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Mighty Morphin Power Rangers: The Movie (1995)

Shout Factory // PG // June 4, 2019
List Price: $19.99 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Thomas Spurlin | posted July 9, 2019 | E-mail the Author
The Film:

While the concept of the "Power Rangers" had been popular for nearly two decades in Japan under its original, true form, Super Sentai, the brand Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers -- and perhaps the whole idea in general -- hit its most popular point in the ‘90s once a reshot and repurposed version hit the US. Cutting together the martial-arts and monster action from the Japanese series with newly-recorded English dialogue and drama scenes, Power Rangers struck that magic pop-culture chord where it was nearly impossible to not see the toys everywhere or hear references to the show's taglines. In the same vein as Masters of the Universe or Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, it was inevitable that a bigger-budget and merchandisable Hollywood adaptation would come about, though the Power Rangers movie provides an interesting opportunity: it's the first time that everything, from speaking scenes to battles, was created specifically for an American production … and it suffers from the drawbacks of that, too.

The Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers movie operates with the second version of the team for the American market. While Jason David Frank's green/white ranger Tommy, Amy Jo Johnson's pink ranger Kimberly, and David Yost's blue ranger Billy stuck around, the rest are made up of the recast replacements: Steve Cardenas as red ranger Rocky, Karan Ashley as yellow ranger Aisha, and Johnny Yong Bosch as black ranger Adam. After engaging in a charity skydive exhibition in Angel Grove, they're met with a new threat to their city and the planet earth: Ivan Ooze (Paul Freeman), a reawakened villain whose power vastly overshadows that of the Rangers' other nemeses, Lord Zedd and Rita Repulsa. To counterbalance this new power, and to repair the damage that has been done already by Ooze, the rangers must travel great distances to harness enhanced abilities -- perhaps new versions of their mecha-beast vehicles, known as Zords, that form into one super-robot -- so they can better battle their foes. It's a spirit quest, but merely for the team; the film's focus and bubbly performances aren't interested in personal drama.

Look, I know there are certain limits when it comes to firing off critiques at more youth-oriented action films, and that's especially the case with the Power Rangers, where most episodes possess some goofy, poorly thought-out plans executed by villains that have stronger powers than how they're used. Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers: The Movie goes above and beyond, though: it's the kind of film that places the powers of the universe galaxies away on a distant planet, yet for some reason imprisons a powerful archenemy underground on a thriving, busy planet where he could be accidentally dug up at any time. Once he gets loose, his superior firepower -- and ability to create vastly superior henchmen from his versatile (read: contrived) ooze -- could unthinkingly decimate any in his way, yet he resorts to an almost absurdist plan to manipulate the citizens of Angel Grove. Even Bond villains would be telling him to get on with it. Paul Freeman, who played the dapper villain Belloq in Raiders of the Lost Ark, dials it up as the spiny, bright-purple, comedic Ooze, but the circumstances of his presence in the film are … sludgy.

The Power Rangers can absolutely get over a questionable villain and deliver a fun experience, though; they have, countless times throughout their history on the small screen. So long as the martial-arts action remains relatively on point, there's still plenty of vibrant excitement to be had in the concept. Unfortunately, it's here that some of the firepower that was repurposed from Japan's Super Sentai is missed, because the fight choreography in Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers lacks punch, both physically and figuratively. Where the show during that period often felt nimble, aggressive, and had spark -- again, both figuratively and literally! -- this blockbuster has combat that revolves around more slapstick levity and family-friendly restraint, clearly with a purpose. As the Rangers battle enemies in more visually interesting and lavish settings due to the film's budget and scope, the firepower they deliver tends to be lacking and, more often than not, wastes those opportunities to push the talent's capabilities.

What's most bothersome about Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers: The Movie comes in how the filmmakers deliberately sidelined certain elements that made the property so popular at the time. Fan-favorite villains Rita Repulsa and Lord Zedd don't really get to enjoy their time on the big screen, as Ivan Ooze physically removes them from the picture. The Rangers never get to summon the popular dinosaur versions of their Zords on this big-budget scale, as circumstances -- and the general formula of the franchise's episodes -- kept them from bringing out the big guns until late in the game, after they've received tweaked "spirit animals". And, on a more objective level, the creators opted for digital effects instead of practical creations for the big kaiju-esque battles at the end, which makes the final act smack of ‘90s dated computer wizardry that lacks convincing tangibility. While these things mattered less to younger audiences almost a quarter-century ago, the Power Rangers have come a long way since then -- see: the problematic, yet better recent American film -- and that keeps one from wanting to power these guys up now.

