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The Spin Sheet

DVD review by Jeff Kleist of The Digital Bits


Captain Power: The Complete Series (DVD)

Buy this Blu-ray now at Amazon!


Captain Power: The Complete Series
1987-1988 (2011) - Mattel/Goddard Productions (Music Video Dist.)
Released on DVD on December 6th, 2011

Dolby Digital

Program Rating: B
Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): B-/B-/A


The 80s were an interesting time in children's television. The relaxation of regulations allowed toy companies to essentially air infomercials for their products in the form of TV shows like Thundercats, G.I. Joe, Transformers, and of course, Captain Power. Picked up for production by Mattel as a vehicle for their interactive TV technology, Power wasn't just a commercial. It was a program that revolutionized television production, Petri-dishing the 90s syndication boom.


Jonathan Power and his intrepid team use power armor fight the machine BioDread Empire, who are slowly killing or digitally storing the entire human race for an unknown purpose. Can Captain Power and his team keep the BioDreads at bay long enough to get the surviving population to the mythical Eden Prime sanctuary?

Captain Power is what it is - a 25 year old, low budget show that was shot on film and put together on 1" analog video tape. While steps were taken to minimize image quality loss during production (up to and including syncing 10 video decks together for the different FX layers of laser blasts, CG bad guys, models and the like), the show is a very much a product of its time. But after resetting my overly high expectations to reasonable levels, I'm pleased to say that Captain Power has weathered a quarter century pretty well. Though not up to the standard of more modern series, the video and audio quality on these DVDs is pretty good. The big gimmick with Captain Power was the ability to "shoot" at the TV when the bad guys were on screen with a special toy and the TV would "shoot" back at you. A word of warning to those lovingly stroking their PowerJets in anticipation: The feature will not work with these DVDs on modern flatscreens due to their different refresh rates. (Note that it WILL work on old analog SD TVs.) Maybe a few million copies of the DVD set sell, we can get a Star Trek: The Next Generation-style Blu-ray restoration with a smartphone app that will restore the feature. Hey, a boy can dream right?

Elaborate special editions of cult programming have fallen a bit by the wayside with the contraction of the DVD market and the U.S. economy, so the release of Captain Power is a great surprise that's made me very happy. In an era when beautiful poster art has been replaced with generic Photoshop montages, Goddard Productions has retained the beautiful Drew Struzan promotional art for the series on the DVD box, which is much appreciated for his fans. The big deal on this set is Out of the Ashes, a 90-minute documentary that traces the series from conception to cancellation. Every single participant seems to have had the time of their lives making the show and all have great stories to tell. There's also a second piece that focuses on the scripted but unproduced second season of the show. With the entire season written and in the can, if there was EVER a feature that cried out for DVD-ROM it'd be this one. Sadly, the scripts aren't included on this set. Maybe they can be collected in eBook form in the future. Meanwhile, six episodes in this set get audio commentary and there's also a photo gallery to wrap up the package.

In the end, Captain Power is a children's show that, like so many other entertainments in the 80s, asked kids to take a step up and adults to take a step down. Is it Shakespeare? Hell no. But the show managed to tell solid sci-fi stories in a format accessible to all ages. And Captain Power's contributions go far beyond the actual stories they told. The techniques and strategies that made the show happen on its tiny budget helped give birth to the 90s syndication blocks that aired in most major markets on Saturday afternoons. What's more, in Out of the Ashes, J. Michael Stracynski credits Captain Power with giving him the tools to prove to Warner Bros. that Babylon 5 could be produced affordably. The participants in Captain Power have gone on to be very successful, with roles in such films as Armageddon and Gladiator and major television series in the U.S. and Canada too. Gary Goddard went on to design major interactive theme park rides like Spider-Man, and the show's VFX staff graduated to running major departments at ILM.

If you're on the fence about Captain Power on DVD, or have only vague memories of the show from your childhood, rest assured that this is one of those shows you can still watch and enjoy as an adult. Your kids might even enjoy it with you.

Jeff Kleist
jeffkleist@thedigitalbits.com



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