Friday, July 6, 2018

Power Rangers Reflections Redux #10: The Ninja Encounter

So we're dipping back into reposts for the next couple entries before the eventual new entry comes along. This is being done to not only keep up with entries, but also I want to get all the "old stuff" out of the day before we eventually start going into new material. We've got a couple big episodes down the pipe line to touch on and I rather have the wiggle room to get those looking nice before posting.

In any event, here's a repost on the 3-part Ninja Encounter episode that introduced the world to the first set of replacement Power Rangers. It's a rather long ramble that will cover all three parts, but don't expect it to dig into great detail, as I'll be passing over certain bits in the episode, including a sizable chunk in the middle for reasons I shall explain.

The second season of MMPR was notable because it had a ton of multi-parters. The season premiere episode was a 3-parter, the Green Ranger's last hurrah was a 2-parter, the Wedding was a 3-parter. Even episodes that were irrelevant and pointless in the grand scheme of things were 2-parters... like Storybook Rangers or the one where the Rangers were turned into kids.

Today's multipart extravaganza is not an insignificant storyline, but rather a pretty heavy storyline. It's the one that introduced the world to three would-be nobodies who were brought in because half the Ranger cast held up for more money and were unceremoniously released, not even getting the benefit of best wishes on their future endeavors... wait, was I saying a whole lot?

A bit of backstory here; at some point during production of the second season, the Ranger trio of Austin St. John, Thuy Trang, and Walter Jones had left MMPR due to monetary conflicts... or some kind of conflict. In any case, half the Power Rangers had gone AWOL and the result was a series of episodes that would place more focus on the other half of the cast who stuck around, while the other half would be portrayed as either recycled footage, body doubles, bad ADR dubbers, or just ignored altogether. I think it was around the time the Green Ranger left that we started getting bad dub jobs for the guys who left and by the time we got to the obligatory Halloween episode (Zedd's Monster Mash or something), the other three was getting less focus and more focus was placed on Tommy, Kimberly, and Billy... because they were still around.

Which brings us to the Ninja Encounter, a three-parter that really should have been less than that.

We open up with a standard shot in the park, where our heroes are enjoying a nice little pick-n-nick while listening to a generic tune that Kim claims is a favorite song. This leads me to believe that Angel Grove has no real taste in music. Some recycled footage from Song Of Guitardo is featured here, but they cleverly insert new shots with the Rangers wearing the exact same clothes as before. Conveniently enough, none of the other Rangers talk.

Meanwhile, we see three other teens skating in the park and meeting up with their teacher whom we've never met before. Why do we care about these people? I don't know; we just do.

Back to the Rangers, who are suddenly watching television and being unimpressed by the attitude of a bunch of would-be ninjas cutting the barebones equivalent of a bad wrestling promo. Turns out that these ninjas are part of a ninja tournament and they'll be facing a similar trio of ninjas from Stone Canyon in the finals. For some reason, Lord Zedd sees the ninjas' bad promo work and decides to recruit the winners to be his dark warriors... yes, he's playing this card again. You'd think he'd learn something by now...

But let me get this straight; you have two teams of ninjas from opposing towns competing in the finales; neither team representing the city that the match is being hosted at. That's actually pretty surprising restraint on the part of the writers. Then again, if there WAS an Angel Grove team, then they would win the finals and the episode would be over.

By the way, Bulk and Skull walk by to contribute nothing at the moment.

Back from commercial, we see Mr. Anderson... the teacher, not Keanu Reeves, reading a book to his baby boy while the kid reaches for some cookies. Hijinx occur as the stroller hits a motorcycle, elicit a confrontation between Mr. Anderson and the bad ninjas with the bad promo skills... although to be fair, they still cut better promos than John Cena. Said confrontation results in the stroller with baby to roll down a hill, resulting in a painfully long chase sequence that ends with half the Ranger teens still employed meeting with the three teens whom we don't care about yet.

Seriously, that chase scene was painful. Really painful. Of all the convoluted ways for our two trios of teenagers to meet, they had to go with one that was mind-numbing and unfunny. Don't know if any kids found this funny or stupid. I found it to be neither. Just... man.

So now we get to the Ninja Finals, where two teams of ninjas fights and show off all sorts of wire fu and physics-defying moves. Who needs the Power Rangers when you have three nondescript teenagers who can pull off dragon punches and hurricane kicks without special spandex-donning devices? Naturally, the white ninjas win and are revealed to be Adam, Aisha, and Rocky, the three teens we were introduced earlier on the show. Half the Rangers would later greet and congratulate the teens at the parking lot. Which half, you say? The ones on camera, of course.

