Has it really been ten years since Forever Red?
Yesterday, I came across an old shooting script for the Power Rangers Wild Force episode, and ten year anniversary special for the series, Forever Red. Sure enough, written there on the cover was “Final Draft – 5/24/2002.” My, how time flies!
Did it succeed at weaving hundreds of episodes about Team Ninja Competitions, Lord Zedds, Tengas, Auric the Conquerors, Dimitrias, KO-35s, Galactabeasts, Ms. Fairweathers, Q-Rexes and Animariums into one continuous universe of continuity? Was the rumor true that the episode was the inspiration for the hit movie Fast Five?* Such questions you’ll have to answer for yourself. Perhaps it wasn’t as momentous as paving the way for the election of America’s first black president like Selwyn Ward did, but there is however one thing it does mean…
* Rumor made up.
IT’S OBLIGATORY TEN YEAR RETROSPECTIVE TIME!
Aside from taking this opportunity to educate about the episode it is also a chance to hopefully set the record straight. Sadly, much of the information online about Forever Red and Power Rangers in general is false. The internet with its combination of anonymity and gullibility can make for fertile ground for misinformation that can pollute our understanding of things.
In the absence of credible voices offering a reliable account on a topic, unreliable sources will rise to fill the void. In other words, if you don’t tell your own story someone else will tell it for you.
So the following is a firsthand account by the episode’s writer. This is neither conjecture nor rumor. This is what scholars would call a primary source. Located here are the outlines in their entirety. Hopefully they can shed some insight into the creative process behind writing this episode. Please note that this does not include some ideas that might have been talked about but were never planned in any depth (e.g. a Kimberly cameo at the end).
One rumor I recently came across on Wikipedia was that Forever Red went through “many drafts.” This is not the case.
The script for Forever Red went through basically one draft with just a few dialogue and staging alterations made to it. We were under enormous time constraints to make the episode and had only about a week or two to come up with the episode all while working on various other episodes of Wild Force at the same time. As a result we didn’t even have the time to explore some of the many options you may heard were considered.
But before this episode went to script, there were a handful of outlines that differed by varying degrees. Below for the first time ever seen together are the four versions of Forever Red.
Version 1 – Koichi’s take
The original pitch was by co-producer/main director/action choreographer/only man on Earth who can beat me in martial arts film knowledge: Koichi Sakamoto. Meeting on a weekend with Koichi pitching his take to myself and producer/showrunner/positive role model to all: Jonathan Tzachor, I furiously scribbled the following in a notebook. Here, previously only seen by the three of us, is the original take on Forever Red. Mind you, this is a very rough document and I’m hesitant to even call it an outline. Many of the plot details and the motivation of the villains don’t yet exist with the hope that they would be fleshed out in a proper typed up draft of this outline.
Also, please excuse my handwriting as, if memory serves correctly, I wrote this on my lap. My writing is normally much more legible. (Well, not that much more.)
The broad strokes of this version are “5 metallic warriors” want to shoot a giant laser at Earth to destroy it. Here, they are thought to be villain costumes for the B-Fighter series from Japan (known in the US as Big Bad Beetleborgs) but later ended up being five hero costumes from that series. You might call this weird, but you have to admit, it’s a classic Power Rangers move. The introduction of the various Red Rangers is staggered across the episode with Tommy and Jason arriving very late.
As soon as we went over it out loud we realized there were a number of problems with it. With only a half hour (or 22 minutes when you don’t count commercials) it would be difficult to introduce five new villains and set them up as a major threat; especially, if they get killed within a half hour of being introduced. More importantly, the primary goal of a ten year anniversary reunion episode where we bring back ten Red Rangers was to showcase the ten Red Rangers. Having Jason and Tommy show up so late in the episode would waste the opportunity of bringing back two of the most popular characters only to underutilize them.
Version 2 – Jonathan’s take
With no time to lose, Jonathan pitched a different version. Bear in mind that he came up with this version on the spot. Faced with increasing time constraints, this version actually went to a proper official outline presented below.
Also note that the episode’s title appears for the first time. Probably inspired in part by my listening repeatedly to Wu-Tang Forever – an album where 9 super hero-caliber MCs (10 if you count Cappadonna) unite under an auditory reimagining of an epic martial arts film.
The emphasis here is now shifting more on the various Red Rangers. While writing does involve many logical activities like outlining and planning, ultimately it all comes down to intuition. When crafting a story you have to feel your way through it. If you have trouble feeling anything while looking over your own work, how are others going to feel anything from it? Jonathan knew that for the audience, ultimately the heart of the episode was going to be the cool factor of seeing these characters again interacting with each other in unseen combinations more than the reason why they came together.
However, several problems remained. The villains still didn’t feel like a threat. The plot was essentially 5 robots travel through the galaxy destroying civilizations with a giant laser cannon (more on that later) and set their sights on Earth next. Alpha 5 warns all the Red Rangers to meet at the spot where the 5 robots will land and to defeat them there before he shows up to congratulate them at the end.
Also, the Red Rangers’ interactions with each other felt a little too shallow before they all meet again in the climax, recognize each other as Power Rangers, and then fight the villains together because a mysterious letter told them to.
