I'm thinking of starting a retro video game magazine.
by Joseph Walter
Before anime was a staple in the West, imported shows underwent major changes in order to "localize" or "Westernize" the product to supposedly make it more appealing to American audiences.
Shows like Voltron and Robotech would go through major edits and storyline changes, for example.
Anime made its first major splash in the early 90s with hits like Sailor Moon and Dragon Ball Z, and those shows also went through some serious changes, but on a lesser scale than Robotech's stitching together multiple, separate series into one, giant epic.
DBZ and Sailor Moon faced edits for sexuality or violence, but perhaps their most memorable changes came in the form of the total replacement of their original musical scores. Why the producers felt that music, of all things, needed to be changed is certainly baffling, but change them they did.
Sailor Moon's brand new score actually turned out to be superior (at least in my opinion) to its original Japanese, and I hunger for a full soundtrack release.
DBZ's musical changes, on the other hand, were met with far more controversy and are still heated topics of debate between fans even today, so I wanted to put all the major players out there and discuss the strengths and weaknesses regarding each version of the score.
While I won't be declaring a "winner," per se, I'm hoping that, at the very least, each score will get some kind of appreciation by the time we're done. Anyway, let's get started by first clicking the "Read More" break and then discussing our main players!
*Note: All analyses are based on my viewing of the series with all versions of the soundtrack, and listening to the available albums.
By Tom McWatters
The holidays (more specifically, Christmas) are a special time of year for a lot of people. Gift giving, beautiful lights, and delicious cookies are just a few reasons as to why, in case you actually needed convincing. One of my favorite aspects of Christmas, though, are the movies. They fill you with a comforting, warm feeling that helps give you a little beacon of optimism for the New Year ahead. The unofficial slogan, if you will, is “Peace on Earth and Good Will to Man.” That does not apply to Joe Pesci and Daniel Stern in the Home Alone movies, though. They receive neither peace nor good will from little Kevin McCallister. One of my favorite Christmas movies has to be the sequel to Home Alone, Home Alone 2: Lost in New York.
To me, it doesn’t get the recognition it truly deserves, so here are some reasons to prove why it just might top the first one.
1. The Film Uses The Same (but Different) Formula Perfectly
In order for a sequel to work it has to be a continuation of the original story while simultaneously be its own original new story Like with most sequels, HA2 plays it pretty close to the first one (same director, composer, and writer), while at the same time it’s in a new setting. Kevin is in a new situation and there are new ancillary characters with the main characters still in the movie.
2. The Stakes Are higher
The first movie is a Christmas classic. It had heart, Stooges-like humor, and an original plot, with 8 year old left home alone and force to grow up by fending for himself. In HA2, he’s not at home anymore. No locks, no house phone, no neighbors; he’s on the streets of NYC by himself. He made it through the whole movie without getting abducted, raped, OR murdered. Critically, though, the crooks were simply seeking lucrative robberies; now they're out for Kevin's blood.
3. It Was Shot In The City During Christmas
There are few places on Earth as beautiful and damn near magical than Manhattan at Christmas time. I strongly advise people that if you’re in the north east and are able, to make a day trip out of it and visit. Some of the best Christmas movies have used this setting to their advantage like Elf and Miracle on 34th St. (1947). HA2 dedicated an entire montage to this fact, complete with a heartbreaking shot of the Twin Towers.
4. The Soundtrack
Love it or hate it, Christmas music can have a profound and lasting effect on us all. The Home Alone films have utilized Christmas music perfectly, but I always loved the music in HA2. It has the perfect mix of classic and more traditional songs like "Jingle Bell Rock" and the Johnny Mathis version of "It’s Beginning to Look a lot Like Christmas," along with refreshingly new and catchy Christmas songs by Darlene Love and Tom Petty, not to mention yet another incredible John Williams score.
5. Tim Curry
Enough said. He’s in this film and if you’re a Tim Curry fan you’ll probably stop reading this list now and browse the other content on Joe’s fantastic blog.
6. The slapstick Was More Brutal
Harder hits make for harder laughs. HA2 took the traps from the first movie and made them much more painful. You could view this as Kevin punishing the Wet Bandits for not learning their lesson the first time. This, in turn, made it so much funnier. Daniel Stern getting electrocuted is still one of the funniest things I’ve seen in a John Hughes movie.
7. The Pigeon Lady
I will admit that one of the sequel's detriments is its lack of heart compared to the first. Home Alone had the heart-wrenching subplot of "Old Man Marley." In HA2, we just have Susan Boyle as a homeless lady. This character felt kinda forced and there was seemingly nothing there, but if you rewatch it and see her as Susan Boyle, it gives her a lot more character. She was staying in the attic of a concert hall. Coincidence? You be the judge.
