Sunday, October 29, 2017

Power Rangers Reflections Redux #01: Day Of The Dumpster

Mighty Morphin Power Rangers
Season 1, Episode 01: Day Of The Dumpster
Original Airdate: August 28, 1993

Back in 2007, over at my old blog, I wrote some retrospective commentaries on various Power Rangers episodes from the first couple seasons. I kept up with these for about a couple years before dropping it for no reason other than lack of interest among other things. This is something I've tried (in vain) to revive and even added a couple new ones along the way, but between then and now, there have been ten of these Power Rangers Reflections (or Retrospectives - the name alternates) and probably a couple more that have yet to see the light of day.

So naturally, it's worth trying again, right?

The first post under the new Power Rangers Reflections Redux series is a repost of my PRR post of the very first Power Rangers episode, Day of the Dumpster. This is, for all intents and purposes, a recycling of a text that was originally written and posted back on January 12, 2007 on the old DTM Blog (Post #412 if you're wondering) and subsequently reposted on this blog a couple times. The text won't be a straight re-post; some edits have been made to account for some additional thoughts as well as some long-overdue fixing of certain typos that have been left unchecked all these years, even after numerous reposts. So hopefully, this is a sign that things will be different.

One can hope.

The show opens up with a quick montage of events yet to be seen: two unwitting American astronauts open an interstellar canister and release some of the most fiendish space aliens ever to exist. With a bold and terrifying declaration, the head sorceress declares her freedom after ten thousand years and that it's time to conquer the planet Earth. Meanwhile, on said planet Earth, we see a floating head materialize and ordering his robotic assistant, Alpha, to recruit a group of teenagers with attitudes to confront the recently freed sorceress named Rita.

This was the opening of the Power Rangers. What follows is the usual cast credits and a sampling of Japanese footage. Then the title logo is shown, looking much different from the logos featured on the toy packaging; a blockier variant that's also different from the official logo used in marketing materials. On top of that, there was also a similar looking, but still slightly different logo for print material such as stickers, comic books, and other bits of tat. This inconsistency with the title logo baffled me back in the day and I wondered why they couldn't stick with the one. Today, there is only one official Mighty Morphin Power Rangers logo that's used throughout all the merchandising bits... not counting the new logo for the 2010 reversioned series.

So to repeat, astronauts investigate a strange interstellar object. Proving that humans are the stupidest creatures in the universe, they open up the canister and unleash the evil space aliens and their leader Rita Repulsa, who then proceeds to destroy her prison and declare war on Earth. But you know something really troubling? You never really found out what happened to the two astronauts responsible for setting the world on its course by freeing Rita.

In the original Japanese version, she blew them into deep space using her super breath, seemingly killing them. In the original pilot, she just blew them away, their fates seemingly left ambiguous. Here, they're sort of scared away and that's it. Of course, it's easy to assume that in any or all of these scenarios, these astronauts are never heard from again.

Now we open the next scene with an overhead view of the Angel Grove Youth Center, which is one of the only three places that seem to exist in the fictitious city of Angel Grove, being played by overhead shots of the city of Los Angeles, California, which would serve as a template for every subsequent made up city in Power Rangers lore until the series packed their bags and jumped ship to New Zealand. It is here where we get our first glimpse of the heroes to be, the teenagers with attitudes that will kick Rita Repulsa's ass to the next thousand years. They are:

Jason - Token karate man. Likes to wear red. As in red-blooded American male. Whatever.

Trini - Token Asian Kung fu chick. Likes to wear yellow. Racial overtones? Nah, I don't know what you're talking about.

Billy - Token nerd. Likes to wear blue and use huge words nobody short of another nerd (or Trini) would understand.

Kimberly - Token airhead. Likes to wear pink. (The whole irony of this? Amy Jo Johnson, the actress who played Kimberly, was not a fan of that lighter shade of red. She's since gotten over that particular vice, as evident in a publicity stunt to promote her film where she was busking at Yonge at while wearing the pink tights.)

Zack - Token black dude. Likes to wear black. No racial overtones here. Nope.

People like to make a big deal out of the selective casting choices, but according to various interviews, the chosen kids were given the jobs because they were the best choices for the job and the supposed "racial controversy" never really came up until after the fact. The other thing that people either don't know, don't recall, or simply don't care to recall was that the person who was originally hired to play Trini was a (not-Asian) actress named Audri Dubois, but when she left, the role was given to Thuy Trang.

Also, it amazes me that people would cry foul over Thuy Trang (an Asian) and Walter Jones (a black actor) getting the Yellow and Black suits respectively, and yet years later, nobody cried foul when Operation Overdrive (a series during the Disney ownership days, mind you) gave the Black suit to Samuel Benta... a black actor. Also, Japan didn't have a problem casting other Japanese actors in their Yellow suits. If they did, they wouldn't have yellow suits to begin with... but I digress.

