In the first of my ongoing series to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the Power Rangers franchise I’m going to be taking a look back at the very beginning, Mighty Morphin Power Rangers season one.
Whilst on a business trip to Japan, Haim Saban, the founder of Saban Entertainment, came across a television series called Super Sentai, a live action superhero series. Ever the businessman, Saban saw an opportunity to make some money, and quickly formed a deal with Toei to secure the rights to the franchise.
Combining together the Japanese footage of the costumed heroes and their giant robots fighting monsters with brand new American footage, Power Rangers was born. Using the Super Sentai season Kyoryu Sentai Zyuranger as the basis for the show, a series featuring dinosaur themed heroes, an American cast was brought in and production began on the show.
When Mighty Morphin Power Rangers aired on televisions on August 28 1993 it became an overnight success, with the show being picked up all over the world, and merchandise flooding stores. Within a relatively short period the show had become a phenomenon.
Looking back at the first season of the series 25 years later its easy to see why it hooked kids the way it did (myself included). It’s costumes were amazing, the action was unlike anything we’d had before, and the music was amazing. Seriously, I challenge anyone to go listen to the original opening theme and not feel pumped up for something amazing.
Whilst at the time the show was perfect in my eyes, it’s blatantly obvious now just how little money and effort went into the show, something that has thankfully gotten better of the years as old fans have now come to work on the franchise that they loved growing up.
The american sets are pretty bad, with the Command Centre clearly being a room surrounded by black curtains with blinking fairy lights sticking through. The dubbing of Japanese footage is laughably bad, with poor Rita Repulsa (played by Machiko Soga, dubbed by Barbara Goodson) getting the worst of it. The worst part of the show, however, is the sometimes laughable attempt at making the Japanese footage work around an American plot.
The original Super Sentai series focuses on a group of young warriors from an ancient civilisation of dinosaur-evolved humans, who are awakened in the present after 170 million years in suspended animation to fight the evil witch Bandora, who is set loose from her prison on the Planet Nemesis by two astronauts.
Obviously, extremely different from the Power Rangers series, which saw five regular teenagers recruited by a space wizard to become super powered heroes in order to fight Rita Repulsa, an alien witch living on the moon.
Because the two shows were so vastly different in content the writers made some ‘creative’ plot decisions, which led to some disjointed and even downright bizarre episodes. As as child these were sometimes a little weird, even funny; watching the show as an adult, however, it’s downright bizarre.
The first season wasn’t completely bad though, the fight scenes are still great even today, with the casting of competent martial artists and gymnasts as the titular Power Rangers a good choice for ensuring that the audience gets what they signed on for, awesome action.
Whilst some of the cast weren’t the best actors, Austin St John and Walter Jones (the Red Ranger and Black Ranger respectively) proved competent enough to get by, and were more geared towards the physical side of the show in their story lines anyway. David Yost and Amy Jo Johnson (the Blue Ranger and Pink Ranger) were definitely the strongest of the main cast, something that the series very quickly realised, often giving them much bigger stories and asking them to take on more complex roles.
Surprisingly, it was supporting actors Paul Schrier and Jason Narvy, who played school bullies Bulk and Skull, would prove to be some of the best actors on the show, lasting for several years across multiple incarnations of the franchise. Narvy even went on to earn a masters degree and PhD in Theatre Studies, and now teaches as a professor.
The stand out for the first season, however, is Jason David Frank as Tommy Oliver, the Green Power Ranger. There are few people who will remember watching the series first time round who don’t have fond memories of the Green Ranger. Introduced with a five-part epic that saw him fighting against the power rangers, sporting a gold armour piece on his costume, and commanding his own giant Godzilla style Zord.
Jason David Frank would go on to become one of the most popular Power Rangers of all time, and despite loosing some of his appeal later in the franchise, he is brilliant in this first season.
Despite having a great season finale from the Super Sentai series to adapt, the massive popularity of the show meant that Saban didn’t want the series to end. As such, they commissioned Toei to make more footage for them from props and costumes that they had in storage. Because of this, the first season carries on beyond the point it was originally planned, and ends with just a regular episode, rather than something that stands out.
This wish to continue producing Power Rangers the way it was would lead to even greater creative challenges in the second season, though that will be covered in greater detail in the next Power Rangers article.
The first season of Mighty Morphin Power Rangers is a very mixed bag, it has some great moments that would be the foundation of the entire franchise, going on to be replicated even today, yet there are some very obvious moments where you can see just how flawed and poorly made it is too.
If you’ve never seen the original series before it’s definitely interesting to watch, even from a technical point of view of how the show was actually made. If, however, you saw it as a child, it’s sure to bring back some amazing childhood memories and nostalgia.