8. Kevin Fakes A Hotel Shooting
In order to get away from the authorities after committing credit card fraud at The Plaza Hotel, Kevin uses a scene from the gangster movie he was watching to fool the concierge into thinking there’s a maniac with an automatic weapon in the room who isn’t taking hostages. Watching this scene today and imagining him trying to pull a stunt like this in current day New York is stunning. Not only would he become a felon on the no-fly list, but he'd be lucky to get out of the situation alive.
9. Textbook Definition of Good Karma
Not since It’s a Wonderful Life has there been a more clear and beautiful example of good karma. When Kevin visits "Duncan's Toy Chest," he unknowingly meets the owner, E.F. Duncan, who rings him up. After telling Kevin he donates a large portion of what he makes to a children’s hospital, the boy not only gives him $20, but eventually ends up saving every last donation from the Wet Bandits.
In return, Mr. Duncan gives him and his family a literal truck load of gifts.
10. It's Just Might Be The Greatest
When it comes sequels, HA2 is pretty good but, as far as sequels to a Christmas movie, it might be the best Christmas sequel ever made. It’s definitely a somewhat niche genre of film, but can anyone name a better one? The only one that can come close is Die Hard 2 but that’s debatable as to whether or not it’s actually a Christmas movie, and I’m not getting into that.
One of the few downsides of Christmas movies is that you really only watch them at a certain time of year or else you look like a crazy person. Halloween also has its own genre of movies, but slasher and horror films can be watched year round, even if they're more fun to watch on Halloween.
There's something positive about the limited viewing window, though: watching a movie only once a year helps keep you from watching it too much, preserving its intangible holiday appeal. You can have a whole year go by so that, when you watch it again, it still feels fresh and remains something to look forward to. I know I’m probably in the minority, but Home Alone 2 is one of my favorite Christmas movies, so after reading my list, why not watch it again and maybe you’ll see why it means so much to me.
Tom McWatters is an avid enthusiast of motion pictures, good music, and stand up comedy. He wrote for his college newspaper "The Tower" at Kean University, where he graduated with a BA in Communication. Tom enjoys writing as a hobby and if he can make someone laugh or introduce a new perspective, that's enough for him.
By Joseph Walter
I've seen Justice League twice now, and have enjoyed it twice. I recommend it to both hardcore and casual DC fans, as there is plenty of love. Ezra Miller's Flash is an absolute joy to behold, despite all the whining from fanboys about "ruining the character" (a completely non-sensical complaint) and Ray Fisher's absolutely stellar portrayal of Cyborg steals the show, bringing life and subtlety to the character with daring and complex performance choices.
I have problems though, and these problems ruin a lot of the fun I had in each screening. They're inescapable. They're frustrating. And worst of all, they create an atmosphere of "what could have been," which sadly hampers what is.
The Promise of the Score
I used to be an enormous fan of Hans Zimmer. I loved (and continue to love) much of his work, but after a certain point, he started to rub me the wrong way, although I couldn't put a finger on as to why. Surfing the 'net as a youth, I found others who felt the same, and were able to articulate better than I: Zimmer and his band of shadow-writers (or slaves he steals credit from) typically create regurgitated, faux-masculine themes and scores that appeal to the lowest common denominator, without the depth and satisfaction that comes with something like the Star Wars saga from John Williams.
Then there is Zimmer's tremendous ego, where he'll create obnoxious music, or feature odd solos and claim how daring and experimental he is, like the face-palm-supreme that came with his "truly evil" two-note motif for the Joker in The Dark Knight. Wow, so crazy.
But credit should be given where credit is due. Zimmer and Junkie XL's work on Batman v. Superman, while featuring plenty of dumb moments, also had some excellent additions that fit supremely well with the tone Zack Snyder started with Man of Steel, and continued into the sequel. I enjoyed it, but I can't say I was disappointed that Danny Elfman would be summoned for Justice League.
In fact, I nearly needed a diaper upon hearing he'd be using the original 1989 Batman theme, along with the John Williams' Superman theme.
My exciting started budding, and then reached a crescendo when Elfman released his "Hero's Theme" score sample on Youtube. I don't think I hooted and hollered as much as I did when I heard that for ages.
Not only was the ultimate Batman theme prominently featured, it appeared that it was going to be morphed into a main motif, and used as the emotional weight to Batman's quest of uniting the League. It was stellar.
Then the film came out and most of the score was poorly mixed and featured far too many ideas that lacked cohesion. The Hero's Theme wasn't even in the finished product in the form we heard.
Sure, there were a ton of winners, like Elfman's renditions of the Flash's theme, Wonder Woman's Zimmer-fueled motif, and yes, the cherished Superman and Batman themes. Hell, even the actual motif for the Justice League, which most prominently appears during the logos of the film was stunning. It only makes me question further why the score as a whole didn't pan out?
