Star Wars in 1977, along with George Lucas’ admitted indebtedness to 30’s serials and comic strips, inevitably led to other entrepreneurial filmmakers turning to those Depression-era sci-fi classics and characters, and reimagining them (though that noxious term hadn’t been invented yet) for the 1970s. Among these was another Filmation Saturday morning favorite, the animated Flash Gordon series from 1979-80.
When the rogue planet Mongo enters our solar system on a collision course for Earth, scientific genius Dr. Hans Zarkov, athlete Flash Gordon, and his girlfriend Dale Arden blast off in a rocketship of the doctor’s invention, hoping to find a way to turn the alien planet from its course. Crash landing on its surface, they find Mongo inhabited by a vast array of sentient creatures, all under the rule of the tyrannical Ming the Merciless. It soon becomes clear to the Earthmen (and Earthwoman) that the only hope of saving Earth lies in uniting the distrustful, ever-warring races of Mongo against the sinister space tyrant.
Jonny Quest, Thundarr the Barbarian and Batman the Animated Series among the great animated adventure shows. By Filmation standards, the animation is rather lush, with lots of rotoscoping and elaborate backgrounds and character designs. Being a limited-budget, limited-animation product of the Seventies, there’s the usual relentless recycling of footage and repetitive music cues, but it is executed with a level of care and ingenuity that is rare in cartoon shows of this vintage.
Flash theatrical features from the 30s. The second season, however, is made up of 16 fifteen-minute segments that are, unfortunately, aimed squarely at extremely young children, with simpler, sillier stories and the addition to the cast of a pink baby dragon called Gremlin. The second season episodes are hardly worth watching, as the stories are too short to be very interesting and so much footage is recycled from Season 1 – and sloppily so, I might add – that the viewing experience is hollow.
Once again, BCI (under their Ink and Paint label) and animation expert Andy Mangels have put together a very nice DVD set. While the episodes definitely show their age, with a considerable amount of visible dirt and debris (inherent in this kind of animation) and somewhat faded colors, there are no noticeable digital artifacts or compression problems, and the audio is sharp and clear. The picture quality’s not perfect, but better than I expected after nearly 30 years.
after the series). There are character model sheets, some storyboards, the series bible and some scripts on DVD-ROM, and even the entire first episode of the 1980’s syndicated series Defenders of the Earth. This 80’s series (also released by BCI on DVD) also starred Flash Gordon, along with other characters owned by the Hearst Syndicate: The Phantom, Mandrake the Magician, his sidekick Lothar and their teenage children, all teaming up to battle Ming. The premise was okay, but looked and sounded like every other show that Marvel Productions made in the 80s: bland. Also inserted into the set are a fold out episode guide and two collectible art cards featuring beautiful illustrations by comic book artists Frank Cho and Gene Ha.
preceded the series, Flash Gordon: The Greatest Adventure of All. The feature-length movie was made by the same team, but was somewhat more adult in tone and story; whereas the TV series began with Flash and company landing on Mongo, the film begins in 1939 Warsaw under attack by the Nazis.
Flash Gordon is one of the best adaptations of the character to film (right up there with the Buster Crabbe serials of the Thirties), and one of the very best animated adventure series ever. But then, it’s pretty obvious from my other posts that I have an extremely strong bias toward the sci-fi efforts of the Filmation studio.
In 1980, Italian film mogul Dino deLaurentis released a live-action Flash Gordon feature film. I’m certain I’ll get around to writing about that movie soon.