If you're from my generation, and you lived in a city that had a good independent TV station, chances are you were lucky enough to see Japanese tokusatsu series like Ultraman and Johnny Sokko and His Flying Robot, those incredibly violent, insanely addictive live-action special effects extravaganzas featuring giant rubber monsters, fanciful sci-fi/fantasy sets and plots, and incredible stunts. After watching endless reruns of Bozo and Heckel and Jeckel, nothing on American TV looked like those shows. Kids were immediately hooked.
Of course now, through the wonders of DVDs, you can have all of those vintage tokusatsus at your fingertips, but back in the early 90s, those shows were just faint, half-remembered shadows in my mind; they had been off the local TV stations for years and years. But then the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers showed up, and secretly, twenty-somethings like myself might stroll by a set that happened to have them on, and those dusty memories of Johnny and Ultraman came flooding back. And the toys! Well, seriously, if you were lucky to have a kid back then, you could indulge every kick-ass martial arts fantasy you ever acted out with your old Johnny Sokko Flying Robot (the one that your Mom helpfully gave to Good Will without you knowing about it when you "too old for it.") through the myriad Power Rangers offerings at Toys R Us.
Well, the Power Rangers continue to this day, and the latest series that airs on Disney's Jetix channel, Power Rangers: Operation Overdrive, has been released on DVD (the first two volumes, Brownbeard's Pearl, Volume 1 and Toru Diamond, Volume 2, are available, comprising the first twelve episodes of the series). Being an unashamed fan of the series, I can say quite honestly that I never get tired of these quickly-paced tokusatsu adventures. Now I know there are quite a few hard-core websites out there devoted to the Power Ranger franchise, and they discuss at length the pros and cons of each new permutation in the long line of series. That's not me. I'm not an expert on the Power Rangers; I don't know all the series or the villains or the heroes, either. I'm just a dabbler in the Power Rangers canon.
Having said that, I quite enjoyed this latest variation on the series. Centering around the adventures of explorer and adventurer Andrew Hartford (Rod Lousich), Hartford has inadvertently released brothers Flurious (Gerald Urquhart) and Moltor (Mark Ferguson), who crave the Corona Aurora (the "Crown of the Gods"), a jewel-encrusted crown that will give them unlimited power. Hartford's recovery of the crown - sans the jewels - has awakened the brothers (Flurious was encased in ice; Moltor in lava), and now it's up to Hartford to pick five young novices to become the new Power Rangers, to fight the two villains.
Hartford selects Will Aston (Samuell Benta), a safecracker who will become the Black Power Ranger; Dax Lo (Gareth Yuen), a stunt man who will morph into the Blue Ranger; Ronny Robinson (Caitlin Murhpy), a race car driver soon to be the Yellow Ranger, and Rose Ortiz (Rhoda Montemayor), an archeologist who will be the Pink Ranger. After rearranging their DNA to boost their powers (Will=super hearing and sight; Dax=giant leaping; Ronny=super speed; Rose=invisibility), Hartford plans on joining the gang as the Red Ranger. But his son, Mack Hartford (James MacLurcan) wants to help, too; he feels neglected by his father who spends all his time on his adventures and who is overprotective of his son's well-being. Can Mack convince his dad to let him become the Red Power Ranger, and attain super strength? And will the Power Ranger Team be able to stop Moltor and Flurious before they gain the scattered jewels to put back into the Corona Aurora, and gain total domination over the world?
All of the hallmarks of past Power Rangers series are here, including a hyper-fast editing scheme (blink and you'll miss a lot), outsized stunts, huge, fiery explosions, morphin megazords, a copious assortment of incredible gadgets and weaponry (I particularly liked the Black Ranger's Drive Slammer), relatively cheesy but always fun special effects, and plenty of super-sweet chop socky action. Plot is negligible to the action, and if you miss something, it's okay; it's all going to get repeated in the next episode. The cast for this particular round-up is quite good, with MacLurcan an attractive lead hero, and Montemayor funny and cute as the too-smart-for-words Rose. Production values for Power Rangers: Operation Overdrive are smart, too, with always-interesting visuals and framing that keep things humming along.
Here are the 6 episodes of Power Rangers: Operation Overdrive - Brownbeard's Pearl, Volume 1:
Kick It Into Overdrive - Pt. 1
The team is assembled and their DNA scrambled, while Mack tries to convince his father that he's worthy of being a Power Ranger.
Kick It Into Overdrive - Pt. 2
Andrew Hartford is kidnapped and it's up to Mack and the Rangers to find him - as well as the Crown, which has been handed over to Moltor. The sweet DriveMax is morphed here.
The Underwater World
The Power Rangers travel to Atlantis and discover an ancient scroll. Flurious tries to stop the Rangers with the Ruins Monster.
Heart of Blue
The Atlantis Scroll is but one of three needed for the Sword of Neptune. Dax takes to a thief named Mira - who isn't what she seems.
Weather or Not
Mack uses the Drill Driver to free the team from a frozen avalanche, created by Moltor's weather-making machine.
Pirate in Pink
Rose's body is taken over by Brownbeard the Pirate's soul, and with Rosie the Bold, the Power Rangers find the first jewel in the Corona Aurora.
The full frame, 1.33: video image for Power Rangers: Operation Overdrive - Brownbeard's Pearl, Volume 1 is super-sharp and brightly hued, with a sparkling, clean picture.
The Dolby Digital English 2.0 stereo audio mix is fine for these adventures, but can you imagine them in 5.1 Surround? Come on, Disney - step up to the plate! There are English subtitles available, as well.
There are Ranger Bios where the cast introduce themselves and their characters. There's also a DVD game: Ranger Reserve Training Course Level 1 - Black Jewel, that's kind of cool (my little boy loved playing it).
The old days of Japanese tokusatsu like Ultraman and Johnny Sokko and His Flying Robot live on in the hyped-up adventures of Power Rangers: Operation Overdrive - Brownbeard's Pearl, Volume 1. Plenty of explosions, cool morphin zords, weapons, gadgets, and kick-ass chop socky make Power Rangers: Operation Overdrive - Brownbeard's Pearl, Volume 1 an easy recommendation for the initiated.
Paul Mavis is an internationally published film and television historian, a member of the Online Film Critics Society, and the author of The Espionage Filmography.