Danny promised to set up loads of motifs for future composers to expand or toss away, something that was desperately needed in the superhero genre (mainly Marvel, whose best and most cohesive score, Captain America, has generally been overlooked.)
Instead, we get something that's far from cohesive, features few gems, and a sickening failure of achieving the potential that was so clearly present. Though, to be fair, I'd likely blame the interference of WB and whatever crazy editing had to happen to this Frankensteined film (which we'll be getting to shortly.)
The Weak Villain
Oh boy, where to start with this? Steppenwolf was just an incredibly boring villain. He's a tall, powerful, English-sounding man with scary armor and an axe who has an army and wants to take over the world. What a unique concept. Not only was he just boring and one-dimensional, his CG was also hideous, for whatever reason.
The best course of action would have been to have a more traditional Superman villain, such as the long-awaited Brainiac, which would then force the team to have to resurrect Superman to do battle with him since they'd be truly outmatched. Save Darkseid, Apokalips and so on for Justice League 3 (since 2 looks like it's going to have an Earth-based, Luthor-led team of troublemakers, which I can get behind.)
The Russian Family
It's not secret that Zack Snyder needed to leave the director's chair due to personal tragedy, and Joss Whedon, of many nerdy fames, stepped in. Whedon reportedly rewrote 15-20% of the script, and reshoot much of what already existed, along with making extensive cuts.
One of Whedon's additions was the plight of a Russian family who is caught up in the final battle of the film, a completely unnecessary addition that does nothing but rob valuable screen time for character developing regarding the main cast of people you actually care about in a film that likely had an enormous amount of time cut out of it.
I couldn't find a way to care about them. I'm always down for saving people in superhero movies, but this really felt like a forced attempt to create some kind of emotional response... and it didn't work.
The Opening Scene
Dear God. This opening scene. Apparently another Whedon addition, we have Batman stalking a man in order to draw out a parademon. In theory, this is fine. In execution, it's a bafflingly awful sequence that stands out like a sore thumb.
Who is this man that Batman is hunting? Is he a criminal? He's just a guy taking out his garbage. Although he does have a gun and shoots at Batman, he's taken down in a cringe-y, overly complicated and elaborate manner, only to be hung over the side of a building to draw the parademon out.
After the demon comes out and self-destructs, Batman and this random dude straight up have a casual conversation about alien invasions. It's awful. The writing is awful. The acting is awful. The entire scene is just horrible. Even on the technical side, the set looks crummy, the effects aren't great, the choreography is rubbish and the lighting looks like a TV show. And again, after the insane Batman warehouse beat-down in BvS, why is this fight so awful!?
Where BvS would just thrust viewers into a complicated world (to great success), JL wants to treat us like babies.
The Loss of Identity
These last two points hurt the most. Because of Zack Snyder's departure, along with the cold critical reception to the bleak tones of the previous DCEU movies, WB clearly wanted a piece of the Marvel pie by taking on their carefree, comedies-with-fighting attitude.
Gone is the cohesive world where consequences matter. Gone is the brilliant interpretation of a battle-hardened, veteran, utterly obsessed Batman on the edge. Gone is the under-the-surface core of social commentary and relevance.
While much of the levity in the film feels genuine, thanks to the Flash, there's also a lot that feels absolutely forced. Low-brow jokes, weird butt shots, and Batman delivering truly cringe-worthy, out-of-character lines that, while still funny for the most part, are the absolute antithesis of the man we've come to know. And that sucks.
BvS and MoS have their critics, and many criticisms have their merits, but the grim tone of those films, and the focus consequences shaping a living world defined the DCEU, and showed that it stood on its own two legs, unafraid and uncaring of what goofy adventures Marvel was peddling. Now, the DCEU is on a trajectory to simply be a rip-off MCU. No one wins.
The Diluted Final Product
The worst of all. Again, the previous DCEU films have been majorly criticized. Some complaints are absolutely valid, others just seem like a bandwagon attack because it's cool to hate DC movies but love Marvel. Regardless of this, there was a coherent vision from Snyder, and all of the movies fit this mold.
He is a master of comic book storytelling. His version of Watchmen miraculously does incredible justice to the dense graphic novel while managing to be an excellent film in its own right. It's exceptionally comic-book-y in its execution and stark contrast to its peers, even now.
Snyder was the right choice to helm the main DCEU films. And while I didn't agree with all his decisions, and certainly am not a fan of all of his work, I have to commend him on his story-telling style.
The DCEU felt like a live-action comic book, one that was made for hardcore fans by hardcore fans. It didn't care if you couldn't use your brains to figure out what was going on rather than being spoon-fed. It didn't care if it depressed you. It was a singular entity that told the story of men versus gods, and how that affected the utterly alive world in which those conflicts took place.
