Haim Saban doesn’t do anything in a small way.
Even as he readies “Power Rangers” for its introduction to a young generation by re-introducing the characters in a new origin-story movie, he’s got a roadmap for their cinematic future.
“We already have a six-movie story arc,” Saban says.
What goes around comes around, and that’s particularly true when you’re introducing a new generation to a classic team of superheroes. Characters that one generation has outgrown look fresh and exciting to a new audience. And there’s always a new audience.
But today’s viewers are more sophisticated than the kids who tuned in to “The Mighty Morphin Power Rangers,” the TV series that began airing in 1993. Saban created the long-running series by mixing newly produced footage with action sequences from a Japanese TV series, whose special effects were laughably campy.
“But today’s young audience is much more sophisticated,” Saban says. “Think about movies like ‘Jungle Book’ and ‘Arrival.’ The effects are mind-boggling. So does the young audience expect more? You bet they do — and they will have it.”
Screenwriter John Gatins agrees: “Making the effects state-of-the-art, that will be a big draw for the super-fans. They understand that there was a funny, kitsch quality about the old TV show. We had big aspirations of making a movie that was visually exciting.”
Besides, as Saban points out, the “Power Rangers” were as much about the characters as they were about the action.
“The effects are only part of the movie,” he says. “We also are developing likable characters. They don’t take themselves too seriously, in terms of how they relate. I wanted the movie to say that losers or weirdos, by coming together, can realize the importance of the responsibility on their shoulders.”
The trans-generational current is strong. When Saban created the original TV series — it’s been running, in various incarnations for almost 25 years — Dean Israelite was a South African pre-teen fan of the show.
Now the 32-year-old is the director of the $120 million “reimagining” of the classic superhero franchise — and with that job come the expectations of childhood fans of the series around the globe.
“People who are 27-to-33, who grew up on the show, have a real fondness for it,” Israelite says. “They have a nostalgic feeling for it and, if they’re parents, they want to share that with their kids.”
The 2017 “Power Rangers” digs into the origin story of Saban’s popular “teens with attitude,” recasting it as a coming-of-age tale. A group of high-school outsiders in the town of Angel Grove is chosen to save the Earth from a cosmic witch, Rita Repulsa (Elizabeth Banks). In the process, they discover their inner powers, which are catalyzed by selflessly teaming with the other members of the group — causing them all to “morph” into the color-coded Power Rangers.
The primary audience would seem to be pre-teens and adolescents. But never underestimate the power of nostalgia for childhood heroes, from Superman and Batman to Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Power Rangers.
“There’s been a lot of response on social media from people in their late 20s, since we announced the film,” Gatins says. “This is a part of their nostalgia. And, hopefully, today’s kids, who haven’t seen the Power Rangers before, will look at the ads and go, ‘Wow, that looks really cool.’”
Saban, who made his fortune writing music for and then producing children’s live and animated TV shows, sold his company and its various properties (including the “Power Rangers”) to Disney in 2001, only to buy them back in 2010.
“I monitored from a distance what they were doing,” Saban says. “I think Disney never really got its arms around the value of the franchise.”
For this attempt to create a new generation of “Power Ranger” fans, Saban tapped Israelite, whose only previous directing credit was “Project Almanac” (2015). The adjustment to making a film with a nine-figure budget was “massive,” Israelite says.
“My first film was a $12 million studio film,” Israelite says. “When a studio makes a film for that little money, you work under the radar. The scale is small. I thought this would be the same, except with more people on a bigger scale. But there were so many variable elements I had to have a clear hold on, so I was always making the right decision, based on the advice of people who’ve been doing this for 30 years. I had to be fluent and it was a big learning curve.”
Now the question is whether the audience will embrace this new generation of “Power Rangers.” Saban is confident they will. “If this film is as successful as I hope on March 24, on March 25 we’ll have the first story meeting for Movie No. 2.”