'Power Rangers' Director on Updating the Zords and the Reboot's Surprising Emotion

"I always thought this brand had its own deep and rich history and I wanted to create its own universe," Dean Israelite tells THR.

New York Comic Con felt the power of Saban's Power Rangers Saturday, with a panel in Madison Square Garden that saw director Dean Israelite on stage with the five young actors who'll be teaming up to deal with Rita Repulsa in next year's big screen reboot of the fan-favorite TV property. After the panel, Israelite talked to Heat Vision about dealing with fan expectations, and finding new depth in earlier versions of the property.

Where are you with the movie right now?

We're deep into the editing and visual effects process. We've got quite a while yet in order to get everything perfect in time for the release. We're still cutting, and we're still working on visual effects.

When you come to a show like New York Comic Con and show the trailer to fans for the first time, is that something that makes you feel like all the work is worth it? The audience was very excited by what it saw.

Oh yeah, definitely. I'm in New York today for less than 12 hours, because I'm so busy finishing the movie. Obviously, that's really stressful, but I'm really glad that I came. I mean, you work so hard on something for so long, and to see the genuine excitement of people was really energizing.

Seeing the reaction of fans in the room, did you have this feeling of relief? Where do you start working to translate a property this beloved by so many people, never mind being worried about satisfying the existing fanbase?

I mean, I think the guiding light for me was, how do I take the spirit of what was, for me, a fun and heartfelt show and make the characters come to life in a way that gives nuance and complexity to them, and gives a lot of emotion to them. That was one guiding principle for remaking the show. The other was to make it grounded and real, and make it feel real and relatable even though the adventure was epic. I thought if I could do that, and maintain the fun of the show, I could bring it to life in a whole new way.

One of the tag lines of the franchise is "Together we are more," talking about teamwork and transformation in a literal manner, but the panel today suggested something larger…

I think I grew up on those characters and watched them grow up, too. There wasn't always much depth and complexity to the show, but the themes of it are complex. I thought if I could bring those themes and embellish them and make them nuanced and multi-dimensional, it could echo the start of the show. All five of our Rangers are on their pretty personal journeys, and I think that's what makes this franchise unique unto itself. It'll always be, at its heart, about the emotions and the people in the center of it all.

You're bringing Power Rangers out in an era dominated with Marvel and DC movies. Are there specific influences you're taking from either of those cinematic universes?

I always thought this brand had its own deep and rich history and I wanted to create its own universe. I really wanted to try hard to make everything photographed in a very real, contemporary style — even in the ways we executed the design, I wanted you to be able to look at the machines and the ship and the suits, as if it's its own universe. I want our one to be seen as its own thing.

In terms of the other superhero movies in recent years, you look at the degree of artistry in those, and in terms of technical achievements, they definitely raised the bar. But I try not to copy any of those movies, and ensure that we can be our own thing.

The redesign of the suits has a more sci-fi bent but is also recognizable from the originals…

Yes, and the same with the Zords. We looked at the original ideas and worked up from there. The Zords are machines based on dinosaurs, so what can that look like now?

Something that people seemed to react strongly to in the trailer at the panel was Elizabeth Banks as Rita Repulsa. In the original series, she was more or less a comedy character, but from her appearance in the trailer, she's almost creepy and seems genuinely dangerous.

I think it's a case of taking the characters to places that they had never been before, but had maybe needed to go. With Rita, she still has the madness and humor that made her work so well in the series, but there's something more. Elizabeth Banks is perfect in the role, because she can balance the humor and the drama the character needs in a way that almost no one else could.

Something that came across in the panel was the ease and friendship between your five new Rangers. They seemed like a team, like friends, off-screen as well as on. Was that something you were hoping for from the start, that they'd bond like that?

Oh, definitely. I made sure that we scheduled weeks of rehearsal before shooting, but I knew — or I hoped — that they would reach out on their own to each other, and when that started to happen, it was really important for a movie like this. You can see their actual friendship, and I think that comes across on screen.

The new trailer release continues a slow build of publicity for the movie, which seems to be juggling the demands of the existing fanbase while also taking pains to work for people who've never seen the show. The trailer, especially, feels like something that is aimed at an entirely new audience.

The marketing team from Lionsgate is doing an amazing job with the promotion. It's a difficult task, we want to engage the fans, we want it to re-engage lapsed fans, but we also want to expand this to people who don't know the franchise but could really enjoy the story or the characters.

With that in mind, what's the thing that you think is going to most excite fans of the franchise in the new movie? And what's going to get newcomers excited?

It's the same for both, I think. What I'm proud of, and what's exciting to me, is that it's a real character driven movie. There's real emotion in this film, and I think people will be surprised by it. I don't think this movie is just one thing — I think it doesn't have to be grim, I think it should be fun, and it should be adventurous. I think this movie hits those different notes well, and this property is so ripe to mix all those things together.

Power Rangers will be released March 24, 2017.