When Whedon came in and cut Zack's scenes while shooting new ones, something was lost. And it shows throughout the final product.
While many folks are likely pleased by the changes that were made, it crushes me as an artist to know that we'll like never get to see what Snyder intended for the world he shaped. JL was likely always going to be more accessible due to mandates from WB, but Snyder's patented story-telling, earned humor, intensely beautiful action sequences and general eye for the style of a graphic novel was sorely missed.
Especially the story-telling.
Would the final product be better if he were given full control? If I had to guess for me personally, I'd say yes. Would it be critically lambasted? Probably. But would it be a cohesive, defiant piece of superhero cinema that has a flavor all its own, regardless of irrational hatred? Absolutely.
By Joseph Walter
My main introduction to StarCraft, the legendarily fantastic 1998 PC RTS game, was through its 2000 Nintendo 64 port, which is shockingly well-put together and more awesome than you'd imagine.
I soon purchased the Battle Chest for my Mac, which included the original PC game and its expansion set, Brood War. The main attraction was that, unlike StarCraft 64, where the multiplayer was local, I could now take my space wars online through the Battle.net service.
While I have many fond memories of the excellent "Use Map Settings" custom matches that players created (my favorite being the epic "Heaven's Last Defense," which tasked players to assume the roles of angelic or demonic generals and forces while either defending or assaulting God's throne in a final, apocalyptic struggle) I soon found out that my concept of StarCraft's basic multiplayer was far from the norm.
Instead of building up your forces and having prolonged wars, the main strategy seemed to be "rushing," in which players would birth out as much cannon fodder as possible and then suicidally attack their enemy with the hopes they hadn't done the same.
That wasn't my cup of tea.
I preferred the slow build up, the wild arms race, the depleting minerals, and drawn out tactical conflicts. This led me to create my preferred "house rules" for all StarCraft 64 matches.
So, how do you play?
The main idea is that you're forced to live peacefully for a set time limit, typically 20-30 minutes. And in that time, you build your forces, expand your bases, lay defenses, construct buildings and so on and so forth. This is meant to be done as stealthily as possible. You're in a cold war, essentially, trying to interpret what your opponent will be building during this time. What machines, soldiers, aircraft and defenses will they have prepared during this peaceful interim?
When the time is up, regardless of production or things still being constructed, both players send their armies out to do battle in the center of the map in a brutal display of open war.
Once this war is over, it's time to pick up the pieces and play normally from there on in.
Smart players will have forces and structures being built, or at least in the queue to be built so that the necessary defenses and reinforcements will be ready to send out after the initial blood bath.
By this time, most minerals and Vespene gas geysers will have been severely drained or flat-out depleted, giving players limited resources to pick up the pieces, forcing them to have thought ahead before first blood.
With all participants thoroughly drained, and with all militaries critically dwindled, players need to use whatever they have left as cleverly as possible to finish off their adversaries and claim victory.
And that, my friends, are the house rules for StarCraft 64. All in all, you're in for a tactically-charged experience, where foresight is key and strategy is critical.
Now that the original StarCraft has been thrust back into the limelight with the awesome remastered edition, perhaps you can give "Heaven's Last Defense" a whirl or, if you're feeling dangerous, my house rules!
What about you? Did you have any special game types you invented and want to share? Let us know!
By Joseph Walter
The last main entry in the Ace Combat series was the divisive Assault Horizon, a flawed-but-fun game that aimed to reinvigorate a series on the verge of stagnation. For the most part, it succeeded.
It opted for a less melodramatic storyline, a more diverse, less stereotypical cast of characters, different aircraft and, most controversially, retooled gameplay leaning even further towards to arcade-y destruction than its predecessors.
While plenty of folks liked it, a solid portion of existing fans did not. Of course, we all know how fanbases tend to be, and the Ace Combat gang thinks the games are so realistic that they could literally be fighter pilots after playing one. But that's besides the point.
However, after quite some time, it appears Ace Combat 7 is just beyond the horizon. While there's a decent amount of information known about it, particularly that it will feature dynamic clouds and VR support, I also wanted to put my two cents in as to what I feel it should draw its inspiration from the most.
The Physics of "Ace Combat Zero"
This is a tough one to describe, but I'll do the best I can. Every single Ace game has had varying "feels" when piloting the aircraft. Assault Horizon is near the top of the list, with each plane (and chopper) feeling as though it had significant mass. However, you were able to pull off physically impossible maneuvers on a whim that, while extremely fun and cool, kind of took you out of the experience.
Zero manages to have an excellent feeling of weight and power while never veering off into hair-trigger acrobatics. This is a must for the feel of Ace 7.
