Rated “R” for Rangers : The Controversy and Success of the “Power/Rangers” Fan Film

By: Shane Wednesday April 8, 2015 comments

You’ve probably at least heard mutterings about the recent Power Rangers fan film, the controversial unsanctioned reboot starring James van der Beek and Katee Sackhoff. 

If you haven’t heard about it, let us fill you in as briefly as possible: the film is violent.  Very violent.  Explosions, drugs, guns, and copious amounts of blood abound, making it not only NSFW, but not safe for children either.

Titled “Power/Rangers,” this short film is a major departure from the original tone of the series.  Produced by Adi Shankar (of “Dredd” and “A Walk Among the Tombstones”), it speculates about the type of people the Power Rangers of the original series were likely to become after a lifetime of violence and power.  It’s not pretty.

"Who would have thought that weaponizing youth and training them to kill could have turned out so ugly for so many of them," Van Der Beek says in the film, highlighting this major theme.

The real story isn’t the violence and grittiness of the re-imagined universe – we see that as a continuation of a trend toward darker, more realistic heroes that started back in the 1970s and which has returned full force with such movies as the Dark Knight trilogy.

The story of interest to us is the surprising backlash of Saban, the company behind the brightly-colored, catch-phrasey original Mighty Morphin Power Rangers.  Shortly after the film debuted online, Saban issued takedown notices on Vimeo and YouTube, citing copyright infringement.  The film was pulled within days.

Although the film has now returned to Vimeo and YouTube, there are added disclaimers and warnings.  On YouTube, viewers must be at least 18 to watch the video at all. 

As “Power/Rangers” director Joseph Khan told Deadline, “They put these disclaimers on so kids don’t confuse our super-violent film with their Power Rangers brand.  There are no hard feelings.  We signed contracts.  We can play it anywhere we want on all platforms.  I think they realized that people just want to see it.”

This makes sense – the film really is violent enough that user age restrictions are just good judgment.  And it’s logical that Saban would want to keep their beloved characters well and truly separated from the fan-imagined future of “Power/Rangers.”

But it does raise some interesting questions about the grey area that fan films naturally fall into.  The success of “Power/Rangers” makes it a good example.  At over 13 million hits on YouTube, the short film is high profile, with high production values and a well-known cast.  It’s not the low-budget, grainy fan fiction of the past – it’s a work of art.

You probably won’t be surprised to hear that we at Secret Compass are huge advocates of the fandom in most cases.  We know how important fan engagement and participation is, and we love how the internet has given fans new power, reach, and influence.

But where is the line?  At what point do fan films become “too good” or “too successful” to ignore?  We’re not sure where to come down on this.  The controversy of the takedown makes it clear that, for some, we’ve already crossed it.

The best case scenario is obvious: this awesome, gritty reboot becomes a fully sanctioned, full-length motion picture of epic proportions, so we the fans can have our cake and eat it too.  (Sadly, Adi Shankar has straight up told the world that this isn’t in the cards.)

We can only hope that the planned 2016 movie from Lionsgate will be just as awesome.

 

What did you think of “Power/Rangers?”  Did you enjoy seeing beloved characters portrayed as dangerous, violent, and disturbed?  Where do you think the line is between fan art and copyright infringement?  Let us know in the comments!

Shane

About the Author: Shane