[Editor’s Note: This feature was written four (!) years ago in anticipation of a rumored Power Rangers reboot. It has been re-posted for Power Rangers Month.]
I knew as soon as I joined the Flixist staff that one day I would somehow get to write about Mighty Morphin Power Rangers: The Movie. The Power Rangers TV show played such a huge role in my upbringing as it helped provide a suitable outlet for my young lust for fighting and helped to kickstart my imagination in ways I never knew possible. It was such a great and simple idea. Take some kids, put them in monochromatic suits, and have them fight stuff. Now why was it so hard to translate that to the big screen? How do you screw up such a simple idea?
With the 20th Anniversary season of the Power Rangers television show currently running, I figured it was a good a time as any to examine (and to revive Geofferson’s old BADaptation feature) why Mighty Morphin Power Rangers: The Movie was an adaptation (or “BADaptation”) so badly executed, it almost ruined the wonder of Power Rangers for me.
Mighty Morphin Power Rangers: The Movie
Director: Bryan Spicer
Release Date: June 30, 1995
I’d like to clarify a few things before I get started. This article isn’t a review of some kind where I’ll point out whether MMPR:TM is a good or bad film (although a good deal of us can agree and which end of the spectrum it lies). I’m going to focus on why it’s a bad adaptation of the original TV show, and how it’s “badness” affects the property overall. Also, I’m very aware that the TV show itself uses Japanese blah blah blah (although I didn’t learn about it until I saw an episode of VH1’s I Love the 90s), but that doesn’t matter here either since I’m going to reference the show as the standalone version it’s meant to be. Okay now since that’s out of the way, we can get to the good stuff.
Mighty Morphin Power Rangers was a Saturday morning TV show on FOX Kids (then later weekdays) about five “teenagers with attitude” picked by a giant floating head named Zordon to fight the recently awakened Rita Repulsa (and later Lord Zedd). To fight this evil, they’re given the powers of dinosaurs and were able to transform into five/six colored heroes. MMPR: The Movie however, greatly changes this formula. In the film, the six teenagers instead have to fight a new villain, Ivan Ooze (the amazing Paul Freeman!), but instead are launched to an alien planet in order to gain the “ancient powers of Ninjeti” (or ninja skills to pay the bills) and save Zordon, who has now been reduced from a floating head to a dying man.
One of MMPR:TM‘s (which I’m going to refer to as The Movie from now on to save time) first inherent issues is that it has to take a story from a 23 minute an episode series and expand it to fit at least a 90 minute film. And to fix the problem, The Movie‘s solution is to just tell a standalone story all together. While this all well and good, since not every adaptation needs to rely on the original’s material to succeed, it’s a little disheartening when you realize that the show’s wide array of available, expandable stories weren’t deemed worthy enough to get a bigger screen, wider audience version. By taking only key elements of the original, it’s hard to see how The Movie is an adaptation at all.
But sadly it is. The Movie needs to be an adaptation to work since it apparently wants to be a companion piece to the show. It assumes the audience has an established familiarity with the franchise and eschews traditional character introduction. It boils down the “teenagers with attitude” to “teenagers who participate in extreme sports,” there’s no origin story (the Power Rangers are already Power Rangers), and lots of information and terminology are thrown around without real weight given to anything. And on top of this is the original story which introduces brand new characters to the franchise (Ivan Ooze, that pig thing, the Tengu warriors, and Dulcea) and treats them (with the exception of Ivan Ooze) like they’ve been a part of the series forever. I’m sure this must have been confusing as all get out for the poor parents (mine, of course) who were dragged by their kids to see this.
And if the new content is delivered in a confusing manner and not tied to show in any fashion, how important is that new content? The greatest thing about the Power Rangers television series is that despite the goofy look of everything and quirky dialogue exchanges, everything is given importance and weight while still tinged with humor. Every fight in the series is for the fate of the Earth and those five kids seem like underdogs who eventually overcome great odds. With The Movie‘s larger budget (which means mo’ money mo’ problems), the teens get new suits with all sorts of fancy gadgets like headlights and infrared vision, different weapons like tasers, and are now suddenly able to perform all sorts of fancy acrobatics and wire work. Even when they lose their powers for a bit (spoilers?) and become awesome ninjas, there doesn’t seem to be a big difference between their powerless selves and powerful selves. These Power Rangers are unrecognizable.
So now we have an adaptation, that’s not a true adaptation, full of unrecognizable characters. Were there any positives? Did The Movie manage to adapt anything well? Well…yes and no. For some reason when The Movie adapts a factor of the original series well, it somehow makes the adaptive material look more ridiculous than it should. For one, the series and film take place in the city of Angel Grove and answers a question I had for a long time. Where are all the people? With the extra run time and money available to The Movie, Angel Grove is full of people that do things. In the show, there’s no room for normal people problems when there’s giant robots to be had. But in giving the citizens something to do (and for having them exist in the first place), it makes the Power Rangers look like terrible heroes. In the film they’re so wrapped up in defeating Ooze and saving Zordon, the citizens of Angel Grove nearly jump off a cliff. They’re only lucky some random kid stuck his nose into their business.
Another great choice The Movie makes which hurts the TV show is giving the film a great standalone villain. Since the film’s budget could afford a great actor like Paul Freeman (Dr. Belloq in Raiders of the Lost Ark), it unfortunately makes the TV show’s villains seem more ridiculous than they purport to be. Freeman is great as Ooze. He hams up the screen, and his performance lies somewhere between perfect in tone and borderline ridiculous. And CG animating the giant robot fight at the end seems like a good decision, but it just takes what supposed to be a great event and turns it into a huge joke. The Power Rangers’ new Megazord is now just some weird robot with no face (but still has a conspicuous blonde mustache) who crotch kicks to win.
All in all, Mighty Morphin Power Rangers: The Movie was perfect to me at the time. As a kid, I was so enamored with the premise I had no idea The Movie actually takes the original’s material and tries to turn it into some sort of epic story that doesn’t work. There’s an air of seriousness about the film (but without the accepted ridiculousness the TV show brings) which sort of takes the soul out of Power Rangers. Sure the goofy humor and all the characters you love and recongnize are still present, but they’re not themselves.
Oh I almost forgot something. What kind of Power Rangers movie doesn’t feature the ridiculawesome rawkin’ theme song for more than thirty seconds?
For all of the reasons above, my friends, Mighty Morphin Power Rangers: The Movie is…a BADaptation.