The low-end of the spectrum would be the overly-silky Ace Combat 6 feeling. It was as if your plane was nothing more than a lubed-up cursor that was able to twist and turn without any real sense of weight, power or speed.
The Story-telling of "Zero" and "ASSAULT Horizon"
Ace Combat's plots tend to be overly praised by the hardest-core fanboys, but they typically boil down into anime cliches and embarrassing melodrama, with a lot of "war is bad" and "ace pilots are legendary gods."
Assault Horizon, while not telling a mind-blowing story, managed to eschew the more bizarre quirks and instead opted for a convincingly realistic, contained and grounded tale. The element that I'd most want to carry-over, however, would be the outstanding cinematics. Excellent shots, framing and mo-cap work made each cutscene a reward unto itself.
Similarly, the unusual documentary story-telling of Ace Combat Zero, while still loaded with bizarre elements like the deification of pilots, was a very clean break from the tired anime tropes of Ace Combat 5. Moreso, the radio chatter was used to great effect with pushing the story forward.
The Mission Structure of "Ace Combat 6"
I often cite Ace Combat 6 as the utmost limits of the "traditional" Ace Combat experience, with the main draw being the unique "Operations" system that many of its campaign missions contain.
Unlike a mission in Ace Combat 5, which is are often a standard "go here and destroy this" thing, Fires of Liberation would have differing objectives within, sometimes up to six simultaneously.
For example, during the "Liberation of Gracemeria," the player has the option to capture the airfield, aid in the naval battle, retake the skies, cover a hostage rescue operation, aid in liberating the capital palace and so on.
Every time you play through the mission, you can approach it from a different way, adding a great deal of replayability to the game, along with immersion as you hear the radio chatter about the progress of the operations, your assistance or lack thereof.
The Progression of "Zero"
On the subject of replay value, Zero managed to have two cool systems that were also sadly unique to itself.
One was the "Ace Style." Depending on your actions, you would be labeled as a "Soldier," "Knight" or "Mercenary" and the money you received, planes you could unlock, enemies you would face, the overall difficulty and how other characters and pilots would treat you were all affected by this reputation. This encouraged multiple playthroughs, while also catering exactly to the play style you wanted.
If you wanted to be a heartless, money-hungry mercenary, do it. Shoot down neutral targets or escaping aircraft. Revel in hearing enemy pilots fearful of your presence: "Mercenary bastard! He's going after our retreating forces!" Or don't. It's all up to the player and their style.
Similarly to Ace 6, certain missions had different paths you could take, such as choosing to do the air-to-ground portion, or sticking with the air-to-air section. Taking the pre-mission choice, and then adding in operations for the chosen route would do wonders for keeping the experience fresh.
A Re-Tooled DFM/ASM from "Assault Horizon," Along with Allied Assault from "Ace Combat 6"
Love it or hate it, Assault Horizon delivered the "Close-Range Assault" system, consisting of "Dog Fight Mode" and "Air Strike Mode."
What this means is that when you would approach an enemy aircraft, if you got close enough you could engage this mode and the camera would zoom in, and you could shred your enemy with your powerful cannons and faster missile reloads, leading to a satisfying kill. Conversely, for certain airstrike missions, you'd engage ASM and lay waste to the ground with a cinematic strike, wiping out your enemies with cannon fire and bombs.
The issue here was that DFM and ASM were occasionally game-breaking in the campaign, and quite powerful (it was much easier to counter in multiplayer, which is where its value truly shined.)
A great way to incorporate it into Ace 7 would be to have it as a temporary power boost that could only be used by filling up a meter. That way it couldn't be abused, and it would be extra satisfying to unleash a limited chain of savage destruction and bleeding metal.
The Arcade Mode from "Ace Combat 5"
Arcade Mode in Ace Combat 5 offered an excellent diversion from the story-driven campaign. Like the name suggests, it was a straight-forward, time-based arcade mode with plenty of stages and challenges to overcome.
Like so many other features on this list, it's only appeared in a single entry, which is a shame because it's a great change of pace, especially if you want to get right into some breakneck action without worrying about how anime characters feel about war/the symbolism of doves.
The Online Multiplayer of "Assault Horizon," the Local Multiplayer of "Zero" and "Ace Combat 4"
Assault Horizon had the most-fleshed out online experience of the series. It had a refined take on classic modes such as Team Deathmatch and Domination, a full, re-tooled Co-Op Campaign, and most importantly, Capital Conquest.
Capital Conquest was akin to a classic Star Wars: Battlefront match. In it, opposing teams would launch from their bases with the aim of destroying the opposing base. Along the way, they would capture points that could be used to respawn, inching ever closer to the base, which needed to have its defenses obliterated before it could start being damaged.