So these five token stereotypes are our teenagers with attitudes, which might have some question what Zordon meant by "attitude." And while they're not the most fulfilling or invested characters ever conceived, it is, at the very least, a starting point. Slowly but surely, as the show would progress over time,  the characters would eventually grow out of the stereotypical archtypes and develop personalities; Billy becoming less wordy and more confident, Kimberly breaking away from the valley girl mentality, that sort of thing. people would have a reason to care about these people aside from the fact that they use the most generic form of martial arts to beat the crap out of rubber monsters. But for now, they're just stereotypical prototypes; the easiest type of character to create and portray.

So they perform various stunts for a few seconds to show off to the kiddies and then we get introduced to the resident bullies, Bulk & Skull. Bulk & Skull are the comedy relief of Power Rangers and would be in that role for about six years before being eventually phased out. Whenever Bulk & Skull are nearby, slapstick hilarity usually ensures, whether it be attempting to replicate Jason's moves (poorly) or getting a bowl spinich juice in the face during an Earthquake. And speaking of earthquakes, enigmatic leader Zordon decides to summon five overbearing and overemotional teenagers to fight Rita... but Alpha plays it safe and gets the five kids mentioned above. I guess Bulk & Skull don't have the right builds to be swatted with Japanese stuntmen in colored costumes... and yet a 12-year-old kid did have the right build to grow into a suit? Go figure.

Another digression here; when Saban bought back the Power Rangers franchise from Disney and begat Power Rangers Samurai in 2011, they brought back Paul Schier to reprise the role of Bulk. However, rather than pair him up with Skull again, he's paired up with Skull's son, Spike, who not only offered fanfic writers an interesting conundrum (when did Skull find time to get a kid?), but also shares a commonality with any wrestler who happens to be the offspring of a famous wrestler; sometimes the father's shoes are simply to big to fill. Bulk & Skull may have been an acquired taste for some, but watching Bulk & Spike in Samurai made me appreciate how good Paul Schier and Jason Narvy gelled together in those early seasons.

Anyway, back to the show.

The kids materialize in the Command Center and eventually meet up with Alpha 5 and Zordon, who begins to detail the story of Rita's escape and her plans for universal destruction. He then bestows upon the teens power morphers and Dinozords that will grant them a universe of power. He then declare them Power Rangers and the new heroes scoff and leave. Grateful kids you picked there, Zordon. Maybe these kids do have attitude after all.

So as the kids walk back home in the middle of nowhere, some soul-searching and second guessing is discussed until Rita decides to shoot them from the moon. Of course, her aim is off and she hits a mountain instead, which rattles the new Rangers to the point where they momentarily change clothes - a result of one piece of footage being reused from the original pilot episode, which had a slightly different video quality compared to the rest of the American-shot footage. The teens are then faced against the Putty Patrols, whom look like stuntguys in poorly conceived costumes.

Let's get off topic for a second: fans would complain about the Green Ranger's shield looking flimsy and cheap in American footage, but the true sign of cheapness comes in the early Putty costumes, where you can see the stunt actor's eyes through the costumes, while in the Japanese version, they have these red eye things. Now if they couldn't afford (or bothered) to spend money on red visors to cover two little holes on a Putty costume, what made you think they would spend money on making a durable shield for one of their more popular characters? But I digress.

So the Rangers fight the Putties and get their asses kicked. Billy is obviously the first to fall because HE TAKES OFF HIS GLASSES DURING THE MIDDLE OF A FIGHT. Hey, give the Putties credit. They at least wait for him to put away his glasses before proceeding with the pummeling. So finally, after a thorough whipping, Jason declares that they should use their shiny new morphers to morph into Power Rangers. And of course, the big moment is here: they call out their dinosaurs and are now wrapped in skin-tight multi-colored costumes... and the most astute observers will note that Trini is suddenly flat-chested in morphed state. The reason has been discussed many times before, and I just won't bother.

Alpha has an orgasm that they morphed and sends them to the city where Goldar and putties are threatening the citizens from the top of the building. So now, thanks to their morphed powers and recycled Zyuranger footage, they fair much better. Rita goes nuts and throws her staff to the ground, which makes Goldar grow. The Rangers naturally respond by summoning their newly acquired zords and instantly know how to use them. After taking a couple shots, they form the Megazord and begin to get an upperhand on Goldar. After a while, Goldar goes away and Rita has the first of many headaches. Yay!

With their first victory, Zordon gives the new Rangers three rules: never use your power for personal gain, never escalate a battle unless circumstance calls for it, and do the secret identity thing. Breaking these rules results in the loss of their powers... supposedly, because apparently as later episodes would prove, rules were made to be broken. They agree and a legend is born. Show over.

The purpose of a first episode of any long term series is to introduce the characters, set up the situation, and lay out the groundworks for future episodes of the show. While "Dumpster" isn't what some would call a good episode - first episodes rarely are - it is a good introduction and set-up for the overall premise. Most early episodes of Power Rangers followed this format of cheap writing, but eventually as the show progressed, the writing would be improved somewhat and the stories told within would get more interesting in spite of the fact that they still revolved around everyplots. But for now, it's camp for the sake of camp and there are no major complaints.

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