29 June 2017

FWS Military Sci-Fi Oddities: SPACE RANGERS (CBS 1993)


Back in the early 1990's, science fiction exploded on the American airwaves like a supernova propelled by programs like The X-Files, ST: TNG, and Deep Space 9; along with increased public interest in anime. As with any trend, the major American networks attempted to cash in on the popularity and get onboard with the winning team. CBS always seemed like an "Me too!"American network of late, and they did the same with the sci-fi trend with their own early 1990's entry: Space Rangers. This military sci-fi oddity came and went in the space of a few episode and was largely unknown by many, including me at the time. It was only after running across a list of very short-lived TV shows on WatchMojo on YouTube that I learned of Space Rangers. I originally was only going to mention this one on a Top 10 list, but after some of the responses and enjoy I had writing the FWS article on The Osiris Chronicles, I decided it was high time to give Space Rangers an full Military Sc-Fi Oddities article and take its forgotten, but oddball, place in Military Sci-Fi history here on FWS.    

What the Hell was Space Rangers?!
This very short-lived 1993 military SF/Space western television show ran for four episodes on CBS out of six that were produced with the filming of the pilot "Fort Hope" taking place in April of 1992 and the show airing in January of 1993. It was developed and created by Pem Densham (the pilot was co-created with Jay Roach) for the production company Trilogy Entertainment Group. This relationship between the two had forged films like Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves and Backdraft. Pem actually pitched Space Rangers among three other pilots at one meeting with Trilogy Entertainment. Space Rangers was the show funded to pilot. Production on the pilot was briefly halted due to the Rodney King Riots in LA. The majority of the cast were unknown, however, three of the show's stars where known prior to their enlistment in the Space Ranger Corps. Linda Hunt is well known today for her starring role on the CBS show of NCIS: Los Angeles, but many of us know her due to her role in the 1984 DUNE  film as the "Shadout Mapes". The role of the proud alien warrior was played by Japanese actor Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa, who many knew from the film Rising Sun in the role of Eddie. The pilot of the Space Ranger sling FTL vessel was Marjorie Monaghan, who played a Mars Resistance leader in Babylon 5 last season and was up for the role of T'Pol in ST: Enterprise. 
The creator of the show, Pem Densham was taking a more realistic, rock-n-roll approach to sci-fi television over the vision of Star Trek. He said that he wanted his show to be an adventure-centered show with things happening than just talk and meetings. Several actors would call Space Rangers more "blue collar" than TrekSpace Rangers would draw from a familiar concept in sci-fi: the blending of historical frontier law enforcement officers with "Wild West" sci-fi angle. These "space rangers" have endured since the early days of science fiction and the overall concept of "space rangers" has been recycled time after time. The term "space rangers" is as bedrock, generic,  and overused as "space marines", laser blasters, faster-than-light travel, and killer robots. Growing up in the 1980's, I would see the space rangers concept used in the Adventures of the Galaxy Rangers, Saber Rider and the Star Sheriffs, and Bravestarr. It was seen in a 1988 comic book by the same name and relativity concepts and there is even a current kid cartoon running under the name Space Ranger Roger along with the short-lived 1954 kid's Black-&-White kid's show called Rocky Jones, Space Ranger. This means that this 1993 show was well rooted in traditional sci-fi themes and ideas, but that did not seem to matter to the network nor the viewers when Space Rangers premiered on January 13th, 1993.

The Plot and Universe of Space Rangers
The year is 2104 and humanity has begun a period of colonial expansion that causes a gap between the central and the frontier systems. In addition, we are not alone. Other aliens races and humans ban together to form a law enforcement/peacekeeping organization, called "the Space Ranger Corps". They are based on frontier outposts and patrol in "sling-ships" that use acceleration rings to propel them to light speeds without taxing the fuel tanks while getting the small teams of Rangers out to the latest interplanetary crisis. The series follows only one such team led by experienced Space Ranger Captain John Boon (who is heavily channeling Sonny Crockett!) and based out of Fort Hope on the newly established world of Avalon.
They get out to the frontier via an aging broken down slingship #377 or "Lizzie". Fort Hope is rapid become a place of commerce, relaxation and crime on the frontier. It is here that Boon's team battles for peace on the frontier and at home. This team is composed of an Amazon warrior woman that pilots the ship, an rookie, an mechanic that lost body parts on many worlds and had them replaced via cybernetics, the mad scientist, and the noble/proud alien warrior named Lt. Worf...I mean Zylyn of the Graaka. The main enemies of the Space Rangers are the Banshees that slip into our dimension and are akin to Native American raiders in our Space Western setting here on Space Rangers.
They appear to be an unholy love child of H.R. Giger's creation and are never fully developed. Another enemy is Central Command. Throughout the series, Central battles the Space Ranger Corps over budgets, overtime, logistics, and the role of the Space Rangers. One of the major faults of the show that pertains to this section of the article is the underdeveloped nature of the universe of Space Rangers. While only four episodes aired, there was still no clear direction or unifying concept/vision of the Space Rangers universe, which badly wounded the show and caused viewers to be lost.

