Let's All Just Think About the Profound Implications of 'Power/Rangers' For a Minute

Tuesday, 03 March 2015 14:10 Written by  iamrogue
Rate this item
(1 Vote)
Let's All Just Think About the Profound Implications of 'Power/Rangers' For a Minute

Last week, an unauthorized short film starring James 'The Beek' Van Der Beek and Katee Sackhoff showed up from out of nowhere, quickly generating more than 12 million YouTube views and causing grown-ass men and women to talk seriously about the Power Rangers.

It’s already been zipped past as a trending topic, eclipsed by llamas on the loose and some dress that exists outside human comprehension. Yet unlike so much viral content, this  “deboot fan film” is actually pretty profound.

It represents a through-the-looking-glass moment for fandom. Power/Rangers is the other side of the looking glass, a fourteen-minute funhouse mirror, one in which modern movie geeks can see how grotesque our obsessions with nostalgia and credibility really are.  It gleefully epitomizes and bitterly mocks itself and, by extension, all of us just for enjoying it.

At its most basic level, Power/Rangers is a contradiction: a ‘fan film’ from a filmmaker who isn’t a fan at all.

Joseph Kahn, the prolific music video and commercial director/full time Twitter provocateur who self-financed and directed the short, does not count himself among the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers faithful.

“I can't front that I was ever a fan of Power Rangers,” he told io9. “Most people when they do projects always say they're fans, but 90% are lying just to please the fans.”

“It was an interesting experiment to play with reboot culture and tone control. When I finally made it I was fully invested in the characters and the property but I didn't come into it to please a fan base, per se, but to experiment with pop culture.”

The pop cultural experiment is based on an even deeper contradiction beneath that one: it’s a fan film that’s actually good.

“Most fan films are failed attempts to match the quality and ideas of their desired properties. Guaranteed creative stalemate and the fans know it, so the fans let their guard down and willingly humor a sub par experience,” said Kahn, who claimed to be making a tampon commercial whilst keeping Power/Rangers a secret. “So I wanted to sucker punch them with a "real" movie while they were being gentle. By making the short actually good, it's sabotaging the audience's implied politeness toward the amateurism of fan films."

Kahn’s made two features.  The first, 2004’s Torque, is a foaming-at-the-mouth piece of motorcycle insanity that’s so knowing it casts Adam Scott as a Chucks-wearing FBI douche.  The second, 2011’s Detention, is an Adderall-paced quantum high school movie that exists in all genres at once. Both are breakneck testaments to Kahn’s subversion; his movies have been completely tongue in cheek, but they’re so simultaneously deadpan and arch that a lot of audiences don’t cotton to the tone.  Most folks dismiss these movies as dumb, when it’s actually part of the joke.  They’re just playing dumb to make a point.

In the case of Power/Rangers, the joke is on you.  Or at least it is if you rejoiced in its total grittiness and thought to yourself, “Hell yeah, that’s exactly what a Power Rangers movie should look like!”

"It's a parody in that it is a conceptual straight faced hyperbole,” Kahn explained in his Reddit AMA. “Every scene is straight-faced and serious and believable. If you watched it and enjoyed every minute of it dramatically, literally - you're not stupid, you're honest. That's what I wanted. And when it ended and you laugh and go what the fuck did I just watch, you're acknowledging you just legitimately enjoyed a fucking Mighty Morphin Power Rangers movie where they fucked porn stars, did coke, and blew people's brains out a face value. THAT'S irony, THAT's the comedy, THAT's the parody."

By ladling on self-seriousness (the short is basically jokeless right up until the end). Kahn is blatantly poking fun at the way so many grown-up fans demand grim and gritty updates that play even the silliest material straight.

He told Hitfix as much, saying, “I've seen repurposed stuff on the Internet where they take a property that's serious and make it even more so, like a Batman fan film or something like that, or a video game or whatever. I've actually seen stuff like where they've taken ridiculous stuff like Mario Brothers and then tried to make the dark and gritty version, and they obviously play it for laughs.”

“I think the trick that I really wanted to do with this was to make that dark and gritty version that everybody keeps talking about, but really do it,” he explained. “Really see if I could totally accomplish it with essentially a really incredible incredibly silly property.”

In short, the only way to make the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers sillier is to take them seriously, ignoring that they’re fundamentally toy commercials.

Make no mistake, that’s what Power Rangers has always been. The original children's series launched in 1993 and immediately became a merchandising and branding sensation.  A vessel for selling toys, the show combined American footage with repurposed action sequences from Japanese Super Sentai series, cutting abruptly from young English-speaking actors to grainy footage of costumed characters duking it out in and around Tokyo.

Since the real money is in merchandise, the official Power Rangers franchise (a movie reboot is in development at Lionsgate) will stay kid-friendly for the foreseeable future.  Speaking of official, Saban jumped all over Power/Rangers.  The owners succeeded too, getting the thing yanked from YouTube and Vimeo.

But faced with overwhelming demand, Saban caved, insisting only that the video include a quick disclaimer.  That the short came back online before the weekend was over speaks not only to the outcry from viewers, but to just how flexible copyright has become in this age of democratized, digitized self-expression for everybody with a smartphone.   We’re all carrying bullhorns in our pockets at all times, and we’re all eager to use them to announce our opinions on fan-favorite properties. Shouting into them often does, in fact, have an immediate and palpable impact.

After all, Neill Blomkamp started futzing around on an Alien sequel without permission.  Two months after sharing a bunch of concept art on Instagram and kicking up a lot of online dust, he’s really making that sequel for 20th Century Fox.  And Deadpool is finally getting made at the same studio after a proof of concept reel leaked and gained a lot of vocal fans.

Both of those are instances in which the sort of sharing or leaks that wouldn’t have happened a decade ago led to stamps of approval by the powers that be.  That’s not going to happen with Power/Rangers, which points to one of the most interesting things about it.

This isn’t going to sell toys or make hay for Kahn, nor is it going to enrich Adi Shankar, who specializes in unauthorized bootleg films like Punisher: Dirty Laundry, Judge Dredd: Superfiend, and James Bond: In Service of Nothing.

So Power/Rangers, basically a non-profit operation, claims characters and iconography which, up until now, have been purely commercial products.  The characters on Mighty Morphin Power Rangers were wholesome, demographically diverse ciphers designed to sell action figures.  When Kahn’s action figures aren’t doing blow and fornicating, they’re killing people execution-style and betraying their comrades.  That’s not just a stunt catering to the current vogue for bleakness, it’s a purposeful undercutting of what are basically corporate mascots.

"Look, I make commercials for a living, so I know the shakedown,” the director said. “You may not agree with what we did with the Power Rangers, but you must feel more powerful as a human being if you live in a society that lets artists critique the imagery that dominates your lives. Whether it's Banksy fucking with Ronald McDonald, Warhol with Campbell's [soup], or us with Power Rangers, you want to let artists interact, test, and kick the tires being sold to you."

More in this category

Follow ROGUE

Latest Trailers

view more »