Mighty Morphin’ Masterpiece: One Man’s Inexplicable Love for 'Power Rangers: The Movie'

The Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers TV series was after my time, and a passing glance at any given episode was enough to convince me that it was, well, 'stunted'. So why have I seen Power Rangers: the Movie five times?

Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers was after my time. I was 17 when Power Rangers toys became the biggest thing since Cabbage Patch Kids dolls, and while I was still watching cartoons and playing with toys in 1994—as indeed I still am in 2011—nostalgia alone determined my approach to children’s fare. In other words, I was too obsessed with Transformers reruns to bother with new cartoons aimed at a younger generation. Plus, a passing glance at any given episode was enough to convince me that Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers was, well, 'stunted'.

So why have I seen Power Rangers: the Movie five times?

My friend Kit was a fan from the start, even though he’s a year older than me and he already had kids and a job and all that grown up stuff when Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers debuted. I’d initially assumed that Kit’s enthusiasm for Power Rangers was ironic, but I decided I’d been mistaken when he hastily cut short our visit one day in order to race home in time for the White Ranger’s much-hyped debut.

To humor him, I tagged along with Kit when the Power Rangers hit the big screen in the cleverly titled Power Rangers the Movie, and I visited the theater for some more morphin’ action a week or two later because I was good friends with this little kid named Ole who thought the Power Rangers were the second coming of Jesus. (No doubt some nostalgic young smartass has already Photoshopped some sort of Jesus Zord somewhere on the internet.)

But then I watched Power Rangers: the Movie twice more when it hit video, with neither Kit nor Ole in attendance. And today I watched it again, for the first time in 15 years, and while I invited my daughter to watch with me, I’d have watched it without her had she declined.

And I don’t really understand why.

To be sure, there’s a handful of serviceably entertaining moments in the film, such as the scene wherein the Rangers meditate to discover their spirit animals, which inevitably include cool, tough animals like bears and falcons. The Black Ranger gets the laugh of the film when he dejectedly murmurs, “I’m a frog.” Also worth a chuckle is the moment during the climax when the evil Ivan Ooze dismissively notes the arrival of “that cute Pink Ranger”, to which his assistant Goldar replies, “Oh, you think she’s cute, too?”

But these meager scraps of amusement are not enough to warrant five viewings of something as hyper and silly as Power Rangers the Movie.

Maybe I’ve always been drawn to the film because it owes a lot to the first Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie. Both films feature the near-death of the heroic group’s father figure, necessitating that the heroes go on a spirit quest, which in both movies includes a campfire meditation session resulting in personal revelations, albeit revelations of a vague, generic, believe-in-yourself sort.

Also in both movies, a young boy reconciles with his father—wee Fred and his Ooze-hypnotized dad in Power Rangers the Movie, Foot Clan-recruit Danny and his dad in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. The Turtles even appeared on an episode of Power Rangers. Or maybe the Rangers appeared on an episode of Ninja Turtles—I saw the story in question on YouTube, so I cannot be certain.

In Power Rangers the Movie, the Ranger super-suits are made of leather, rather than the spandex suits of the television series. (When the cheerful teens are in their Ranger suits, their every gesture and motion produces a loud whipping sound. I kept hoping one of them would bewilderedly test this strange effect, as Weird Al Yankovic does in his “Fat” video.) The leather makes for a reasonably sexy upgrade, but again, it’s not enough to justify my repeated viewings of such a cinematic clunker.

While I pretty much never watched the Power Rangers TV series, the audacious racial construct of the first season produced great fodder for small-town stoner conspiracy theories. This potential first came to our attention during a PSA starring the original Black Ranger, whose alter-ego was African American. Having yet to tune in to the series, my friends and I were startled to see this smiling young black man start off the anti-drug PSA with a happy greeting of, “Hi, I’m Zack, the Black Ranger!”

Further analysis revealed the following comical details: the Yellow Ranger was Asian, the Pink Ranger was a girl, and the White Ranger was the most powerful Ranger of all. Equally amusing was the clear implication that the heroic transformation of each Ranger was referred to as “morphin’” with an apostrophe, so that younger viewers would not become intrigued by the superheroic wonders of morphine.