What Happened to Space Rangers?
The trouble all started for this forgotten TV show during the filming of the pilot in April of 1992. It was filmed among one of the worst race riots in US history and did not get much better. The original pilot was viewed by the studio, the cast, and the network as weak and it was shelved. Instead, CBS aired episode #2 "Banshees" as the premier in the first week of January of 1993...the same week as the premier of Star Trek: Deep Space 9. Which one do you think sci-fi fans watched? This show could not catch a break and with DS9 premiering, there was just enough oxygen for both. When two of the actors were interviewed by Starlog Magazine in mid-1993, they both spoke about waiting on a final decision on the fate of Space Rangers. That call was made around April or May of 1993 and the show of only six episodes slipped away into forgotten dusty realms of science fiction history. After its demise, the show was released for a time on VHS and later DVD with only a good boxset being released recently as in 2013. But, it did received a interesting second life as a series of television "movies"or as series of three"chronicles" that packaged two episodes to form some sort of unified story. It is worth noting that Space Rangers was received with greater interest in Europe than America.  

Why is Space Rangers an Military SF Oddity?
There four reasons why I assigned Space Rangers to the Military SF Oddity category. First, is that this show actually aired on a major US TV network despite the quality, plotting, themes, and overall style of Space Rangers. It is hard to believe that it was not an syndicated television in a similar vain to Andromeda, Babylon 5, Cleopatra 2525. Instead, this military sci-fi show of uneven writing, low quality SFX, and oddball design was run on one of the Big 4 networks in America: CBS....all be it for 20 days...but still, CBS. That is almost as odd as Max Headroom on ABC. Almost. This is likely due to the timing of when Space Rangers was pitched and accepted by the network can explain some of this. After all, NBC had no less than two sci-fi shows: Earth 2 and SeaQuest DSV, Fox had the X-Files, and there were a number of syndicated sci-fi shows, most notably ST: TNG.
Secondly on the oddity reasoning, is how half-baked the entire universe of Space Rangers really is. You can expect elements of the show to alter between the pilot and it being picked up as a regular series as we saw with Star Trek and Space: Above and Beyond. But Space Rangers was born too premature and it cost it fans and continued production. Science Fiction fans of the time were a custom to filled out sci-fi universes were the events and characters lived. When comes Space Rangers that is still having its universe figures on the fly with scripts being finished as the episode is being filmed. This is reflected in interviews with Starlog when the actors were told by the production staff that things still needed to be ironed out and ad-libbing was acceptable. This is reflected in the design of the alien species, especially the big bad aliens of the series: the Banshees. They are poorly done from top to bottom with the basic design being borrowed from ALIENS. Yawn.
This leads into our third reason: welcome to sci-fi cliche city. With vast issues with fleshing out the universe and stories, Space Rangers liberally mined common sci-fi cliches and tropes to a fatal level. Honestly, there is little originality presented in the four episodes aired that it grimly harms everything and everyone. You can nearly guess the next plot event or dialog due to this and makes the show boring to watch. Hence, why it only lasted four episodes. The last reason for Space Rangers being an oddity is the most sad: howe forgotten it is. Despite the explosion of the informational on the internet, it is very odd and telling how unknown this series is today, even to someone like me. I was a sophomore in high school in 1993 and very much active in watching all science fiction at the time ( I had no life). But this show escaped me.
I literally have no 1993 memories of Space Rangers. It simply came and went without me or anyone else I knew even noticing it. Space Rangers just disappeared off of the collective radar until the age of the internet and those damned lists. That is how I discovered that Space Rangers existed at all via a top 10 list. And it is true that Space Rangers does appears on some websites via articles...there is no internet site devoted to it and there is only one episode on Youtube in English. Hell, the Photon tv show from 1987 has more internet space devoted to it than Space Rangers...and that is just sad. Even locating images for this blogpost was tough and to watch all of the episodes without buying the boxset on Amazon, I had to watch them in German with English subtitles...and I wasn't missing much. Oh, another oddity is that great composer Hans Zimmer created the main theme and that Industrial Light & Magic was approached to handle the special effects. Taking of these reasons together shows how Space Ranger exists in the realm of an military science fiction oddity rather than an forgotten classic.

Could Space Rangers have been saved from the Hangman's Noose Back in 1993?
The first part of that question is answered by a simple review of the entire series: it just isn't that good and too under-baked for its own good with a stupid title to boot (should have called "Fort Hope" instead). There is a great deal of assumptions here, but IF there had been better writing, designed, some recasting, more support from CBS or it being laid out as weekly franchise show like Babylon 5 on PTEN then perhaps Space Rangers could have lasted for longer than just six episodes. The creator of the show agrees with this theory and lays the blame on CBS for the failure of Space Rangers. Pam stated in an interview the network never gave the show a fair chance and aired on the wrong day (Wednesdays) and airing the episode completely out of order (Firefly anyone?) with the pilot being aired last and the second episode being the premier did not help forge fans and or even a cohesive universe of 2104.

