Koch Vision Entertainment
Cast: Jerry Orbach, Doug Preis, Laura Dean, Hubert Kelly
Extras: Commentary Tracks, Pilot Demo, Interview, Music Video, Music Tracks, Slideshow, Trailer
"In 2086, two peaceful aliens journeyed to Earth, seeking our help. In return, they gave us the plans for our first hyperdrive, allowing mankind to open the doors to the stars…." So begins the prologue on each episode of "Adventures of the Galaxy Rangers," explaining how a team of special agents was assembled to bring law and order to Earth and its allies across space. Known as the Galaxy Rangers, this team consists of four individuals with computerized brain implants that enhance their unique gifts: Zachery Foxx, a partially bionic man whose implant provides him with temporary superstrength; Shane "Goose" Gooseman, a genetically engineered Supertrooper who can change shape and become virtually invincible for short periods of time; Niko, an archaeologist with psychic powers; and Doc Hartford, a computer wiz who can communicate with computer systems. Together, they travel through space and to distant planets to bring peace and justice, although their primary interest in stopping the reign of the evil Queen of the Crown who is holding Zachery's wife prisoner.
If one thing can be said for "Adventures of the Galaxy Rangers," it's that the series is undeniably a product of its time. In the early 1980s, creator Robert Mandell worked on the Japanese animated version of the 1960s hit "Thunderbirds," which his father had been a part of, and this was one of the primary catalysts for the development of "Galaxy Rangers." As toy companies began using animated television series to promote their lines of products, from "He-Man" to "Care Bears," there was a surge of popularity in animated children's programming throughout the decade. With his new interest in futuristic stories, Mandell conceived "Galaxy Rangers" as a space Western, taking cues from numerous influences, including "Star Wars," "Star Trek," Clint Eastwood Westerns, and even "The Seven Samurai," itself inspired by American Westerns. These diverse inspirations opened the door for a wide array of imaginative characters and storylines.
In keeping with the Western roots, Mandell modeled the Galaxy Rangers after the Texas Rangers, complete with gold star badges, cowboy hats, and robotic horses. The character of Goose was modeled after Clint Eastwood's Western protagonist in both appearance and personality, and he is appropriately the most mysterious of the heroes. The science-fiction aspects are mixed in wonderfully as the Rangers travel to various planets, each with their own unique landscape and race of aliens. At times, the mixture becomes a little too reminiscent of "Star Wars," most noticeably in an early episode in which a saloon scene bares an unquestionable (and likely intentional) similarity to George Lucas' famous canteen scene. Part of the series' charm, however, are its visual allusions to past films and TV shows. In addition to Goose's Eastwood persona, there is also Buzzwang, a robot aid who certainly owes a debt to C-3PO, the Rangers' spaceship computer that was clearly based on HAL 9000 from Stanley Kubrick's "2001: A Space Odyssey," and the Queen of the Crown who looks like a sexed-up, dominatrix version of the Queen from Disney's "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs."
Unlike so many of the popular children's series of the 1980s, "Adventures of Galaxy Rangers" was given much more depth both in its storylines and characters. Some of the episodes address surprisingly sophisticated subject matter, as in the episode "One Million Emotions," which takes a psychological approach to death unusual for kiddie fare. The fate of Zachary's wife remains a constant thread hanging over the heroes' heads and provides an overriding structure for the episodic plots. With this level of sophistication, not to mention the amount of violence and use of guns, "Galaxy Rangers" would probably not be targeted toward as young an audience today as it originally was. Older children will be able to appreciate the complexities of the story and characters, but younger viewers may find it confusing and sometimes scary.
Of course, more than two decades since its premiere, the show is dated in several aspects. Although frequently beautiful, the animation is stilted, much like 1980s anime (the series was, in fact, animated in Japan). Movement is jerky, and the characters lack expressive range. Humor plays a large role, though it is often clunky. Doc Hartford is, it must be said, the show's token black character, and he functions largely as comic relief with his characteristic wisecracks. By far, however, the most dated element is the music. Younger viewers may chuckle at the action scenes as 80s rock songs blast away on the soundtrack. While these aspects may keep the show from drawing in newer viewers, fans will appreciate the nostalgic quality. As someone who had never heard of "Galaxy Rangers" until now, I was drawn in completely by the retro feel and sound. Yes, it's cheesy. But this is the kind of entertainment I remember seeing as a kid in the late 1980s, and members of that generation will no doubt smile in fond — and perhaps slightly embarrassed — remembrance.
