Time once again for that weekly look at one of the many movies in my home video library, Fishing in the Discount Bin. Yet my latest attempt to do an entire TV series on Fishing in the Discount Bin, and this time out, we're doing a show I loved in my youth, Captain Power and the Soldiers of the Future. This one is dated in my notes at August 12, 2012.
Alright, doing a Fishing in the Discount Bin on a TV series is easier when I just get it because I sit down and binge-watch the whole thing in a week. And I just finished watching a true classic from my childhood, Captain Power and the Soldiers of the Future. I loved this show when I was a kid, and I remember my brother once admitted that the show scared the hell out of him. I once read the statistic that 75% of children in the 1980s believed they would die in the fires of nuclear war, so it was just a matter of time before that became fodder for a kids show!
As the opening narration stated...Earth. 2147. The legacy of the Metal Wars, when man fought machine...and machine won! So it's essentially the future wars from the Terminator movies. Machines now rule the planet, and the machines hunt down the remaining human survivors and "digitize" them...convert them into an electronic signal and store them in the evil AI known as OverMind. The machines are led by the cybernetic Lord Dredd, who believes that merging man and machine is the next step in human evolution. His endgame in digitizing humanity is to eventually transfer their consciousnesses into perfect machine bodies. Pockets of resistance remain to battle Lord Dredd and his armies. The most famous...Captain Power and the Soldiers of the Future! With their power suits, they battle Lord Dredd's forces and seek to free humanity!
Machines and human warriors in power suits...that's right, it's Iron Man vs. the Terminator.
As I tend to do, when I watch a beloved series like this, I tend go to the episode I remember the most vividly, and watch it first. With Captain Power, the episode would be "A Fire in the Dark." Lord Dredd is designing his latest mechanical soldiers, but finds they lack grace...elegance...beauty. He orders his soldiers to search for a human fugitive named Jessica Morgan. We see in a flashback that, in his pre-cyborg days, Jessica was an artist that Lord Dredd was sweet on, but when the machines first rose, Jessica was rendered blind in a machine attack. With Dredd's forces hunting down Jessica, Captain Power and his team find her and take her into protective custody. However, when Dredd broadcasts that he'll start killing hostages unless Jessica turns herself in, she runs away from Captain Power and surrenders herself to Dredd. Dredd soon subjects her to a medical procedure to restore her sight. Captain Power launches a rescue mission, and manages to find her and Dredd. When Jessica comes to, she is thrilled to have her sight restored, but when she runs to the window, she's horrified at the post-apocalyptic wasteland Dredd has turned the world into. The VISOR-like device that restored her sight is powered by signals from Dredd. Dredd offers Jessica a choice: remain with him, and keep her sight, or leave with Captain Power and again be blind. She chooses to go with Captain Power, saying she prefers her memories of the world as it was, rather than to look upon what it is now. The episode ends with Dredd, alone in his fortress, destroying his last remaining picture of Jessica.
Trippy stuff for a kids show, eh?
So, our heroes. Captain Power, the leader of the bunch. His father invented the power suits that they use to fight Lord Dredd, and in one of those twists of fate, Captain Power's father helped develop OverMind along side Lord Dredd. His father was eventually killed by Lord Dredd.
Then there was Maj. Matthew "Hawk" Masterson. His gimmick was that his power suit had a jet pack and he could fly. He was the best friend of Captain Power's father, and kind of became a surrogate father to Power. We learn early on that he's an old soldier, and lost his wife and son in the Metal Wars.
Next up, Lt. Michael "Tank" Ellis, played by Swedish bodybuilder Sven-Ole Thornson, who's actually a good buddy of Arnold Schwarznegger's. His power suit's gimmick was that it was massive and heavily-armored with a BFG. We also learn he's a genetically enhanced super-soldier. And, as foreshadowing to the show's head writer J. Michael Strazinsky's most famous creation, the facility where he was engineered was called Babylon 5.
Sergeant Robert "Scout" Baker. Sadly, this guy got no character development whatsoever. He's the squad's prankster, and that's about it. His armor's gimmick was that it was outfitted with holographic projectors, so he could disguise himself as Dredd's troops and stuff.
And then, we get Corporal Jennifer "Pilot" Chase, played by the great Canadian actress Jessica Steen. She turned out to be the most developed character on the show. We learn that she was born and raised in the "Dredd Youth," the show's equivalent to the Hitler Youth, designed to breed the toughest officer's in Dredd's army. But, she grew disillusioned with it and defected. Several episodes were dedicated to her past catching up with her, and we learn that she didn't just simply see the light and defect...she's trying to atone for her past sins. One episode, "Gemini and Counting," sees Pilot have to don her old Dredd Youth uniform once again to infiltrate a Dredd medical facility. And while in there, she meets a Dredd Youth member who's very much like she was, and she manages to plant the seeds of doubt in her mind and lead her down the path to good. In another one, "Judgement," she wanders into a human settlement, and she's recognized as one of the Dredd officers who razed the village a few years earlier, and so she's put on trial for her crimes. All very dramatic stuff.
And then they killed her off in the final episode. Again, a very good death scene, where she's all alone at our heroes' hidden fortress, the villains have finally discovered it's location, she's all alone at the base, and dies fighting them off. And of course, her dying words are an admission of love for Captain Power.
But man, this show is still pretty good. I really wish they'd do a reboot for it. It wouldn't have to be a dark and gritty reboot because it's already pretty dark and gritty as it is. And it'd be neat to see some of their concepts finally realized. As they say in the bonus features, most of season 2 was already scripted. Series creator Gary Goddard expresses a regret at selling his TV series to a toy company...he says the only reason why the show was canceled was because the toys weren't selling.
Some of their season 2 concepts included Lord Dredd disposing of his cybernetic implants and gaining a purely mechanical body. As it was a 1980s TV series geared for selling toys, they already had a new token female character ready to join the team...Christine "Ranger" O'Connor. And there would have been a search for Eden II. Let me use the example of another franchise of man vs. machine, The Matrix. Eden II would be Zion.
And as the series was filmed in Toronto, it was fun watching all kinds of Canadian actors pop up. Oscar nominee Graham Greene....Cigarette Smoking Man William B. Davis...and future JAG star David James Elliot!
And the bonus features on the DVD finally answered an unresolved question for me. I remember being a kid, seeing the Captain Power toys in the store, and seeing a figure by the name of Colonel "Stingray" Johnson. His gimmick was his armor had a whole deep-sea diving thing to it. And on the DVD, there's a series trailer that actually has Stingray in it! And in the behind the scenes documentary, series creator Gary Goddard says, "Yeah, Stingray. He was cut right before we started production, because we couldn't afford a water tank."
And that's how the world was deprived of Stingray.
Final assessment: still a great show.