The new theatrical arrival of Power Rangers elevates the popular 1990’s property to a prominent global stage with a state-of-the-art ostentatious onscreen spectacle. However, the franchise – launched in 1993 as Mighty Morphin Power Rangers – did not have a smooth conception, beginning life as a 1986 television pilot called Bio-Man. That pilot, now lost, has become a geeky holy grail, allegedly seen only by a select few. Now, Levy looks back on the initial attempt.
In an interview with The Hollywood Reporter, Shuki Levi, who co-created the Power Rangers with Haim Saban, provides some interesting anecdotes on the franchise’s rough genesis. The concept came about after Saban, impressed by the already-long-running Japanese “Ranger” shows, was inspired by some toys to translate their Rising Sun success in North America. Thus, in 1986, the Israeli-born duo of Saban and Levy conjured up some capital to produce and direct the rough pilot Bio-Man, utilizing the franchise’s eventual signature formula mixing old Japanese footage with plot-contextualizing American scenes. As Levy attests:
“I had never directed anything in my life when it comes to movies or TV, but we took a small crew and we had a lot of fun with it. We shot a pilot that never aired, the very original one. Haim [Saban] was shopping for years and years and years until we made a deal with Fox. Obviously, by the time we made the deal with Fox, the whole cast was too old to play Power Rangers, so we recast.”
By the time Mighty Morphin launched in 1993, it had been seven years since the unaired Bio-Man pilot was produced and things were inevitably altered. The original plot (per a 1986 LA Times article,) depicted Bio-Man (presumably a proto Zordon,) endowing five teens of identical “bio-rhythms” with the power to defend Earth from an evil half-human, half-robot thug named Zadar. The team had five Rangers (Red, Green, Yellow, Blue and Pink), led by Red Ranger Victor Lee, played by Mark Dacascos, known today as the host of Iron Chef and from recent television runs on Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and Hawaii Five-0. He was also an early-1990’s martial arts movie staple, seen in films like 1993’s Only the Strong and fighting alongside Scott Wolf in 1994’s video game-adapted Double Dragon. On Dacascos, Levy comments, “I just saw him not long ago, it was fun seeing him again after all this time. Super nice guy.”
Yet, the pilot remains a mythical MacGuffin for archive-obsessed Power Rangers super-fans and details about it, even from those who claim to have seen it, are sketchy. However, Levy does go into one detail recalling the makeshift special effects he had conjure. While the production values of the successful 1993 Mighty Morphin iteration were notorious, they were apparently impressive compared to the Ed Wood-like improvisation Levy implemented on the 1986 pilot. As he explains:
“From the very, very original pilot, when I was already in the editing room, there was the scene of space ships, space vehicles that are flying for an attack and attacking the five rangers that are in the desert somewhere and they fly right over head, and I had the actors react to what’s happening above them, but when I was in the editing room something bothered me, because I didn’t see the shadow of the vehicle that flies by on the shot of the kids. At the time with technology it wasn’t anything close to what we had today. You had to make up things so I simply took a yellow pad that was on the desk there and I took a page and I folded it into a plane kind of a shape, like a jet and we stuck it on a black and white camera that was there and we filmed it and then adjusted the color to make it very light shadowy light and we made it fly over their heads and we made the shot look more real.”
Of course, despite an inauspicious beginning, the Power Rangers franchise did ultimately manage to catch fire in North America and the rest of the world, now running for nearly a quarter of a century and achieving an iconic status as a 1990’s pop-culture bulwark. With the Power Rangers reboot film tracking well as its opening weekend kicks off, its status as an institution will not likely change anytime soon.
Power Rangers can be seen summoning Zords at theaters right now.