Funny as all this nonsense was, one could just as easily joke about the racial symbolism without having to watch the friggin’ movie, so perhaps I only watched the stupid Power Rangers movie because I looked like one of its heroes; friends pushed me to become a teacher because kids loved me so much, but in retrospect I think kids mostly loved me because I had long hair, so I sorta looked liked Tommy, whom I believe was the Red Ranger at first, before he became the Green Ranger and eventually the White Ranger. Or maybe he was the Green Ranger right from the start. Kit would know.

Maybe I only watched because of the guitar solos during the fight scenes—thanks to the “Seattle Scene”, in 1994, Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers was the only place to hear a blistering guitar solo. Of course, that was the TV series, not the movie, and I doubt that I saw three full episodes of the show.

Aw, that's all bullshit. We all know why I watched the Power Rangers movie, over and over and over. I watched it for the same reason any male aged 15 years or older (ahem, considerably older) watched—it is surely no coincidence that Amy Jo Johnson is the only person from the Power Rangers cast whom I can identify by name.

Seriously, have you seen the Pink Ranger? God, she’s delightful. Remember Goldar’s comment about her cuteness I quoted above? You should have heard the laughter in the theater when he said that. It was a particularly knowing breed of laughter. It was the laugh of people who cherished a secret shame and were delighted to have it acknowledged safely by another. It was… well, honestly, it was just me and Kit laughing. But dude, for reals: we were laughing hard.

But it’s time at long last to move on with my life. I am certain that I can finally leave this troubling Power Rangers fixation behind me. After all, I am a teacher now, and a father and a world traveler, besides. I have broadened my horizons. It’s encouraging to discover, for example, that I can now look past Amy Jo Johnson’s girl-next-door loveliness and firm, supple acrobat’s body and recognize that, hey, the Yellow Ranger is pretty hot, too.

In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

Editor's Note: Originally published 30 July 2014.

10. “Bedlam in Belgium”
(Flick of the Switch, 1983)

This is a massively underrated barnstormer from the boys off the much-maligned (unfairly, I think) Flick of the Switch. The album was missing Mutt Lange, but the Youngs did have his very capable engineer, Tony Platt, as co-producer in the studio at Compass Point in the Bahamas. Tony’s a real pro. I think he did a perfectly fine job on this album, which also features the slamming “Nervous Shakedown”.

But what I find most interesting about “Bedlam in Belgium” is that it’s based on a fracas that broke out on stage in Kontich, Belgium, in 1977, involving Bon Scott, the rest of the band, and the local authorities. AC/DC had violated a noise curfew and things got hairy.

Yet Brian Johnson, more than half a decade later, wrote the lyrics with such insight; almost as if he was the one getting walloped by the Belgian police: He gave me a crack in the back with his gun / Hurt me so bad I could feel the blood run. Cracking lyrics, Bon-esque. Unfortunately for Brian, he was removed from lyric-writing duties from The Razors Edge (1990) onwards. All songs up to and including 2008’s Black Ice are Young/Young compositions.

Who’ll be writing the songs on the new album AC/DC has been working on in Vancouver? AC/DC fans can’t wait to hear them. Nor can I.

9. “Spellbound”
(For Those About to Rock We Salute You, 1981)

"Spellbound" really stands as a lasting monument to the genius of Mutt Lange, a man whose finely tuned ear and attention to detail filed the rough edges of Vanda & Young–era AC/DC and turned this commercially underperforming band for Atlantic Records into one of the biggest in the world. On “Spellbound” AC/DC sounds truly majestic. Lange just amplifies their natural power an extra notch. It’s crisp sounding, laden with dynamics and just awesome when Angus launches into his solo.

“Spellbound” is the closer on For Those About to Rock We Salute You, the last album Lange did with AC/DC, so chronologically it’s a significant song; it marks the end of an important era. For Those About to Rock was an unhappy experience for a lot of people. There was a lot of blood being spilled behind the scenes. It went to number one in the US but commercially was a massive disappointment after the performance of Back in Black. Much of the blame lies at the feet of Atlantic Records, then under Doug Morris, who made the decision to exhume an album they’d shelved in 1976, Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap, and release it in-between Back in Black and For Those About to Rock.

In the book Phil Carson, who signed AC/DC to Atlantic, calls it “one of the most crass decisions ever made by a record-company executive” and believes it undermined sales of For Those About to Rock.

