Power Rangers: Seasons Eight - Twelve DVD Advance ReviewA tv review article by: Paul Brian McCoy
I am a Power Rangers virgin. Or I was until I received this box set of Power Rangers: Seasons Eight - Twelve for review! Looking back, I'm kind of amazed by just how blind I was going into this review. I mean, come on! I have an immense love for all things Shaw Brothers as well as a firm grounding in Sid and Marty Krofft, which should make me the poster child for this target audience; however the Power Rangers phenomenon hit at a time when I was a little too old to enjoy it as a children's show, and not quite old enough to enjoy it ironically.
You know, those mid-twenties years where you take everything very seriously and are trying to be all intellectual and grown up and stuff.
For those of you who don't know, and I can't imagine there are many of you, the Power Rangers began as Mighty Morphin Power Rangers in 1993, recycling footage from the Japanese Super Sentai Series in its tale of an alien wizard who recruits "teenagers with attitude" to harness color-coded dinosaur kung fu powers and fight evil space invaders. The teens have goofy fun, turn into superheroes, fight goofy monsters, then fight goofy giant monsters, then learn a lesson.
It's an amazing formula that turned these kids into international superstars, and for the first six seasons told a continuing story, despite having a healthy turnover in actual Rangers. But whenever there was a cast change, it was worked into the story as each Ranger handed over their Morpher to the next generation. The series was expected to end with Season Six, but ratings were high, so Saban Entertainment brought the show back with future seasons as stand-alone stories.
Season Seven, Lost Galaxy, served as a transitional series, with elements of the old and elements of the new combined in a way that took the Power Rangers to another level. But it wasn't until Season Eight that the show would fully embrace the stand-alone season model. And it was a bumpy ride, so buckle up and hold on. This is going to take a while.
From what I understand, Lightspeed Rescue was not well-received by the fans at the time of its release. I can understand why. This was the first time the Rangers' identities weren't kept secret, their Zords and weapons were man-made instead of alien tech, and none of the Rangers actually knew each other beforehand.
Instead, Lightspeed Rescue takes place in the fictitious city of Mariner Bay, California, which was built on an ancient demon burial ground, and follows the adventures of a government organization called Lightspeed as they defend the city from the return of the demon menace. Each of the Rangers are recruited by Captain William Mitchell (Ron Roggé) to take on the Power Ranger mantles and his chief science officer Dr. Angela Fairweather (Monica Louwerens) designs and builds all their weapons. It also follows themes and events similar to the first season, which might be seen as lazy by longtime fans.
However, for a newbie like me, Lightspeed Rescue is the perfect introduction to the concept, especially given that we're saying goodbye, somewhat, to all that came before. Each of the Rangers, Red Lightspeed Ranger Carter (Sean Cw Johnson), Blue Lightspeed Ranger Chad (Michael Chaturantabut), Green Lightspeed Ranger Joel (Keith Robinson), Yellow Lightspeed Ranger Kelsey (Sasha Craig), Pink Lightspeed Ranger Dana (Alison MacInnis), and Titanium Ranger Ryan (Rhett Fisher), are naturals. There's a good balance of comedy and drama, especially in the story of the Titanium Ranger as he goes from being an evil henchman of the demons to revealing his identity as Captain Mitchell's long-lost son (and Pink Ranger Dana's long-lost brother).
This transition deliberately echoes the appearance of original Green Ranger Tommy (Jason David Frank) all the way back in Season One, however, this time the Titanium Ranger is a full-on original American Ranger. Which means that he's missing for a large portion of the season as they lacked footage and only had the budget to film him in limited scenarios.
Best episodes this season: The three-part adventure where the Titanium Ranger breaks free of Diabolico's influence, "Curse of the Cobra," "Strength of the Sun," and "The Cobra Strikes." "The Queen's Return" which introduces the real Big Bad. The four-part super-finale "Wrath of the Queen," "Rise of the Super Demons," and "The Fate of LIghtspeed" Parts One and Two.
Highlight of the season: The two-part team-up with the Lost Galaxy Rangers for "Trakeena's Revenge," which kicked off the modern tradition of tying the seasons together by teaming up the current season's Rangers with those of the previous season.