The coolest element of this mode was that each an every aircraft had a role. Helicopters were perfect for covert assaults against hostile respawn points, A-10s laid waste to enemy defenses, F-22s covered the choppers and warthogs, and, if need be, B-2 Spirits could turn the tide in a blistering carpet-bombing swath of destruction.
Horizon also featured an interesting class-esque system, where your planes could be modified for better armor, more armament, etc. Callsigns and paint schemes were awarded for different tasks, as well. All in all, it was a blast, but it sadly failed to deliver a fun local experience.
That's where AC04 and Zero come in: Both feature a variety of co-op and competitive modes with a multitude of scenarios, whether it's teaming up to defeat Yellow Squadron, or racing through caves.
It'd be great to see both of these multiplayer experiences come together again, although I have a feeling local play will be slashed once again due to hardware limits and graphical fidelity.
With Assault Horizon, the Ace Combat franchise crossed the musical threshold of finally having nearly every piece of music be fully orchestral. Despite this, it still managed to have the Ace Combat feel, by incorporating the wailing guitars of AC04 into the unique compositions.
The problem with going orchestral is that any step backwards will look embarrassing. However, if they opt for a electronic score, this won't be an issue.
But as I said, if they go back to the synthetic orchestra of 6, it'll be a cringeworthy moment, especially when considering how fantastic and organic the musical realm was with AH.
Assault Records were a neat bonus in a few entries. Upon reaching certain conditions (such as tracking down and eliminating a certain named ace in a particular mission) you would unlock a short bio of the pilot and their aircraft.
It gave a name, face and history to the countless crafts you face-off against, and it added further replay incentive to track them all down.
This is an excellent way to flesh out the game's world, while also giving players one more thing to do after they've conquered other portions of the game.
One of the coolest elements of the series are the post-mission replays. These show off the entirety of your performance from various cinematic angles (all able to be manipulated) and it's thrilling to watch your actions play out like a high-octane action movie.
Unfortunately, replays were only a shell of their former selves in Assault Horizon, so here's to hoping that Ace 7 restores this awesome function to its fully glory, especially considering the Share-happy culture that we currently live in.
By Joseph Walter
Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers is incredibly iconic, and has certainly earned its place among the cultural pioneers of the 90s and beyond, but few of its elements are as ingrained in the collective cultural lexicon as the lyrics of the theme song: "Go Go Power Rangers."
That simple phrase sparked a collection of some truly awesome theme songs for a generation of Power Rangers fans (along with an abjectly awful few) and now, as I watch through many of the seasons I overlooked as a youngster, I wanted to discuss which ones from the almost-25 year-old franchise I believe take the ultimate cake in terms of theme songs to accompany people transforming into multi-colored superheroes who then pilot gigantic, combining robots.
Power Rangers in Space was set to be the series finale after flagging viewership due to the head-scratcher that was Power Rangers Turbo. With impending cancellation, this season ties together many loose ends (although creates quite a few more) and features great bits of fan service, leading to an extremely satisfying conclusion to the overarching plot of what fans call "the Zordon era."
The theme song reflects the dire situations of the show (both in a meta-sense and in fiction) with a high-intensity feeling. It also has a pretty obvious sense of cheese, from the (awesome) opening countdown, to the goofy "in Spaceeee!" announcer.
It's undeniably catchy and its chorus is an absolute ear worm (especially the "Go! Go! Go! Fly!") but it's hard to be upset when considering the sick solo at :33 or the ultra-meta "long live the Power Rangers" lyric that occurs in the full version of the song.
The theme song that echoed throughout the 90s and beyond, its cultural impact is long-lasting and undeniable. Easily the least complex theme on the list, what it doesn't deliver in depth, it does in raw coolness.
What sets this song apart almost immediately is its legitimately hard-rock edge, with a rough riff and face-melting shredding to start. For a kid, this was mind-destroying. Immediately after this we get the famous "Go Go Power Rangers," and it's hard not to appreciate the straightforward approach to these lyrics. The strangest part is that they don't seem cheesy unless you really take a step back and think about it. If you're just listening the song or hearing it during the show, no chorus could be more fitting for the martial arts action on screen.
This song is legitimately one of the legendary, archetypical pieces of Saturday morning intros that will always have its place among the Pop Culture Kingdom. And while it's not the top of this list, its importance will never be forgotten.
My only real issue is that, while it made an awesome orchestral appearance in the new film, it wasn't the basis for the score as a whole.
I lost interest in Power Rangers midway through Turbo, maybe even slightly earlier. I had a mild interest in watching Power Rangers in Space (I was heavy into space at the time) but even then, I didn't tune in.
