It’s amazing that twenty-year-old marketing still works. I’m twenty-six, and I want an interlocker. My name is David, and I have just become a fan of Captain Power And The Soldiers Of The Future.
Gary Goddard – head of Landmark Entertainment at the time – had a strong rapport with Mattel during the mid-80’s after directing Masters Of The Universe. Realizing that soldiers were “in” as far as toy/cartoon properties went, as was evident by the success of He-Man (“old world” fantasy) and GI Joe (modern day warfare), he thought that using the same sort of formula in a futuristic setting might be the next big thing. Captain Power – a name everyone was astonished to learn was NOT copyrighted – was conceived as a live-action show where humans fought CGI villains, which was revolutionary in 1987 since children’s programming had primarily become cartoons in recent years and CGI was a brand-new thing. Mattel instantly fell in love with the concept, and called Goddard and his crew back a few days later to make the show even more ahead of its time by making the show interactive with a line of toys that would allow viewers to shoot “invisible lasers” at villains during certain sequences in each episode and rack up points (check out the commercial above to see what I’m talking about). He-Man was on the decline and the toy company’s profits were down, this was the perfect property to couple their new technology with to restore their market share.
Between the toys and the actual content of the series, I can say – without hesitation – that Captain Power is the most ambitious (read: risky) children’s show of all-time that really wasn’t a children’s show. The plot, which followed the Captain (Tim Dunigan) and his squad in a Terminator-esque landscape as he fought Lord Dread (David Hemblen), a half-man, half robot who wanted to place the consciousness of the human race in robot bodies to achieve his definition of perfection (this is after he eradicated most of mankind during the Metal Wars), wasn’t exactly uplifting. The show did teach lessons about teamwork, the importance of family, the preservation of life and so on (these same themes would show up in Goddard’s 90’s cartoon, Skeleton Warriors), but it was extremely dark, depressing, and violent, with the added bonus of having references to Nazism and quite a bit of sexual innuendo. In the episode entitled Wardogs, Hawk (Peter MacNeill) revisits a relationship with an old acquaintance after he’s mistakenly shot down by a renegade faction, and is practically shown taking her to bed – which, for what was supposedly a kid’s show, is pretty insane. And even odder than that is the fact that they kill a main character off at the end of the first season.
In true James Bond/Indiana Jones fashion, each episode starts with a big action set piece, complete with CGI globs that you can shoot with your Interlocker, XT-7, or Phantom Striker, and got to the “story” afterwards, all of which were expertly crafted by comic and cartoon story editors/writers, including J. Michael Straczynski (Thor, The Amazing Spider-Man comic, Babylon 5), Larry DiTillio (Babylon 5, Beast Wars, He-Man), and Michael Reeves (Gargoyles, Batman: The Animated Series). Hell, even Marv Wolfman, creator of Blade, wrote an episode. The deep and intricate storylines, which never attempted to dumb its ideas down for younger viewers, had higher viewership and better reviews than other sci-fi fare like Star Trek: The Next Generation, which copied Lord Dread’s design, ideology, and relationship with OverMind in their second season when they introduced the Borg. On the technical side, it features a tremendous amount of early CGI work and some of the earliest instances of actors playing off of entirely CG characters.
Captain Power had good ratings, despite being shuffled around on syndicated broadcast schedules and having that ridiculous name, and initially made Mattel’s stock go up after the toys made their premiere at Toy Fair. Parent-advocacy groups tried to argue that the show promoted violence by using “guns” to interact with the show – which is like saying Duck Hunt made children across the country take up hunting and teach their dogs to taunt them – but that went nowhere and created a greater awareness for Captain Power. Since it was Mattel that was funding the show, it was the declining toy sales that ultimately killed the show at the end of its first season. The finale episode is a bit of a cliffhanger, with Lord Dread not completely carrying out Project New Order, and hints at greater things to come. If only Goddard had gone with TriStar, which had a lot of interest and would’ve put their all into promoting and developing the show since it would be their first, we might’ve seen the eventual Captain Power/Lord Dread team-up.
Like Skeleton Warriors, VSC’s DVD release has a soft, hazy looking video transfer since the masters were put on tape, but the audio is strong and punchy. It comes jam-packed with bonus features (which I’ll get into later), but it doesn’t include the training videos that came with the interactive toys. Luckily, you can find them online, including the one below.
Commentary – Six episodes throughout the set have commentary tracks, including Pariah (the pilot),and Retribution Pt. I and II (series finale). Guests include Goddard, Straczynski, Dunigan, DiTillio, actress Jessica Steen, and writer/developer Mark Scott Zicree. Unlike the Skeleton Warriors‘ tracks, these are insightful and entertaining. Clearly, Goddard favors this project much more (as do I).
The Legacy Begins (94:58) – A feature-length telefilm that was never aired in the US. The movie pulls material from several episodes, starting with the pilot which was the fifth adventure aired, and will give casual viewers the general gist as to what’s going on in the series. I don’t think it plays out as well as a movie as it does episodically, so if you plan on sitting down to watch the entire series, I’d recommend skipping it.
Out Of The Ashes: The Making Of Captain Power And The Soldiers Of The Future (94:47) – This is the best retrospective documentary I’ve seen since Never Sleep Again. It’s a combination of archival behind-the-scenes material, concept art, and interviews with Goddard, Straczynski, DiTillio, Dunigan and Steen, amongst others. The difficulty of writing a complex children’s show and the production is discussed, along with the hazards and benefits of working with Mattel, character arcs, and what would’ve happened if the show had gone on for sixty-five episodes, which was the original plan. Plus, they pull out all the toys. I wonder if they work with the DVD…
Season Two Declassified (8:01) –Straczynski and DiTillio talk about what would’ve happened if the show was renewed for a second season, including new characters such as a double agent robot woman who had a strong Metropolis influence and Captain Power’s mom, and Dread becoming fully robotic and realizing the error of his ways.
Toy Fair Trailer (05:19) – A promotional trailer for the show.