Time Force was a massive step back in the right direction for longtime fans and was probably my favorite overall season in this collection. But I'm biased. The villain for this season, Ransik, was played by Vernon Wells, the Australian actor who lives on in pop culture history as the mohawked Wez from the Road Warrior, the Lord General of Weird Science, and any number of other movie badasses.
The acting this season was a little iffier, with Time Force Red Ranger Wes (Jason Faunt) being the weak point, but his relationship with Time Force Pink Ranger Jen (Erin Cahill) helps to bring out the best in both actors. Time Force Blue Ranger Lucas (Michael Copon), Time Force Yellow Ranger Katie (Deborah Estelle Philips), and the psychic alien Time Force Green Ranger Trip (Kevin Kleinberg) all do fine jobs again balancing the humor and the drama. The arrival of the Quantum Ranger, Eric (Dan Southworth) is a bit heavy-handed but Southworth totally inhabits the part. The character is a complete douchebag, though, so he's fairly unlikeable for most of the season.
This also marks two seasons in a row, where the evil villainess is super hot. That also might have influenced my enjoyment of Time Force. Just sayin'.
This season's team-up, "Time for Lightspeed," got off to a good start, but fell flat. It just didn't have the epic quality one would expect for a Power Ranger team-up and was wrapped up in one episode. Although it did feature both Vypra (Jennifer L. Yen) and Nadira (Kate Sheldon) in the same episode, so...
Best episodes this season: The three-part return of the believed-dead Red Ranger Alex (also played by Jason Faunt), "Dawn of Destiny," "Fight Against Fate," and "Destiny Defeated," wherein Wes chooses his own destiny, and the 3-part season finale, "End of Time" Parts 1-3. Time holes are opening up in the sky, sucking buildings up into who-knows-where and according to future-history, the Rangers don't survive!
Highlight of the season: The two-part "Movie Madness" adventure, where the Power Rangers are trapped in different movie genres and climaxed with Ransik arriving to do battle in a Road Warrior car with his trademark Mohawk! Brilliant!
I'm afraid I have to agree with the old-schoolers about Power Rangers: Wild Force. This was a dreadful season. The writers who made the previous two seasons work so well, Judd Lynn and Jackie Marchand, both left after being pressured by the Suits to make the seasons more like their Sentai counterparts. This was also the first season after being purchased by Disney, and it sticks very close to its Japanese source material.
Horribly close, you might say. The biggest problems for me were the lack of science fiction, swapping out aliens and technology for mysticism and full CGI Spirit Animal Zords. Yes, they had giant robotic animals for Zords and instead of using models to capture that classic sense of fun, they're entirely cheap CG cartoons. And for some reason, although the Rangers lived on a magical floating island, the Animarium, under the guidance of a lame-o magical princess, they dropped the traditional wristband Morphers and instead used cell phones.
All of this is straight from Hyakujuu Sentai Gaoranger, so there's not much that can be said for ditching the ideas, but man was it bad. The scripts were bad, and worst of all, so was the acting. Jungle boy Cole (Ricardo Medina Jr.) was the Red Wild Force Ranger and was painful to watch. Yellow Wild Force Ranger Taylor (Alyson Sullivan) was a complete bitch for most of the season, contrasted with the overly nice and mothering White Wild Force Ranger Alyssa (Jessica Rey), while Blue Wild Force Ranger Max (Phillip Jeanmarie) and Black Wild Force Ranger Danny (Jack Guzman) were an ambiguously gay duo.
The only interesting character was the Lunar Wolf Ranger, who was extremely cool while he was possessed by the Wolf Duke Org Zen-Aku, but once the spell was broken and he became the 3000 year-old monk Merrick (Philip Andrew). I don't like calling extra attention to the bad stuff normally, but Philip Andrew was awful. Not only did he have the worst hair of any Power Ranger, he was the worst actor of any season in this collection. Thanks to him, the best aspect of this whole season kind of turned into crap.
Best episodes this season: The episodes chronicling Zen-Aku/Merrick were easily the most engaging, from his first appearance in "Curse of the Wolf" to the four-episode run of "Revenge of Zen-Aku," "Identity Crisis," "The Ancient Warrior," and "The Lone Wolf." At least until Merrick had to interact with other human beings. And his blue satiny jacket had Howling Wolf embroidered on the back! And that hair with its silver streaks because, you know, he's old! Oh lord.