8. “Down Payment Blues”
(Powerage, 1978)

This is one of the best songs off Powerage -- perhaps the high point of Bon Scott as a lyricist -- but also significant for its connection to “Back in Black”. There are key lines in it: Sitting in my Cadillac / Listening to my radio / Suzy baby get on in / Tell me where she wanna go / I'm living in a nightmare / She's looking like a wet dream / I got myself a Cadillac / But I can't afford the gasoline.

Bon loved writing about Cadillacs. He mentions them in “Rocker” off the Australian version of TNT and the international release of Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap: Got slicked black hair / Skin tight jeans / Cadillac car and a teenage dream.

Then you get to “Back in Black”. Bon’s dead but the lyrics have this spooky connection to “Down Payment Blues”: Back in the back / Of a Cadillac / Number one with a bullet, I’m a power pack.

Why was Brian singing about riding around in Cadillacs? He’d just joined AC/DC, wasn’t earning a lot and was on his best behavior. Bon had a reason to be singing about money. He was writing all the songs and just had a breakthrough album with Highway to Hell. Which begs the question: Could Bon also have written or part written the lyrics to “Back in Black”?

Bon’s late mother Isa said in 2006: “The last time we saw him was Christmas ’79, two months before he died. [Bon] told me he was working on the Back in Black album and that that was going to be it; that he was going to be a millionaire.”

7. “You Shook Me All Night Long”
(Back in Black, 1980)

Everyone knows and loves this song; it’s played everywhere. Shania Twain and Celine Dion have covered it. It’s one of AC/DC’s standbys. But who wrote it?

Former Mötley Crüe manager Doug Thaler is convinced Bon Scott, who’d passed away before the album was recorded, being replaced by Brian Johnson, wrote the lyrics. In fact he told me, “You can bet your life that Bon Scott wrote the lyrics to ‘You Shook Me All Night Long’.” That’s a pretty strong statement from a guy who used to be AC/DC’s American booking agent and knew the band intimately. I look into this claim in some depth in the book and draw my own conclusions.

I’m convinced Bon wrote it. In my opinion only Bon would have written a line like “She told me to come but I was already there.” Brian never matched the verve or wit of Bon in his lyrics and it’s why I think so much of AC/DC’s mid-'80s output suffers even when the guitar work of the Youngs was as good as it ever was.

But what’s also really interesting about this song in light of the recent hullabaloo over Taurus and Led Zeppelin is how much the opening guitar riff sounds similar to Head East’s “Never Been Any Reason”. I didn’t know a hell of a lot about Head East before I started working on this book, but came across “Never Been Any Reason” in the process of doing my research and was blown away when I heard it for the first time. AC/DC opened for Head East in Milwaukee in 1977. So the two bands crossed paths.

6. “Rock ’N’ Roll Damnation”
(Powerage, 1978)

It’s hard to get my head around the fact Mick Wall, the British rock writer and author of AC/DC: Hell Ain’t a Bad Place to Be, called this “a two-bit piece of head-bopping guff.” Not sure what track he was listening to when he wrote that -- maybe he was having a bad day -- but for me it’s one of the last of AC/DC’s classic boogie tracks and probably the best.

Mark Evans loves it almost as much as he loves “Highway to Hell". It has everything you want in an AC/DC song plus shakers, tambourines and handclaps, a real Motown touch that George Young and Harry Vanda brought to bear on the recording. They did something similar with the John Paul Young hit “Love Is in the Air”. Percussion was an underlying feature of many early AC/DC songs. This one really grooves. I never get tired of hearing it.

“Rock ’n’ Roll Damnation” was AC/DC’s first hit in the UK charts and a lot of the credit has to go to Michael Klenfner, best known as the fat guy with the moustache who stops Jake and Elwood backstage in the final reel of The Blues Brothers and offers them a recording contract. He was senior vice-president at Atlantic at the time, and insisted the band go back and record a radio-worthy single after they delivered the first cut of Powerage to New York.

Michael was a real champion of AC/DC behind the scenes at Atlantic, and never got the recognition he was due while he was still alive (he passed away in 2009). He ended up having a falling out with Atlantic president Jerry Greenberg over the choice of producer for Highway to Hell and got fired. But it was Klenfner who arguably did more for the band than anyone else while they were at Atlantic. His story deserves to be known by the fans.

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