After releasing a handful of episodes on DVD in 2005, Koch Vision now brings the first 32 episodes of the show to DVD in chronological order and completely uncut in this four-disc set. Here is the episode breakdown:
Disc 1: "Phoenix," "New Frontier," "Tortuna," "Chained," "Smuggler's Gauntlet," "Mistwalker"
Disc 2: "Wildfire," "Ghost Station," "One Million Emotions," "Traash," "Mindnet," "Tune-Up," "Space Sorcerer," "Progress," "Queen's Lair"
Disc 3: "The Ax," "Shaky," "Space Moby," "Scarecrow," "The Power Within," "Games," "Showtime," "Psychocrypt," "Renegade Rangers"
Disc 4: "Edge of Darkness," "The Magnificent Kiwi," "Armada," "Birds of a Feather," "Stargate," "Buzzwang's Folly," "Heart of Tarkon," "Murder on the Andorian Express"
While no clear restoration has been performed on these episodes, they generally look good. The prints are clean, save for a few negligible specks. Image quality is not extremely sharp, but it is adequate. Strangely, the color is the least consistent aspect. Some episodes are filled with lush, vibrant colors while others appear slightly muted and washed out. It must be said that the show looks its age, but in spite of some technical flaws, the presentation should be good enough to satisfy longtime fans.
Audio fares about the same, presented in a Dolby Digital 2.0 track. The sound is fairly flat and not very dynamic, but it gets the job done. Dialogue is always clear. What suffers the most is the rock music score, which lacks the rush and power that a stronger presentation could give it. There are no subtitle options.
Koch Vision has provided some very nice supplemental features for this set, beginning with audio commentary from series creator Robert Mandell, story editor Christopher Rowley, and voice actor Henry Mandell on select episodes: "New Frontier" on Disc 1, "One Million Emotions" on Disc 2, and "Scarecrow" and "Psychocrypt" on Disc 3. The three have an easygoing rapport as they reminisce about the series and offer some background information on the production and their influences.
The rest of the bonus features are contained on Disc 1. The first is a "never-before-seen" pilot/demo reel, which lasts 13 minutes and is basically a condensed (and slightly more coherent) version of the first episode with some alternate animated footage. This has not been as well preserved as the official episodes and will be of interest mostly as a curiosity item.
Following this is a 14-minute video interview with Robert Mandell. He opens up about his career and some of the things he worked on before "Galaxy Rangers" and elaborates on some of the things he mentioned in the commentaries. Fans of the series should certainly enjoy the insight Mandell provides in this feature.
Next is an animated music video for the series theme song, "No Guts, No Glory." I'm not sure if this existed already or was created for the DVD release, but it consists primarily of clips from the series framed by footage of the four main characters singing. It looks quite aged, so I'm assuming this is probably an old video.
I may be alone here, but I was absolutely loving the next feature, a collection of original music tracks. The songs "No Guts, No Glory," "Fight to the Finish," "Psycho-Crystal," and "Somewhere a Heart" are included in their entirety in a sort of jukebox-like format. All are classic 80s rock and much better than I ever would have expected of a children's animated series. I actually listened to these tunes as I wrote this review!
The next feature is a slideshow recreation of a vintage "talking storybook" (oh, how I used to love those) version of the episode entitled "Tortuna." All of the audio from the original cassette tape is included, complete with the chime that indicates when it's time to turn the page. In place of the illustrations from the original book, screenshots from the episode are displayed on each slide. Finally, a trailer for the DVD release is included.
In addition to all of this, a 32-page booklet insert is included in the package, providing a guide to all of the show's major characters. With biographical information for the heroes, allies, and villains, this is especially helpful for viewers who, like me, are new to the series and may have trouble sorting out the complex story arc.
As a piece of 1980s animation nostalgia, "Adventures of the Galaxy Rangers" still has the ability to entertain, and Koch Vision has ensured that viewers can finally appreciate the show's complexity in its entirety. Despite its cheerfully dated quality, the series can still be recognized for its sophistication and fanciful blending of science fiction and Western genres. Although it may not find much of an audience today outside of its cult legacy, it is good enough to stand on its own and enthrall its longtime fans.