Up on the moon, Lord Zedd wants to summon his three champion ninjas, only to learn that they lost to the new teens. Zedd is mad; because the losers had the right kind of "evil" attitude he likes, but hates losers in general, so he sends Goldar after the new teens while he figures out how to turn them evil. So Goldar kidnaps the three teens and Mr. Anderson... for some reason. I get why you'd want to kidnap the teens, but what's the point of nabbing Mr. Anderson? I doubt this guy knows Kung Fu... wait... And so with the teacher and teens missing, the baby boy is left behind to cry until Bulk and Skull pass by and take it upon themselves to look after the child until the Power Rangers show up... or something.

And so throughout the three parts of this longer-than-necessary episode, there are several bits where Bulk & Skull perform simple acts as feeding the baby, changing diapers, and what have you - often to high-larious results. These bits are actually quite cute - possibly humorous even - and is probably the first glimpse we get that maybe these guys aren't so bad after all. Of course, since this is overshadowed by the worthless framing story, we won't be touching on these sequences in this report until the very end.

So while all of that fun action with Not-Keanu and the teens was taking place, half the Rangers are fighting putties on some other part of the parking lot. Managing to defeat the putties, they return to the other part to find everybody missing. Tommy, showing concern (or perhaps foreseeing the upcoming need to recycle some old footage) ties his hair up and half the Rangers teleport, while Zordon orders Alpha to teleport the other half who are future endeavored... no, seriously. He says, "Locate the three other guys and teleport them here immediately. Yes, even if they're in a public place surrounded by people. Just fucking bring them here."

Part I ends with the Rangers twiddling their thumbs in the Command Center, the teens in the generic cave that they're now calling the Dimension Of Despair, and Aisha decides to pick a lock. Too much focus on the teens... something is not on the level here.

We open Part II with the Rangers in the Command Center, who conveniently remind the viewers who may have missed Part I that the three teens we don't care about and Mr. Anderson are stuck in another dimension. While this is happening, Aisha is still picking the lock and Lord Zedd decides to send the Terror Blossom monster, a ridiculous looking flower monster, to keep the Rangers busy. Zordon, making note of this fearsome new creation, decides that splitting the Rangers in half to fight the monster and save the teens is a wise course of action. This ends up proving to be a worthless gesture until the end, but let's not go there yet.

It's during this scene that we're introduced to a new mode of transportation called "jetting", which essentially gives the Rangers the ability to fly... you know, like Superman but without the cape. So half the Rangers (the stand-ins, rather) are flyin-- er, I mean, jetting to find the monster, while the other half (the ones still employed) are going after the teens... or rather stand there and provide more exposition to fill time or something. The Rangers are reunited to fight the Terror Blossom (because Alpha is worried about Bulk & Skull babysitting the baby boy), thus making the "splitting the team in half" plan entirely fucking pointless.

Speaking of entirely pointless, this next chunk of episode brings back the Hatchasaurus and so rather than try to go after the new monster, they have to fight this Hatchasaurus, which results in poorly-spliced zord battles and... Oh, for fuck's sake, WHO CARES?! What was the whole point of bringing back the Hatchasaurus other than to fill up space? There was no rhyme or reason for Zedd to say, "Hey! I've got an idea! Let's send another monster back from the grave and have him fight the Rangers! Oh, ho, ho! I am teh master!" I am telling you; deleting this whole pile of shite from the story would have reduced this to a much more manageable two-parter. But no, we almost recycle the Hatchasaurus fight from the first season and on the side, have another worthless scene where the teens are attempting to escape but fail. The only worthwhile bit is that Goldar leaves behind a snake statue that will soon live and bit the others with evil energy... or something.

So with that piece of extraneous business over and done with, the Rangers once again split up (because that worked SO well the first time) and once again, half the stand-ins face the flower monster and are frozen by flower petals... don't ask how flower petals freezes a person; we need something to hide the fact that the actors are no longer around and the dubbers, quite frankly, aren't cutting it. In any case, the Rangers show up and bring the mannequins back to the Command Center. Maybe next time, they won't split up into two different teams.

So the Rangers are back at the Command Center where they attempt to unfreeze the other trio whose actors have long since departed this plane of existence. Meanwhile, back in the cave, the snake comes to life and slowly slithers its way towards the three teenagers as Part II draws to a close.