Highlights of the season: The two-part Time Force team-up, "Reinforcements from the Future" Parts One and Two saw the return of the Time Force along with a reformed Nadira and Ransik. Not only is Vernon Wells back, but we discover a secret aspect of his origin and he ends up cured of his mutations! Hooray! Then everybody has a picnic!
This season also marked the 10th Anniversary of Power Rangers with a special team-up episode, "Forever Red," that saw Red Ranger Cole teaming up with EVERY RED RANGER TO COME BEFORE, including Tommy! It only ran one episode, but the Red Rangers put a quick stop to the return of the Machine Empire. Even though I knew nothing about any of these other characters or the Machine Empire, it was still a special episode and kicked a lot of ass.
Wild Force nearly killed the franchise. Luckily, Disney was convinced that by moving the production to New Zealand, another season could be produced at a fraction of the cost. Power Rangers: Ninja Storm saw the return of Doug Sloan, the production manager from the early days of the series, and Ann Austen, another old-school production team member. Together, they would write the majority of important episodes this season and brought back Jackie Marchand as Story Editor.
Which meant that Ninja Storm was miles above Wild Force in terms of quality writing. The humor was emphasized, with the evil space ninja, Lothor (Grant McFarland) playing up the jokes and meta aspect, poking fun at the show and the format. The traditional annual team-up was dropped due to budgetary restrictions and the New Zealand production being non-SAG -- although I kind of think it was a way of pretending the previous season hadn't happened.
The cheesiness of having the Wind Ninja Academy Sensei turned into a CG guinea pig (Grant McFarland playing a dual role) was offset by the inherent cool factor of having rival ninja clans battling it out before teaming up and battling space ninjas and their monsters. The Zords for this season went back to being models, albeit with the occasional CG enhancement, and the characters were all likeable this time out.
The Wind Rangers were played by Pua Magasiva as Red Wind Ranger Shane, Sally Martin as Blue Wind Ranger Tori, and Glenn McMillan as Yellow Wind Ranger Dustin. The Thunder Rangers were Adam Tuominen as Crimson Thunder Ranger Hunter and Jorge Vargas as Navy Thunder Ranger Blake. Changing things up this time, we also got a Green Samurai Ranger: The Sensei's son Cam (Jason Chan) who was also the brains behind their tech.
Best episodes this season: The story of the Thunder Rangers was an early high point, running through the three-part "Thunder Strangers" and wrapping up in the four-part epic "Return of Thunder." Before it was all over we had a full complement of five Rangers again, and Lothor faced a major setback in his plans.
Highlight of the season: The three-part "The Samurai's Journey" that saw Cam travel back in time to retrieve the Samurai Amulet from his teenaged mother and encounter his own teenaged father as well. This is also the adventure where we discover that Lothor is actually Sensei's evil brother, who is banished to outer space for his treachery.
While Ninja Storm was fun, Dino Thunder was a stronger return to form, thanks in no small part to the return of Jason Frank as Tommy; now Dr. Tommy Oliver, professor of paleontology and Power Ranger mentor. The dinosaur/human hybrid villain this season, Mesogog (Latham Gaines), isn't played for laughs and is downright creepy, while his main henchmen Elsa (Miriama Smith) and Zeltrax (James Gaylyn) are both threatening in their own right (with Elsa being a return to the hot villainesses that may actually be more influential to my ratings than I realized before typing this sentence).
Old-school fans should get a kick out of seeing Tommy take on yet another Power Ranger color (having started Green, shifting to White, and then taking on the Red) as the new Black Dino Ranger. This season also sees a return to a high school setting, as jock Conner (James Napier Robertson) becomes the Red Dino Ranger, brain Ethan (Kevin Duhaney) becomes the Blue Dino Ranger, and musician Kira (Emma Lahana) takes on the position of Yellow Dino Ranger. Later in the season, their friend Trent (Jeffrey Parazzo) becomes the White Dino Ranger after going through another traditional trial by fire, first appearing as an enemy of the Rangers before finally joining up to battle Mesogog.
