Yes, it’s been a blue moon since my last post, but that‘s actually a good thing for me, because it means I’ve been busy the last couple of months.
The thing that‘s been on my mind lately is how horribly the Sci-Fi Channel has not only failed, but soiled, one of the great icons of science fiction. As a kid, I lived for the Flash Gordon animated series on Saturday morning. When the most recent movie came out in 1980, I had that Queen soundtrack and actually wore out the cassette. I spent countless hours drawing Flash Gordon rocket ships and dreaming up epic space battles.
So you can imagine how interested I was when I heard that the Sci-Fi Channel was doing a Flash Gordon series. I heard an interview with the director, who said that Sci-Fi Channel bought thirteen episodes without ever seeing a script. They knew there was a lot of prestige in sci-fi-dom behind the Flash Gordon name.
And perhaps you can imagine how disappointed I was when I saw the results. If there is justice in the sci-fi universe, there will be no more than thirteen episodes. Ever.
I was giving it a chance. The show was set mostly on Earth, not Mongo, and there were no rocketships. Ok, giving it a chance. Here are the OK points.
Eric Johnson (Flash) – A fair enough choice. Adequate acting and screen presence. Not overwhelming, but certainly adequate.
Gina Holden (Dale Arden) – Again, a fair enough choice. The lack of screen chemistry between Dale and Flash doesn’t help things, however.
Karen Cliche (Baylin) – This character/actress grew on me, even though her name sounds like something uber-hip yuppies would name their Baby Gap kid. She had good comic timing and just enough evil in her eyes to be interesting.
Jody Racicot (Dr. Zarkov) – Quirky, funny, good comic relief.
Planet Mongo – When they DO actually make it onto the planet Mongo, it‘s sufficiently well done to not ruin anything.
HORRIBLE UNFORGIVABLE DOWNFALL POINTS
John Ralston (Ming the Merciless) – Give me a break! This guy looks like somebody’s lawyer! He‘s not the least bit scary (except for his dialogue) and his screen presence is hyperbolically approaching zero. This might have been redeemable IF he had some great stentorian Shakespearean voice, like Max von Sydow or Patrick Stewart. Nope, sorry. Some whiny kid named Jimmy next door would have made a better Ming. Whoever cast this guy for this part should be kicked out of Hollywood. Go make some Lifetime movies.
Giles Panton (Joe Wylee) – Dale Arden’s fiancee… Huh? Whoever decided to make the Dale/Flash relationship a love triangle should suffer the same fate as the person who cast Ming. There is zero screen chemistry between this guy and Dale. Their relationship is never explored. He‘s just thrown in there as the “third wheel,“ the obstacle, because everyone KNOWS Flash and Dale are a thing, with no intention of making him into a real character.
Rocketships – There AREN‘T any! They do some sort of dimensional leap back and forth between worlds. Lame. Cheap and lame.
The Hawkmen – Up until I saw this episode, I was still trying to give the show a chance. Rarely have I ever flown into paroxysms of outrage whilst watching a TV show. I was yelling at the screen, “OMFG! Lame, lame, lame, LAME!” The hawkmen, a race of people with WINGS, were an old standard of the Flash Gordon universe, and the Sci-Fi channel turned them into guys with ragged leather capes that they used for GLIDING, and they went around screeching at each other like hawks. And they stood around on the side of a hill with drums and skulls dancing around in a circle like Indians. I swear to God, the actors looked embarrassed. I was embarrassed for them.
From a network that brought back Battlestar Galactica and turned it into one of the greatest sci-fi drama series EVER, gave us the lovable Farscape, and kept Stargate alive probably longer than they should have, they took a science-fiction icon like Flash Gordon and turned it into a gob of filthy green ooze that I can’t wait to get off the bottom of my shoe. Somebody at SFC should know what good sci-fi is. If they had done Flash Gordon with a cast and budget like Farscape, as it SHOULD have been done, it would have been a monster, smash success. Guaranteed. But they didn‘t, and the result is something everybody involved would probably best forget. The lack of talent in every aspect of production, from scripts to costumes to directing, shows how committed no one was to making this a worthy effort.
If you want real Flash Gordon, watch the old TV cartoon. Or find some old Buster Crabbe serials. Let this one die quickly, and bury it under the sand. Deep. Bury it deep.