Created by Haim Saban and Shuki Levy
Starring Austin St. John, Thuy Trang, Walter Jones, Amy Jo Johnson, David Yost, Jason David Frank, Johnny Young Bosch, Karan Ashley, Steve Cardenas, and Catherine Sutherland
Almost 20 years after five teenagers with attitude first shouted “It’s morphin’ time!” and jumped into battle, do their adventures stand the test of time?
Five teenagers with attitude are empowered to transform into multi-colored warriors and protect the world from an evil sorceress and her army of monsters. Together and with the power of their giant robotic dinosaurs, they fight monster after monster. With a growing list of allies and weapons replacing those before them, the Power Rangers face ever-growing threats with each villain more evil than before.
All of that sounds great, just as much as it did in 1993 when the series premiered on television, but does it hold up to my memory of childhood wonder, which was captivated by bright colors, expressive martial arts coordination, and giant robot battles? Sadly, not as much as I wished, but not all as badly as I feared either.
This collection includes the three seasons of the original 1993-1995 Mighty Morphin Power Rangers series, as well as the ten-episode 1996 Mighty Morphin Alien Rangers miniseries which serves as a bridge to the not-included follow up Power Rangers Zeo. All together, that’s a whopping 155 episodes of Power Rangers.
The show starts its first season trying to be Saved by the Bell with superheroes. Its characters are overburdened with ’80s-’90s teen stereotypes, from the valley girl shopaholic to the unintelligible techno-babble nerd. Even the generic punked-out bullies are present as comic relief Bulk and Skull, lambasting our heroes as geeks because they choose to be generally normal and upstanding. Thankfully, the stereotypical ’90s-ness dies down. As the series progresses, the characters are fleshed out and find their footing as themselves and not clichés.
The writing is hit-and-miss. The memorable stories – such as the evil Green Ranger or the first appearance of the big bad Lord Zedd – still stand out as these sympathetic hero teens face legitimate threats with skill and teamwork, but now we see their flaws with hammed-up acting and rushed writing. Even those notable arcs are few and far between, as the majority of episodes are generic monster-of-the-week with even more bland building messages about friendship, doing well in school, and you being yourself. It’s an afternoon kid’s show though with a ridiculous production and airing schedule – over 140 episodes in three years – so you’re going to get a lot of crud.
Soon, you start to realize this series has no real overarching plot going anywhere. Its writers care less about internal logical consistency or legitimate story progression, and more about slapping a half-baked story together to fit Japanese stock footage.
Its Japanese source material is often awkwardly placed between the American-made footage, showcasing obvious juxtaposition of Japanese signs and locales and shoddy-in-comparison American props and costuming. As an adult, it’s laughable, yet still admirable, to see how hard the production staff tried with so little to work with. Even still, I cut a lot of slack to production quality of live-action children superhero series, but this series makes even my tolerance difficult with obvious differences in prop design and quality between American and Japanese footage.
Even the martial arts work the series was known for – spurring a junior karate craze in the mid-’90s – doesn’t entirely hold up. Some of the stunt work and fight scenes are still impressive, easily proving worthy of the attraction from its audience. Some fight scenes though, often those using the actual actors or American stunt crew, fall flat with lack of coordination or fluidity.
So what does the show still have going for it? Bits of quality still come through. When the stunt work and special effects are good, they are spot-on entertaining. Impressive costume design and fight scenes, mostly those from the Japanese stock footage, are still delightful. The basics of the story still shine through the cheese, despite hammy delivery and often awful scripting. Five fairly normal teens are chosen to save the world with badass weapons and awesome giant robots. I wanted to be that when I was young. I want to be that NOW! I want to be Jason, the Red Ranger, fighting Goldar with my Power Sword and riding my Tyrannosaurus Zord into combat.
What this series still has going for it is a childhood dream continued. When the memorable rock opening theme pops up and the DVD menu goes to to the Command Center, it really pumps you up. Unfortunately in many cases, the idea is better than the execution. Still, this series lets you relive that idea of changing – or morphing – from the normal person you are into the superhero you know you are.
If you never got on the Power Rangers bandwagon, you might enjoy the absurdity and cheesiness of it, but if not, the cheap writing and bad acting, as well as some laughable editing and effects, will likely drive away most anyone outside of adolescence. If you’re like me, a fan from the beginning, your nostalgia goggles will get cracked when you realize the bad qualities, but you’ll still get a kick from the fun of being a kid again. By now, you may have kids to show this to, and hopefully they will enjoy this as you once did, which would be a worthwhile joy all on its own.
The Video and Audio
The video and audio are all as they were in their original broadcasts, complete in fullscreen and stereo. Time hasn’t been kind to the footage. Quality varies greatly from scene to scene. Some footage is flurried with static, while other footage is hazy, all the more apparent when switching to perfectly clear footage. Plus, experienced viewing eyes will easily spot awkward switches between American and Japanese footage, ones that my adolescent self missed entirely. It would make sense if the quality drops were just between the American and Japanese footage, but it’s throughout all the American footage itself.
The Packaging and Bonus Features
This impressive 19-disc set is divided between five regular DVD cases (with episode listings on the inside jackets) and one slim case specifically for the two discs of special features. All the DVD cases come in a shiny and attractive box adorned with the logo and Ranger images. Included with them is a well-made guide book containing episode descriptions and character bios, with some impressive photos that stand the test of time better than the television footage.
The two discs of bonus features include three retrospective featurettes with cast and crew made for this release. These featurettes are a joy in revisiting with these actors almost 20 years later. They also shed some light onto the process of making the series, which will impress and lead you to respect the cast and crew for all the work that went into the show, even if the final product doesn’t hold up as much as you’d like. Most of the surviving Ranger cast is featured; although notable exceptions include original Red Ranger Jason’s Austin St. John and original Pink Ranger Kimberly’s Amy Jo Johnson (Yellow Ranger Trini’s Thuy Trang has since passed away and thus couldn’t be included).
The bonus features also include several direct-to-video specials produced while the show aired. These include holiday specials, compilation clip shows, a recording of the stage show, and even a martial arts tutorial by the Green/White Ranger actor Jason David Frank. It’s not a comprehensive set of the various Power Rangers archives, missing other holiday and martial arts specials. Given how much the featurettes go into the making of the series, I’m surprised to see the pilot missing. However, especially with the stage show and fan club video, it’s impressive to see how the series pandered to its fans beyond its regular television schedule.
Overall (Not an Average)
This is an impressive release for a series that captivated a generation of children in the ‘90s. While the show itself doesn’t match its memory, this is a quality release that stands as a tribute to nostalgia with its packed extras. I would like to see more, such as the pilot or commentary on key episodes, but what we get is no trifle. It’s a collection worthy for fans to look back and relive their childhood, even with the eyes of an adult seeing the flaws. If you never got into the series, you can give this a pass. Curious viewers would be better served with modern entries into the franchise.
The Series 5/10
The Video and Audio 3/10
The Packaging and Bonus Features 9/10
Overall (Not an Average) 7/10