Judge Steve Power is no Captain; he never made it past Private.
By 1987, the animation boom of the '80s was starting to wind down, and even powerhouses like G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero and Transformers were beginning to buckle alongside the fading sales in the action-figure aisles of America. Mattel, they who gave us He-Man and Barbie, scrambled desperately to fill the void left by the sudden dive-bombing of the Masters of the Universe line, and found their salvation in filmmaker/producer Gary Goddard. Captain Power and the Soldiers of the Future was to be a fresh approach, a live-action science-fiction opus penned by real writers, conceived by creative minds, not toy company executives, and featuring then cutting edge special effects and top drawer production values. Mattel gave Goddard and his team unprecedented freedom, and a six figure per-episode budget, and Goddard in turn created a 22-episode sci-fi adventure series that could appeal to a broader audience, and pioneered the "syndication" model for original programming.
Facts of the Case
"Earth, 2147. The legacy of the Metal Wars, where man fought machines,
and machines won.
It's pretty evident right from the get-go, that Captain Power was a different beast in the wasteland of '80s toy tie-ins. In truth, Gary Goddard (probably most well known for directing the Dolph Lundgren led Masters of the Universe film) approached Mattel with a complete concept, and the toys were an afterthought. Mattel, spying a means to get new toys onto shelves, and a Trojan horse for new technology that allowed kids to interact with their televisions, gave Goddard and his writing team creative license to go crazy. Fortunately, Goddard and his team didn't really care about futuristic jets that fired at the screen, or debuting new toys each week, they were more concerned with building a mythology, telling some good stories, and fleshing out their characters. Even more fortunately, the series' lead writer was none other than J. Michael Straczynski, alongside his Babylon 5 cohort Lawrence DiTillio.
This was all around an ambitious production, with sets that looked as though they were pulled right out of the nuclear blasted future of James Cameron's The Terminator, fast paced action sequences, and highly detailed costumes for the good guys, the bad guys, and everyone in between, but it was the writing that was the show's secret weapon. Anyone familiar with Straczynski knows that he's a character writer, first and foremost, and given the 20-odd minute runtime of each episode, he manages to do a fantastic job of fleshing out these characters. Each of the major players have that third dimension that pushes this series into a realm more akin to Babylon 5 and the sci-fi shows of the early to mid '90s rather than the half hour trumped up toy adverts of the '80s. Plots deal with genetic weapons, man-machine integration, genocide, weapon-ized viruses, war, survival, just plain human drama. Characters die, characters change, and while, yes, there is certainly an emphasis on gadgetry and technology from time to time, and a ton of the prerequisite action stuff, the show ultimately lives on its writing. It not only lives, it thrives.
If there was any doubt as to the degree of devotion on behalf of the creators, it is washed away by the bonus features included in this set. There are several commentary tracks split among choice episodes in the series, featuring Tim "Captain Power" Dunigan (The A-Team), Jessica "Pilot Chase" Steen (Armageddon), Gary Goddard, and several of the writers, including Straczynski. Each of the tracks is an incredibly entertaining listen, with an eagerness and love of the show that is easily discernible. The feature length documentary, Out of the Ashes: The Making of Captain Power, repeats some of the info, but it's an exhaustive, all-encompassing look at the series from the first creative impulses to the series' cancellation on the eve of production on season two, and the legacy left behind. There are a ton of participants, including most of the cast, and all of the creative leads, and accompanied by a ton of vintage behind the scenes material, you get as detailed a look at the production as you could possibly get without being there. Also included is a photo gallery, and a featurette that explores what would have happened, had season two of Captain Power gotten off the ground, and it would have been something slick. This is a great slate of extras for fans, and gives you a great glimpse at what was a surprisingly huge production.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
As good as the writing was for the time, Captain Power does fall into many of the same pitfalls as its peers. While there's certainly a degree of earnestness to the performances, not everyone in the cast bites into the material with the same dedication, and many of the series extras definitely fall short of the mark. The scripts have their clunky moments, and the actors trip up in the material on a semi-regular basis, so yeah, you might say that there are occasions of embarrassment as you spool through the series.
There's also the issue of being the first live action production to utilize CG characters; Blastaar and Soaron, the cybernetic "Bio-Dread" enforcers of Lord Dread's army, were entirely CG, and really very simple in their execution. Think flat, mirror-textured, low polygon models like something out of a Playstation game from the mid-90s. Given the infancy of the tech, it works surprisingly well for what it is, but there are moments where the CG definitely pulls you out of the show. The effects were cutting edge for the era, but there's a lot of bad green screening as well, and the laserblasts and lighting effects used for the "interactive" elements of the show have a "pasted in" look that breaks the immersion as well. It's a quirk to be sure, but you get used to it pretty quickly.
Technically speaking, this is about as good as one could expect this show to look, but the image isn't entirely consistent. Captain Power was shot on film, and transferred to video, and it was from original broadcast video masters that this set was crafted. There's definitely been some reconstructive effort, colors look bright and vibrant for the most part, but the image can get pretty soft at times, and noise reduction causes a bit of blurring here and there. The audio treatment however is pretty solid all around, with a nice punchy stereo mix that sounds clear and well mixed most of the time.
Finally, unfortunately, your old Powerjet XT-7 will not work with a HDTV. Don't even bother trying.
For those of us who remember Captain Power fondly, this set is a must own. Above and beyond that, this remarkable little show still works quite well without banking on the nostalgia of reminiscent fans, and those familiar with the crop of syndicated sci-fi that filled cable channels in the early '90s will very likely take to this one just as well. The complete package is a labor of love from the people most responsible for the series, and from top to bottom they have managed to put together one hell of a release that will not only please the diehard fan-base, but blows away the DVD presentation of many of its more prestigious peers.
Lord Dread will pay for every second of agony he's caused. Not guilty.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: MVD Visual
• Original Telefilm
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