Opening Part III, the Rangers are still in the Command Center, prancing about while Billy is working on some machine that will unfreeze the stunt doubles. Again, we recount that Zedd's Terror Blossom abomination is still running about, the new kids are still in the cave, and Bulk & Skull are still unpaid voluntary babysitters waiting for the Power Rangers to show up. Also, we've seemed to have completely glossed over the fight with Hatchasaurus, making that whole segment even more pointless than it was before. On the moon, Zedd is happy and anxiously awaits the snake to do its work.

To break up the tension, we have Bulk and Skull attempt to change a diaper. It goes over about as well as you expect. Fun fact: The original airing featured this sequence play out with the tune Baby Sittin' Blues by Buzz Clifford in the background. The song has been dubbed over in subsequent Netflix and DVD airings, but it's a neat little thing that I never knew about until recently.

In the Command Center, word gets around that the Terror Blossom is heading towards the power plant... for some reason. I guess it wanted to figure out how his petals could freeze people. In any case, Billy manages to unfreeze the stunt doubles and then the Rangers go after the flower monster of doom, who has since grown in size. With the Thunder Megazord summoned, half the Rangers and one Yellow stunt double leave the other two stunt doubles to fight the flower monster while they go rescue the teens. Long story short, the monster is destroyed. Doesn't matter. Let's move on.

So half the Rangers (and one Yellow stand-in) arrive at the Dimensio-- generic cave of despair. Billy and Yellow Stand-in run in to save the teens, with Billy grabbing and struggling with the snake while Yellow Stand-In warps Mister Anderson out of the cave and the other teens leave poor Billy behind to fend for themselves... wow, that's not very Ranger-like. I doubt those guys will make good Rangers.

Oh well, at least they make up for it by helping White and Pink clear out the rest of the Putties. Once that piece of business is taken care, they run back and save Billy from the snake. But oh no! Billy has trouble breathing and so the Rangers make the conscious decision to take his helmet off right then and there before realizing that they've been busted by the teens, who figure out that half the Rangers are half the cast they met earlier. Tommy and Kimberly share concerned looks. Hey, uh, Tommy? Kim? I hate to bring logic into this, but considering that you've been calling each other by name within ear shot of the others, I'd think that them seeing your faces would be the least of your worries. Besides that, you could have easily teleported back to the Command Center and helped Billy there. I doubt having your molecules scrambled is going to aggravate one's inability to breathe within a plastic helmet.

Anyway, long story short, the three teens vow to keep the Rangers' ID to themselves, baby is reunited with not-Keanu and Bulk & Skull run away from being part-time babysitters. The end. And thank fuck for that.

Final Thoughts
I never saw this first-time airing because at the time, we didn't have FOX at our house, so every Sunday morning, the local CBS affiliate (or Vermont) would show Season 2 episodes and we'd miss several chunks of shows as a result. My first exposure to Rocky, Adam, and Aisha was the episode that followed, "A Monster Of Global Proportions." At the time, they seemed like nice folks, but really bland. A week later, I saw that they were replaced the old Rangers. And I felt rather... indifferent towards these guys, for lack of a better term. They filled a void that quite frankly, I felt, was too big for them to truly fill. Eventually, though, they started to grow on me and they did nicely in their MMPR stint for the most part, but it took a couple years (seasons, rather) for them to really develop their own characters and not just be faceless faces. It's a contrast to the original five who were distinct characters from episode one... stereotypical archtype characters, mind you, but characters nonetheless.

With Ninja Encounter being their introduction, you'd expect the creative minds to make these characters likable or even endearing, but instead I got "three teens from Stone Canyon who do gravity-defying ninja moves but are absolutely useless against a gold monkey and clay monsters with targets on their chest." Too much focus is placed on them, but never once was I given a reason to care about them and the whole time, it comes off as obvious that the reason these three are getting much focus is because half the original cast had gone off to pursue future endeavors... and it shows. Whether it's bad dubbing or badly edited zord footage, there was never a moment where I was just sitting back and enjoying the show, but rather there's always a number of distractions that would have stop and think, "That's not right."

Also, I don't like jetting. It's just flying. Why can't you just call it flying?

I don't know; maybe if they had dumped the whole Hatchasaurus thing and trimmed this whole thing down to two parts instead of three, it might have flowed better. As it is... it was just a mess that told a story that dragged for too long. Thank goodness I first met these guys in the next episode, because then I would have really been sour.

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