Friday, March 6, 2015

About That "Power Rangers" Fan Film

Adi Shankar is not an unfamiliar name to fan film connoisseurs.  He's the producer of such unauthorized "bootleg universe" favorites as "The Punisher: Dirty Laundry," and "Venom: Truth in Journalism."  He's also produced some fairly successful mainstream action flicks like "The Grey" and the recent reboot of "Dredd."  His latest, a grim 14 minute short film directed by Joseph Kahn, based on the "Power Rangers" franchise, was released last week.  It was titled "Power/Rangers" and quickly attracted a storm of attention.
Once word got around to the studios, Saban Brands, which holds the rights to the "Power Rangers" IP, had the short pulled from Youtube and Vimeo.  An agreement was reached two days later that allowed it to be put back up with several new disclaimers in place to emphasize that Saban had absolutely nothing to do with it.  After all, "Power Rangers" is still being produced with new episodes currently running on Nickelodeon.  There's also a feature film in the pipeline that has been scheduled for the summer of 2016.  This is a lucrative IP with a lot of mileage left in it.  Those two days when "Power/Rangers" was in limbo were a lot of fun, with speculation flying around about copyright implications and whether or not the short could be categorized as fair use. 
It's good to see that fan films and other unofficial derivative media are so commonplace now that trying to pull something like "Power/Rangers" from circulation is recognized as being completely counterproductive.  Any controversy just makes more people want to see it, and pushes curious viewers to employ less visible distribution channels.  Something like "Power/Rangers" might be pushing the definition of fair use a bit, since this kind of "reimagining" is something that Saban could create and monetize if they wanted, but I doubt that they would ever be in the business of doing something so violent and bleak with the property.  And so more creatives are taking risks on doing projects like this, playing with various IP in ways that would have been unthinkable a decade ago.
My thoughts on the actual quality of the fan film?  Sadly, not very positive.  It's kind of embarrassing how bad this thing is considering the involvement of such recognizable faces as Katee Sackhoff and James Van Der Beek.  The whole things plays out like a College Humor parody of a "dark and gritty" reboot of "Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers" dreamed up by overgrown, navel-gazing fanboys.  In the short film's universe the bad guys won.  All of our heroes are now dead or foul-mouthed, cynical, badass cliches.  The production design apes every other generic, dystopian sci-fi movie that's come out in the last five years.  The plotting is a confusing tangle of rehashed noir and revenge story tropes that goes to great lengths to relay the sordid fates of our once squeaky-clean teen protagonists.
The production values are very good, and there was clearly a lot of time and effort poured into this, but I guess I just don't get the point.  Most of the short is almost comically overserious, but the final reveal is very goofy, undercutting everything that the filmmakers were trying to accomplish.  The truth of the matter is that you can't do a "Power Rangers" adaptation that isn't on some level silly, campy and over the top.  At their core all sentai series are designed for small children, and trying to darken it all up for adults - even nostalgic adults -  just ends up looking ridiculous.  
I understand the fun in dreaming up "darkest timeline" scenarios for kids' shows to illustrate their shoddy worldbuilding, but this was way too earnest in its aims to be a joke.  At the same time it doesn't evoke any of the elements the fans might have genuinely liked about "Power Rangers," aside from some generic brawling.  No kaiju battles?  No wacky robots?  No wildly elaborate morphing sequences?  Clearly the filmmakers were familiar with "Power Rangers," but I don't they liked the series much.  And that defeats the whole point of a fan film. 
So while I'm glad that "Power/Rangers" survives online to inspire other fan filmmakers, I don't care much for the short itself.  Seriously, guys, with all the resources you have at your disposal, you're capable of better than this.

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