Wednesday 25 February 2015

The "Power/Rangers" fan film: A fan's reaction

Power/Rangers (fan film)

Fan films are nothing new to the internet. Every week it seems some budding director is hoping to be the next viral sensation by putting some sort of clever twist on an existing product rather than get their name out there with something original. However recently there seems to be some sort of special focus on the Power Rangers franchise. Whether it's because of it's return to the public eye since Saban Brands returned to the helm with Power Rangers Samurai, the recent 20th anniversary of the franchise or the forthcoming reboot movie, the internet has seen it's fair share of new takes on the series that started it all. We've had Matt Jayson's "The Ranger" (whose second part will be hitting later in the year) as well as the Kickstarter-backed-but-no-actual-product-so-far "MMPR". But neither of these have provoked quite the reaction Joseph Kahn's "Power/Rangers" has, which hit the internet yesterday.

Boasting a rather impressive budget and starring the likes of James Van Der Beek (Dawson's Creek) and Katie Sackhoff (Battlestar Galactica), Power/Rangers reimagines the franchise in a dark and gritty future. The human race is at full scale war with the Machine Empire, and former ranger Rocky DeSantos (played by Van Der Beek) has defected to the enemy. Capturing Kimberly Hart (Sackhoff), Rocky interrogates her to find out the whereabouts of Tommy while the film flashes back to depict the grizzly demise of many of the other rangers. When Tommy eventually shows up to save the day, things take a twist as another enemy shows up to take revenge against the rangers.

If you've ever wondered what Power Rangers would look like if you sucked all the fun, colour and campiness out of it, then here's your answer. Cramming blood, gore, ultra violence, nudity, drug use and more into a mere 14 minutes, Power/Rangers is exactly everything Power Rangers should NEVER be. Hollywood taking rebooting franchises and draining all the fun out of them to produce "dark and gritty" works for "mature audiences" is nothing new, and so far hasn't exactly proved to be a winning approach. It may have worked for Christopher Nolan's Dark Knight trilogy, but it sure didn't for Man of Steel. As promotional images for Superman v Batman: Dawn of Justice are met to mixed reception thanks to their allergy to smiles and colour, Marvel Studios are still laughing their way to the bank with the likes Guardians of the Galaxy.

But I digress. Power/Rangers certainly deserves to be commended for it's slick visuals and the thought put into the story (with elements that hark back the series continuity, as well as a nicely implemented twist at the end) but other than that it seems to have missed the whole point of Power Rangers in every single way. Both Power Rangers and Super Sentai have had darker elements in the past, but in the end the brightly coloured superheroes always triumph over evil - bringing hope to and inspiring their target audiences. It's a children's show, which means a show intended for children. Even if someone were to use the grossly ill-informed argument that Super Sentai is considerably darker than its American counterpart, even that has always had a more child friendly edge to it than other Shotaro Ishinomori works (Kamen Rider and Kikaider being the ones that instantly spring to mind). And even then those "darker interpretations" intended for adults aren't always a success. You only have to take one look at Kamen Rider the First or Shin Kamen Rider: Prologue to realise this.

However there's a lot more to it than that. In an interview that accompanied the release of Power/Rangers, Kahn openly admitted that he's not actually a fan of Power Rangers and was mainly doing this for fun. More specifically, he said this:
"I think the trick that I really wanted to do with this was to make that dark and gritty version that everybody keeps talking about, but really do it. Really see if I could totally accomplish it with essentially a really incredible incredibly silly property."
So is Power/Rangers actually an incredibly ambitious work of satire lampooning filmmakers' obsession with dark and gritty re-imaginings? Personally I'm not entirely convinced by this - it seems like a whole lot of effort to go just to prove a point that could have been made on a fraction of the budget. But assuming that this was the real intention for a second - the outcome has proven to be both somewhat genius and depressing. It takes about five seconds on Google to bring up a whole host of articles proclaiming the apparent brilliance of the film, and the accompanying comments to each one seem to prove just how ready audiences are to lap stuff like this up. Other than the very vocal distain from long time Power Rangers fans, the general consensus from those who simply grew up with Mighty Morphin Power Rangers is unbelievably positive - to the point where some actually think this is what the 2016 movie should be like. Talk about ridiculously expecting your childhood heroes to grow up with you. It isn't mainly about those that grew up with Mighty Morphin anymore - it's about giving that same sense of wonder and enjoyment to a new generation of children. And if you can't get behind that then once again you're completely missing the entire point of Power Rangers.

It took less than a day for streaming site Vimeo to take down the NSFW version of the film (which I never actually got a chance to see, but from what I gather it was exactly the same but with added boobs), but for now the "work safe" version (if you can call it that - it's still rather graphic) is still floating around - and Saban don't seem to like that as now they're trying to shut the film down. Now I'm in no way an expert on the legalities of fanmade films so I won't make a comment on whether Saban actually have the right to do so, but I can't say I'm surprised they're attempting it. A viral video like this can easily impact on the actual brand, and there are most certainly going to be people out there dumb enough to mistake this for the real thing. However this turns out, Saban's action has been worth it just for the ridiculous quotes from Kahn since:
"There is no copyrighted footage in the short. I am not making any money on it and I refuse to accept any from anyone. It was not even kickstarted, I paid for it myself. This was made to be given away for free. It is just as if I drew a pic of Power Rangers on a napkin and I gave it to my friend.”
Uh, yeah. Not quite.

So I guess well done on the effort Mr Kahn and co., but no thanks. This is the kind of stuff that needs to keep well away from Power Rangers even if it IS satire and I'm clearly not the only one who thinks so. I have absolutely no intention of embedding the video on this blog, but you can check it out on Youtube here. Depending how long it stays up there that is.


Hudson said...

I think Power Rangers is something people feel comfortable and familiar with - and we did notice the increased attention lately.

Anonymous said...

I would like to say that this is something I think should be seen by more people. It feels like something that people should see to understand just what is wrong with the whole "Dark and Gritty" style of reboot. I think that's why Kahn went so far with the "Dark and Gritty" factor he probably intended not to capture any of the spirit of Power Rangers when he made that movie.