And Mesogog's secret identity is another nice twist that plays right into Power Ranger tradition.
I keep saying tradition, but honestly, it's a lot of the same narrative structures over and over again. But somehow, the Power Ranger creative teams manage to keep it fresh each and every time -- in this collection, at least. Even the painful Wild Force had its high points when it stuck closer to the story elements that made the show familiar.
Granted, there are a lot of filler episodes each season, but for a half-hour adventure comedy with 38-40 episodes each season filled with some amazing wire work kung fu and some entertaining science fiction tropes, Power Rangers is like that free first hit that should turn young kids into, well, people like me: Lovers of the Brothers Shaw and Krofft.
Best episodes this season: Really, all the episodes that dealt with the White Ranger's struggles were solid, beginning with "White Thunder" Parts 1-3, "Truth and Consequences," "Copy That" (which introduces the soulless White Ranger clone), to the four-part run that wrapped up the season: "House of Cards," "A Test of Trust," and "Thunder Struck" Parts One and Two.
The annual two-part team-up "Thunder Storm" was also a lot of fun, seeing the return of Lothor and the Ninja Storm Rangers. As was "Fighting Spirit" (which aired on the eleventh anniversary of the first episode of Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers) which had Tommy forced to dream-battle three of his past Ranger alter-egos in order to save his own life.
Highlight of the season: The 500th episode of Power Rangers was "Legacy of Power" and featured the Dino Rangers stumbling upon Tommy's secret record of the history of the Power Rangers. Basically, it's a video rundown of every season that serves as a fantastic primer for new viewers. I'd recommend watching it before anything else in this entire collection if you're a newbie like me.
Also, "Lost & Found in Translation" was a treat, as the Rangers get satellite TV and discover a strange Japanese TV show about Power Rangers!
The Bonus Features disc is packed with fun stuff. The Voice of a Ranger feature is a look back at the ADR process of recording voice-overs with members of the cast over a number of seasons and Voice Director Scott Page-Pagter. Ranger Tales features members of all but the Dino Thunder cast reminiscing about their times as Rangers. I forget sometimes that the Power Rangers was a global phenomenon and the stories of working with charities and the Make-a-Wish Foundation are genuinely touching.
Pure Titanium features Rhett Fisher looking back on playing the first purely American-created Power Ranger, The Titanium Ranger from Lightspeed Rescue. A Web of Fans is maybe the most interesting featurette, examining and interviewing the fans who started websites, created online communities, and helped to make Power Rangers as successful as it was.
The remaining bonuses are a bit strange. The first, Return of the Ranger is a short shot-on-video reintroduction of Tommy, as Jason Frank -- totally in character -- talks about his return to the series in Dino Thunder. Alongside that is Before it Began ("The Hidden Episode"), which features the Blue and Yellow Dino Rangers Ethan and Kira having a strange vision of future adventures of the next set of Power Rangers. I guess it was some sort of promo, leading into the next season, but there's no explanation with this set. I had to Google that.
We also get the opportunity to learn Ninja Storm Katas -- the choreographed moves of the Ninja Rangers -- in step-by-step samples that you control with your remote. Rounding out the bonus features is a collection of original promos that are pretty entertaining.
All in all, if you're a fan of the show, this is a must-have collection. If you're not a fan, this might be just the thing to make you one. Power Rangers: Seasons Eight - Twelve goes on-sale Tuesday, November 12 and retails for $179.99, with an Amazon price of $161.08 at the time of this writing. That's not a bad price for 196 episodes, a bonus disc, and a 46 page booklet with character bios and episode summaries for each season.
Paul Brian McCoy is the writer of Mondo Marvel and a regular contributor/editor for Comics Bulletin. His first novel, The Unraveling: Damaged Inc. Book One is available at Amazon US & UK, along with his collection of short stories, Coffee, Sex, & Creation (US & UK). He recently contributed the 1989 chapter to The American Comic Book Chronicles: The 1980s (US & UK) and has kicked off Comics Bulletin Books with Mondo Marvel Volumes One (US & UK) and Two (US & UK). Paul is unnaturally preoccupied with zombie films, Asian cult cinema, and sci-fi television. He can also be found babbling on Twitter at @PBMcCoy.