Centre is also much pointier, a trait shared with Lord Zedd's new look.

"They call me Ivan Ooze."

Moving on from the aesthetic differences from the show, the plot itself certainly has the feel of a movie rather than just a long episode. Angel Grove is shown on a much bigger scale, feeling more like a city than it ever did in the series, and it also sees the rangers travelling to a different world for a wider variety of location shots. The problem is that the rangers are actually morphed for very little of the film, losing their powers very early in. The only times they're seen is in the fight with Ivan's oozelings, half of which is them fighting unmorphed, and the zord battle at the film's climax. The mid portion of the film is instead taken up by the Ninjetti suits, which are basically colour-coordinated ninja uniforms. The exposed eyes allow for a lot more emoting, something which the film makers were obviously keen to stress - they originally wanted the ranger suits to have no visors or moutpieces, which would have been an utter disaster if they'd gone through with it. For a Power Rangers film, the distinct lack of Power Rangers action is a little disheartening.

Ivan Ooze is a great villain, and one I feel is severely underrated. Played by Paul Freeman, he manages an excellent balance of evil and comedy that's lost on a lot of the television villains. Think Lothor from Power Rangers Ninja Storm, but if he had actually been a threat. The design is great, and the entirely purple colouring sets him apart from any of the other characters in the film. Mordant is the other new villain who appears, who is in fact Goldar's second cousin, three times removed, on his mother's side, visiting for the summer (this fact was removed from the final script, so you kind of just have to roll with the fact he suddenly appears like he's always been there). The character is essentially Squatt and Baboo rolled into one, but has a much more prominent "lackey" role even if he actually does next to nothing.

A dying Zordon

But for all the good, there are a few characters I found a bit too different from their TV versions. The first of which is Zordon, who is much more defeatist in the film. When he is left for dead by Ivan, he's extremely quick to tell the rangers Ivan has won, everything has been destroyed and that there's no hope left. In fact, if it wasn't for Alpha the rangers would have probably just been left to watch Ivan destroy everything. I get that Zordon is dying, but he's the character that shows the rangers that there's always hope and that they should never give up. To see him act the way he does here is just odd. On a lesser note Goldar feels quite different, although its something a little harder to place your finger on. Goldar transgressed into a much more comedic character as Power Rangers went on, but here he just feels wasted and soul-less.

Power Rangers: The Movie also has a side story running parallel to the rangers' quest, concerning a young boy named Fred whose father is brainwashed by Ivan Ooze. Fred then goes on to lead the children of Angel Grove to save their parents from leaping to their doom at the construction site. Having Fred's story does make sure what's going on in Angel Grove is not forgotten while the rangers are off gallivanting on Phaedos, but the character is just so damn uninteresting. Child characters seldom work as team members on Power Rangers, so to have a civilian character who has no connection with the series to get so much spotlight is frustrating when there's very little ranger action on show.

CGI is something this franchise is never going to be remembered for

Finally we have the brand new Ninja zords, made entirely in CGI and sporting slightly different looks from the Kakuranger mecha. Unlike the TV-counterpart, this Ninja Megazord (and later, Ninja FalconMegazord) had proper hands, wielded a power sword (the Shogun Megazord's to be precise) and its head was almost entirely cockpit rather than having a face. The CGI allows the zords to have much more movement and personality than suits could allow, but the effects really have dated horribly. But despite this, I give the film major props for having a lengthy battle involving individual zords instead of focussing on the much less interesting Megazord, because in the end the Megazord battle and Ivan's defeat is quite literally a kick in the balls.

It isn't the best Power Rangers movie there could have been, but it could have been much worse (and funnily enough would be a few years later) and does the job of actually feeling like a film. As a product of what Power Rangers could be like without relying on Japanese footage, its a shame the franchise didn't have more chances to shine along similar lines to this.

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