The Weapon of the Space Rangers...an old friend
One of the most interesting elements of this 1993 show was the primary weapon of the Space Rangers Corps and it is old favorite of sci-fi prop: the Mini-14 Muzzelite MZ14 Bullpup kit. The Mini-14 and the AC556 were developed by Ruger to chamber the 5.56x45mm round and it was close in appearance to the M14 battle rifle. This "jamless wonder" was used as the blank-firing prop gun in many films and when fitted with Muzzelite MZ14 bullpup kit, it became an instant sci-fi prop classic. This carbine has appeared in Starship Troopers as the Morita, in hands of the Mars troopers Total Recall, also on the grim battlefields of 2029 being used by the human resistance in Terminator 2 as an phased plasma rifle in the 40 watt range, as the weapon of DELTA Force operators in Delta Force 2: the Columbian Connection, and even in SeaQuest DSV.
By far the strangest places the Muzzelite bullpup has been seen is in Highlander 2: The Quickening. Yep...it is in there on the planet Zeist. In the X-Files, the Muzzelite was seen being used by "the Blue Berets", the US Government black ops UFO crash recovery teams. Indeed, this gun gets around more Lindsay Lohan after a binder. In Space Rangers, the Muzzelite was fitted with a number of plastic pieces to give it sci-fi look via an micro grenade launcher, a comically oversized tactical light, and an old style gas tube laser sight being used as a optical sight. However, it was not made to fire laser beams, but good ole fashioned bullets. In several interviews I read discussed how much the use of bullet-firing weaponry set Space Rangers apart from the majority of sci-fi at the time and that it angered some fans of the genre that rangers used bullets over beams.

Next Time on FWS....
Video games and military science fiction have enjoyed a close relationship for many years dating back to heady days of arcades and the ATARI...however, it seems that relationship has soured with the failures of several AAA military SF video game titles like TitanFall 2, HALO 5: Guardians, and Mass Effect Andromeda. This begs the questions: are Military Sci-Fi video games in trouble? Join us next time for the answer.

8 comments:

  1. Actually remember this show. Even at a young age, the banshee's came of as a cheap Aliens knock off. Still, they did a 'few' things right that made the show worth remembering after all these years.

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  2. Thanks for bringing the "Space Rangers" series up. My first exposure to it was when I watched the last episode to be broadcast before cancellation. But I was interested enough to want to see the next week's episode. Talk about timing! I was slightly disappointed but hardly surprised when the show was cancelled, having already witnessed the cruel TV network environment that SF shows had to try to survive.

    Then in the mid 90's I stumbled across an old VHS rental copy at Blockbuster and watched it all that Friday night. It was alright but nothing really special, although I did geek out on the slingship!

    Since then I mentioned "Space Rangers" to just one other person and damn her, she found a DVD copy in the discount bin at Best Buy and gave it to me last Christmas. This is why I will sign as anonymous.

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  3. It has been nice to read about people's personal experiences with this forgotten show. It is hard for me to believe that completely missed this one back in 1993. I hate being hard on the show and I thought once I dug into it, I would find more to push to the "forgotten classics" sections...but alas, that did not happen. I honestly did not enjoy watching the episodes and I kept thinking of ways to improve it. Still, it is an interesting piece of military SF history none the less.

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  4. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  5. Speaking of Sci-Fi military video games, I'm still looking forward to your review on Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare.

    In case you're interested, I found some fantastic concept art done for the game by Aaron Beck (who also did concept art for Avater, District 9, Elysium, Chappie). I found it fascinating how his creative process guided the aesthetic of the technologies, how said technology functions, and what backstory/ideology about its users he wanted it to convey. I'll provide the links below:

    http://skul4aface.blogspot.com/2016/11/call-of-duty-infinite-warfare.html
    http://skul4aface.blogspot.com/2016/11/rigs-infinite-warfare_26.html
    http://skul4aface.blogspot.com/2017/03/call-of-duty-infinite-warfare-concept.html

    Note: I posted this once, but had to delete that time because I put the wrong concept artist's name but there's no edit function other than to delete the whole thing and start over. :/

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  6. I caught the first aired episode of this back in 1993. It was basic junk SF, fun but frivolous. I enjoyed it when I saw it but I wasn't inspired to follow it as a series. I doubt anyone on the production side would have bothered to put in the effort to redeem the series, because it was obviously just a gormless trend-chasing project. SF adventure was suddenly popular, so a bunch of TV people with a slot to fill slapped together a SF TV show. Just like when shows about talking-dogs and sassy alcoholic city girls hit big, someoen saw a profitable audience without really understanding the appeal.

    Amusingly, I've seen episodes a few times since, on fledgling bottom tier cable networks and between-the-channels digital TV stations trying to fill their schedule.

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  7. think i've still got thison vhs somewhere, loved it as a kid and then i discovered B5 and as stated some of the Space Rangers cast did appear in B5, if you're looking for Space Rangers on youtube really narrow the search margin down as it brings up akids show called space ranger roger and it also brings up power rangers in space

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  8. anyone else think those jumpsuit-uniforms look a lot like the ones the Ghostbuster's wore, right down to the design of the name tags?

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