Instead, I continued to enjoy the episodes of the original seasons and Zeo I had on tape for years to come and only casually watched the end credits to Lightspeed Rescue after coming home from school. I even remember an advertisement for the final episodes of Lost Galaxy, which intrigued me, but it was still not enough to draw me in.
Fast forward to Jetix on ABC Family, where I caught an ear-whiff of Ninja Storm's impressive intro, which compelled me to tune into a couple of episodes. Jetix started airing older seasons of the show, including MMPR so I started watching those and then, by the time Dinothunder was announced, I was officially on a journey through the back catalog of the franchise I grew up with.
Now that that little aside is done, let's get back to the alluring theme of Ninja Storm: it's awesome.
It's the first song on this list to actually be structured more like a genuine piece of music rather than an intro theme, featuring a reserved opening (with fairly clever lyrics and progression) that sets the stage to tell the story of the series, and then when we reach :45, it actually returns to the chorus at full-power (and not just the taste the first run-around brought us.)
Then there's that inclusion of the infectious guitar that goes with the lyrics... ugh. It's so... cool. And I'll never get over that one shot of the Battlized Red Ranger doing that quick Ninja-pose with the explosion behind him (borderline sacred editing, editor.)
It's catchy, it has a fully-fleshed out progression, and it gets the job done (while also giving a nod to the original theme with its inclusion of gratuitous "go's," which I've always enjoyed in this franchise's musical continuity, however threadbare.)
In my watch through, I'm currently on Lost Galaxy, and I'm genuinely impressed. It took the comparably light-sci-fi elements of In Space and really turned the dial up, giving us a legitimate Power Rangers meets Star Trek. And it works, if you can believe it.
Lost Galaxy also has a unique distinction among its peers throughout the series: it has an excellent incidental score for each episode. While Lightspeed Rescue's is also present (and thoroughly enjoyable) something just works better in Lost Galaxy's implementation of the concepts. That's possibly due, in part, to how unbelievably wonderful the theme song is.
Adapted into a wide array of leitmotifs for the score, Lost Galaxy's theme is a full song with an exceptional hook and a magnificent motif, which is specifically what greets us immediately upon the start of the intro.
The lyrics aren't overtly cheesy, and they do a great job of telling the story through concepts rather than explicitly. Its ascending verses give a strong sense of adventure and discovery, which is fitting to the premise of the season, and I'd be remiss if I didn't talk about the "ah" version of the main motif at :32, which leads into the battle cry of a refrain, "turn on the power!" With one, final referential "go!" the theme wraps up with the fantastic, awe-inducing motif.
And that's the thing: that motif stirs actual awe. We, as viewers (listeners, in this case) should be in awe of this ancient power, the discoveries in the Lost Galaxy, the Lights of Orion, the power of the Megazords and so on. It works majestically in this theme song but, again, it's even more powerful within the show itself, like during this sequence with the "Magna Defender."
I'd also like to take a moment to discuss the genius inclusion and use of chimes throughout the instrumentation. They offer perfect punctuation to the "awe" factor, and infuse a shocking amount of gravitas to the overall feeling of the theme. In short: God, those chimes are awesome.
Side note: If you liked Power Rangers as a kid, and have wanted to try a few more seasons as an adult, I recommend Lost Galaxy as a starting place. It's a clean break in continuity from "the Zordon Era," and offers some nicely fleshed out sci-fi, great characterizations and the most morally gray individual to ever grace a season of Power Rangers, the aforementioned Magna Defender (seriously, that arc made me cry. And he's got an exceptional theme motif.)
So it all comes down to this. What makes Power Rangers Zeo the best of the best in terms of opening theme songs for the franchise?
To start, it's probably the most cognitively intriguing.
Zeo was the first in the series to make a major break from the three seasons of Mighty Morphin'. Noticeably different powers, suits and villains are just the tip of the iceberg. These changes were necessitated by the need to use yet another season of Super Sentai footage, and instead of continuing to use the suits from MMPR, they decided to take the plunge and go with the new ones, which corresponded to the footage.
The composers likely knew that these changes could potentially alienate young fans of the show, so they took the original theme song, used it as a musical core, and built a new theme around it. That approach covered all their bases: New show in the same vein as the original gets a new song that reminds the listeners what the latest season was built upon. Genius.
As for the song, its start is a goose-bumps inducing chorus of "Zeo," and then it hits us with a savage riff of "Go Go Power Rangers" to immediately seal the deal for those who were skeptical.
The lyrics also do a fantastic job of conveying the meta-concept and in-show concept: despite the new looks and powers, they're "stronger than before" but still "rangers at the core," just like how the Zeo Crystal amplified their Ranger powers to the utmost limits.
The rising notes of the verses and high-energy guitar build excitement, while the slight references of "go go Power Rangers" go a long way to continue peaking the excitement. Finally, when it feels like the energy can't be revved up any further, they climax with easily the best version the MMPR theme ever committed to sound. Yes, it's even cooler than the orchestral one.