Video and Audio:

Shout, you're awesome. When I sat down to watch Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers: The Movie in this 1.85:1-framed, 1080p AVC treatment on Blu-ray, the film presence and unobtrusive digital quality made me feel like I was watching this again over two decades ago. The cinematography's certainly of the era with its tight zooms and goofy angles, and while there's a little jittering at the beginning of the film, the camera's flow typically remains stable throughout. Detail clarity reveals the fun elements of the production design and makeup work, especially on Ivan Ooze's appearance, while the sharp lines of Lord Zedd's metallic mask and the myriad twisting wires, metal coils, and other elements of the Power Rangers' lair make it all feel real. Color shades are bold yet not oversaturated, and while the contrast rarely helps out the mostly flat feel of the image's depth, it does its best to control bright blown-out aspects and make darker elements in shadows appropriately visible; however, some shadows are still pretty oppressive in the nighttime battles. Overall, a very enjoyable HD treatment from Shout.

With an almost cartoon-like vivacity, the Power Rangers movie has a lot of unique sound effects scattered throughout the film, from bubbling ooze and crumbling stone to high-pitched whirling noisemakers and lots of zappy electricity. The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio emphasizes the crispness of those effects while preserving the natural ‘90s presence of the soundtrack, while allowing the bolder sound effects of the "morphin' time" energizing to telegraph bold, front-forward heft without any distortion. Subtler sounds like the gliding of rollerblades on bricks and the echo of someone calling out in an empty building are appropriately clear, while verbal clarity's by and large pretty robust and discernible, working with the surrounding effects and soundtrack rather well. The sounds of combat are the most important, of course, and while the midrange punch could've probably been more pronounced amid punches, kicks, and other heavy attacks, the crisp higher-end and moderate bass response do a fine job of locking in those watching into the battle. Optional English subs are available.

Special Features:

Aside from a Trailer (2:13, 4x3) and a short vintage Featurette (4:30, 4x3), Shout have also recorded a bunch of new interviews and cobbled together footage for The Mighty Leap to the Big Screen (44:04, 16x9 HD), including chats with director Bryan Spicer, almost all of the Power Rangers crew (sadly, no Amy Jo Johnson) … and, a big delight, Paul Freeman. It's interesting to listen to the actors talk about transitioning from a small-screen scale to the grandeur of the bigger production, as well as hearing how Spicer attempted to capture cinematic moods, how everyone adopted to the Australian shooting locations, and shooting the film. Later on, they start digging more into the look of the film, especially the complications with the tweaked armor for the Rangers and how the added weight and tightness made it more unpleasant to shoot. Then, Paul Freeman chats about his experiences with the film, where he reveals little bits about differences between the script and how the different prosthetics affected his performance. And yeah, they chat a bit about complications, including about recasting the original actress for Dulcea, Mariska Hargitay, and overlapping schedules with shooting the show. It's a surprisingly detailed feature that fans will relish.

Final Thoughts:

The Power Rangers have a certain charm to them that still makes watching episodes of the classic TV show a lot of fun to watch, whether it's the human-on-monster martial arts action or when the robot MegaZord forms together to battle a massively enlarged monster ready to stomp all over Angel Grove. Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers: The Movie takes the small-scale concept and attempts to project it onto the big screen, escalating the budget and the scope in the process. What results is something that would be considered below par plotting but probably not among the worst from the show that's hampered by the dated ‘90s aspects, both the general tones and the digital effects. Combine that with relatively dull martial-arts action, and you've got a clunky cinematic adaptation of a pop-culture phenom. Shout Factory's Blu-ray looks and sounds really good, though, and there's a 45-minute collection of interviews and backstage footage that's worth checking out. Give it a Rental.

Thomas Spurlin, Staff Reviewer -- DVDTalk Reviews | Personal Blog/Site
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