Friday, April 13, 2018

Power Rangers Reflections Redux #04: Day Of The Dumpster (Pilot Episode)

Since this is a reboot of sorts... and the first in a long while... it makes sense that we use this spot to return to the origins of the series. And so, for today's entry, I'll be looking at the original pilot episode of Day Of The Dumpster... or at least, close to it.

For those who need a little primer on what I'm talking about, the original version (or pilot episode) of Day Of The Dumpster is a drastically different entity compared to what would eventually follow. There was a different setting, slightly different names and terminology, and more notably, a different girl playing the Yellow Ranger, who just so happens to be a stark departure from the one we would know and love.

This episode had not seen the light of day in any official capacity nor was it really known to all but the most hardcore of fans. The only way I knew about a pilot episode was when I came across the transcript for the show that was posted on noted fan Joe Rovang's site a few years ago. It wouldn't be until 1999 when it eventually aired (albeit in a slightly edited format) as part of the Power Rangers: Lost episode television special. However, Youtube did have the original, unedited version of the pilot online a few years ago, but has since been taken down. As such, the following text is based on the Lost Episode version which is featured on one of the Power Rangers DVD sets since that's the only version I have on hand.

We open today's episode at a bowling alley where, one by one, we are introduced to our main five protagonists;

Jason - Token white kid

Zack - Token black kid and playful teen

Kimberly - Token valley girl

Billy - Token nerd stereotype who uses big words

Trini - Token tomboy... and played by somebody else.

A bit of context; in the series, the Yellow Ranger was Trini , played by the late Thuy Trang. However, when they were doing auditions and eventually filmed the original pilot, the role of Trini (obviously not Kwan) was played by Audri Du Bois. Audri ended up leaving the show and after another casting call, the role went to Thuy.

And, all due respect to Audri, but when it comes to personal preference, I prefer the softer yet firm Trini that we got from Thuy rather than the somewhat aggressive Trini featured in the pilot. If anything, the somewhat more aggressive Trini featured is indicative of the rough around the edges aura of the overall pilot.

As she's about to bowl, Kimberly, being the clumsy valley girl that she is, tosses the bowling ball behind her, where it lands on some chilly that spills all over one of the punks in the background. Kim is oblivious to this because she just broke a nail... oh the hi-jinx.

So the head punk covered in chilly - played by some guy - starts to harrass Kim, which gets the other teens involved in the spat. This leads not to comedic hi-jinx, but rather a somewhat brutal and violent brawl where the hero characters make short work of the group of punks. This isn't just the usual song-and-dance you'd get with the putties or the tame sparring matches; at one point - that is all but cut out by the Lost Episode edit - Jason actually manages head blows with his spin kicks at one of the punks. And people thought Power Rangers was too juvenile. This is really hardcore shit here, folks.

Oh, by the way, the recipient of said kicks to the head. A frazzled haired punk played by Paul Schrier. The same Paul Schrier who would eventually go on to play Bulk in the series and be paired up with a less imposing dark-haired fellow played by Jason Narvy... whose name I don't remember. Ribcage or something... oh well.

So the teens beat up the punks (and thus we know why this never aired the first time) and we cut away to a news report where astronauts are on the moon when they discover a mysterious space object. This, of course, is the space dumpster that they stupidly open and unleash Rita and her band of monsters upon the world. This whole sequence is the Zyuranger footage and pretty much what you saw in the aired version, except with one additional bit where Rita would blow away the astronauts with her bad breath or something.

*Interesting tidbit: the fate of the astronauts in both versions are not touched upon, but in Zyuranger, Bandora blows them into space... Ouch.

Upon escaping, Rita begins her attack on Earth, which gets the attention of Alpha 5, sporting a much more cumbersome and somewhat lower-tech design compared to the more polished costume that we'd see in the series. It is here that we are introduced to Zoltar, a floating green head who tells Alpha to seek out five overbearing and overemotional teenagers. Two points come to mind when watching this;

1) Zoltar is much more animated than the later Zordon would be. I'd imagine this was done on purpose as to save money on filming new shots over actor David Fielding's head.

2) The Command Center looks a little more... "neon" than it did in the series, somehow making it look even cheaper. Not that the classic CC was a high-budget setpiece, but that one is almost on par with a cheap set from something out of the original Star Trek from the 60s, whereas this Command Center looks more like a set from a play.

From here, the story unfolds as it did in the series. Our five teens are transported over to the Command Center where they are introduced to Zoltar and Alpha 5, who gives them a quick exposition of Rita and her goons. Zoltar then presents the teens with their transmorphers (or just plain ol' morphers) and from there, we get each of the teens transmorph into their respective dinosaurs. Ah, cheap CG morph effects circa 1989. Will wonders never cease?

Much like the show, the teens leave the Command Center in disbelief and shortly thereafter are attacked by putties. The putties make quick work of the teens (much more quickly than they did in the series premiere) and the teens promptly call for help before realizing that they have transmorphers; let's use them. Cut to another simplistic sequence where each teen holds out their morpher with one hand while Jason gets a Red Ranger helmet superimposed over his head before we switch to the classic pose.

Even the Putties are confused in a shot that would be reused for a later episode in the season.

Once the Rangers morph into action, the rest of the episode pretty plays out as expected. The Rangers fight off some Putties, Rita makes Goldar and Fly Guy (later seen in the actual series as King Sphinx), the Rangers summon the Dino-Droids, eventually form the Mega-Droid, slays Fly Guy with the Power Sword, and Rita catches a headache.

Our story ends with the teens sticking around and Zoltar rolling his eyes at a Kimberly psyche gag. The end.

As a general rule, pilot episodes are terrible and this is understandable since it's the beginning of production and everyone is relatively new at making this series. Other than a general idea, nobody knows where they're going with this and are mainly focused on setting up the premise of the show, the heroes, the villains, and the conflict in general. In essence, the whole point of a pilot is to sell the series and if there's a buyer, then a series would follow where a lot of the minor details would get ironed out and improved upon.

The Power Rangers pilot is very much rough around the edges and while it is an interesting piece of history to be looking at, that's about all it really is. Aside from differences between visuals, feels, and even actors in some cases, the story being told here is no different from the one told in the episode that started the series proper. It's a curiosity piece at best; something that's worth checking out once for the sake of it, but having no reason to revisit once you do.

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