It's this nostalgic-but-refined bridge that takes an already sweet theme and, forgive the reference, "turns it to eleven."
While I wholeheartedly believe the themes I've chosen for the "Top Five," and their order, are genuinely the best of the best, I struggled with the list.
Dinothunder has a memorable theme with cheesy-but-attractive lyrics that'll bore themselves deep into your skull. Despite its impressive "dark" tone for the opening moments and verses of the song, the refrain is nicely upbeat. This is a perfect theme for the tone of Dinothunder as a whole, which made use of very weird footage from its Japanese counterpart, Abaranger, while also having some exceptionally troubling and serious plot lines, along with a terrifying villain made specifically for Western audiences.
SPD is another great piece by Ron Wasserman, the man who graced us with the original theme. The show itself is one of the best seasons the franchise has to offer, and the theme is nicely done, if not a little repetitious, a'la Power Rangers in Space.
Lightspeed Rescue is very much in the style of Lost Galaxy (likely thanks to shared composer, Jeremy Sweet [as far as I can tell]) and it follows that song's structure to a tee (along with incidental motifs in the show itself) with an excellent, awe-inducing theme to start things off (complete with more of those holy chimes... keep an ear out for their expert implementation later on) followed by verses that vaguely deal with concepts reflecting the show's subject matter before hitting a repetitious chorus, with one more rendition of the excellent motif at :28 (with a cool "Power's on its way..." lyrical sequence) and concluding with a comparative whimper. Essentially, while I still think it might belong somewhere on this list (maybe where In Space is now) it's mostly a less-successful version of the Lost Galaxy theme, but barely so.
So what do you think? Did I miss anything? Should Mystic Force's theme be the top of the list (if not the entire list?) Let me know below!
And May the Power Protect You ;-)
By Joseph "MVP" Walter
It's that time of the year again! Who's ready to celebrate the BIG GAME!
That's right, folks: The most beloved United States tradition has returned! YES, I'm talking about the one and only HYPER PLATE!
After the two teams have squabbled over the ol' rubber for hundreds of days, they must face-off in the ultimate face-off for the coveted HYPER PLATE!
How many HYPER PLATES have we had so far, you ask? Well, historians aren't exactly sure, but many believe that the HYPER PLATE originated during the colonial period (stellar, not continental) and has happened for at least one hundred years. Because of the many blanks spots in the hallowed history of the Plate, we've arbitrarily chosen "50" as this year's number, to satiate fans of composite numbers with seemingly high value.
Now, on to the rules (for the few non-fans of the HYPER PLATE):
The game begins, and both teams tussle for the rubber, hoping to make it left or right. When one team makes it all the way left or right, they are rewarded with a few tally marks. After some time, the team with the most tally marks is declared victor and owner of the HYPER PLATE. Wow, crazy, huh?
A lot of injuries can happen in the wanton pursuit of the rubber though. Keep our boys in your prayers, so that they won't feel the sting of the groin-pull or the ouchie of the hang-nail screamer.
Look, I want to be clear: The HYPER PLATE is a big deal, and it's the most important thing in the world to me. I just want to spread the word. I'm not trying to disrespect these modern gods and goddesses by revealing their very human weaknesses. I mean no disrespect at all. I just want others to understand how tough it is to go for the Plate with rubber in hand.
Now that the basics are out of the way, I want to mention some ways to gear up, root on the lads, and celebrate the HYPER PLATE in all its glory!
1) Cook up some grub!
A healthy family can't be expected to continue the season-long fast while viewing the powerful presentation of the HYPER PLATE competition!
2) Wear the garb!
There's no better way to let the troupers on both teams know how and where you stand than by wearing the traditional clothing associated with them. In fact, they get most of their pre-Plate energy from looking deep into the recording cameras and seeing that you're wearing the symbols of their strife!
3) Cheer during the game!
While the garb is one thing, explosive cheering at levels beyond the legal auditory limit is absolutely NECESSARY! How else will our costumed participants hear and then gain auxiliary energy points? We gotta keep those levels up, so SCREAAAMMM!!!!
4) HAVE FUN!
Most importantly, enjoy the spectacle of the slippery rubbers transference between the marching troupers in the rumpus for the left and right!
I'll see (and hear) all of you tonight during the BIG GAME! Good luck to the cadre of troupers you've chosen to affiliate yourself, and remember...
RUBBER HIGH, RUBBER LOW, OFF TO THE LEFT, WE GO! GO! GO!
The MASTER OF THE CASTLE
Joseph Walter is a 2013 graduate of Drexel University, with a degree in Film & Video and a minor in Film Studies.