It still wasn’t working and now we were really hurting for time. We were starting to feel frustrated as we struggled to figure ways to make what we already had work. The answer, it would turn out, was in starting over from scratch.
Version 3 – My take
With little time left and increasing talk of actually pulling the trigger on going to script with Version 2, I figured we needed to rethink our entire approach. The greatest shortcoming facing the episode was the finite run time of only 22 minutes - 2 minutes of which have to be credits, and another 2 minutes were supposedly going to be a montage of old footage at the end. So it was time to trim the fat, get rid of the meet cutes, and force these Rangers to get down to business. And that meant treating the villains like characters and not just sparring dummies.
In the margins below you can see the comments by Koichi (K) and Jonathan (JT). A testament to their keen sense of story and the collaborative process where everyone’s input is valuable.
A hero is only as meaningful as the villain he or she faces, and you better believe the more super a hero is, the more super the villain had better be. So what villain can be big enough to necessitate ten Red Rangers joining forces to defeat them? The answer was a villain that would require more time than we had to set up in 22 minutes without eating up screen time from our heroes. My idea was to bring back one of the well-established villains from the past who was denied a satisfactory comeuppance at the hands of the Rangers, Dark Specter.
The Dark Specter costume, designed by the world famous Chiodo Brothers, was one of the more elaborate Power Rangers villain costumes with many detailed animatronic facial components. In fact, the costume was so good it was reused from the Turbo: A Power Rangers Movie where it was known as a separate villain, the angry volcano god of the mythical island of Muiranthias, known as Maligore.
One of the shortcomings of Dark Specter’s character from Power Rangers in Space is there was never an explanation for why he looked just like a larger Maligore that could speak. By having the villains in Forever Red be a cult of hooded worshippers of Dark Specter, much like the Malachian natives of the Turbo movie worshipped Maligore, I hoped to finally explain this by revealing that Dark Specter and Maligore are members of the same species with Maligore being a relative infant and Dark Specter presumably representing an adult. This would also hint at the horrifying proposition that there may be more of them out there!
The other key change made in this outline was condensing most of the Ranger introductions and putting Tommy in charge of the overall mission, allowing him to handle exposition about the villains and the challenge before them.
This outline finally clicked and is ultimately very similar to the final episode. The most major change from this version was replacing the cult of Dark Specter as villains with some sort of evil robots so we could use the B-Fighter costumes.
Also note that the giant laser cannon idea keeps popping up! I’m not sure if we already had a giant prop that we were waiting to use or what, but from a story perspective it made sense to establish stakes by jeopardizing the Earth no matter where the villains were. (Earth being where the Rangers keep their stuff)
The threat of Dark Specter, the villain’s villain, was my way around this but if we were going to use robots, then maybe there was some giant evil robot from the past we could resurrect instead of a lava god?
Enter Serpenterra, Lord Zedd’s personal Zord from Mighty Morphin Power Rangers. A giant robotic Chekov’s Gun that disappeared around the time of Zeo with never an explanation as to what happened to it.
Losing Dark Specter became a blessing in disguise as it allowed us to combine the villains from two different seasons by making the robotic warriors into Machine Empire loyalists launching a revenge mission against the human race for defeating their monarch, King Mondo, and they were going to do this by using a Zord from MMPR.
Changing Dark Specter to Serpenterra and the Cultists into Machine Empire generals, I was now ready to go to script from this annotated outline above.
Version 4 – The finished episode
And the final version was the version that you saw. It is important not to simply consider one version as superior to any of the others but to look at the creation of the story as a process that had various steps needed to evolve into something stronger over time. Also, you can see it is a very collaborative effort that required the input of more than any one person.
The basic premise of the first six seasons of Power Rangers is an evil alien sets up shop on the Moon and terrorizes the fictitious city of Angel Grove by sending a wacky monster every week, prompting a team of teenagers under the leadership of some celestial wizard type to morph into Power Rangers to destroy the monsters as they show up in the city. To make a quintessential Power Rangers episode that deserved the title of “ten year anniversary special” required making sure this basic DNA was present in the story, twisting it somehow, and elevating the stakes commensurately to require a team up across various Ranger teams.
To make it fresh, the basic premise was flipped by having our heroes be proactive and bringing the battle to the villain’s base on the Moon for a change. Tommy purposefully quotes some of Zordon’s most commonly-used phrases such as “I was hoping this day would never come.” or “May the power protect you.” Who ever thought the new kid in Angel Grove after being subjected to Rita Repulsa’s brainwashing, Goldar’s candle, losing his powers, losing some friends, and fighting in more battles than any teenager this side of Joseph Kony would end up becoming a new kind of Zordon?
And this new Zordon assembled a team of youths with attitudes greater than any ever assembled again… so far. As we approach season 20 of this phenomenon, here’s hoping we see more excellent moments to remember.
Legal Disclaimer: For educational purposes only. ”Forever Red,” “Power Rangers,” “Power Rangers Wild Force,” “Power Rangers In Space,” “Turbo: A Power Rangers Movie,” “Maligore,” “Alpha 5,” “Red Ranger,” “Dark Specter,” and all related concepts, characters, and likenesses are property of Saban Brands. The opinions and views expressed here are those of the author of this blog and should not be considered as representative of Saban Brands. Watch Power Rangers Samurai Saturdays at noon on Nickelodeon.