Sunday, August 12, 2007

Flash Gordon (Sci-Fi Series)

Flash Gordon Sci-Fi Original Series

Sci-Fi, wasteland of cheesy "original" programming, has unleashed a new, "hipper" version of the space opera hero, Flash Gordon.

I loved the Flash Gordon movie from 1980 with Sam Jones as Flash and the incomparable Max Von Sydow as Ming the Merciless. It was as campy as you can get, with cheesy special effects and a rocking soundtrack by Queen. I saw this in the theater when it came out. I watched this every single time it came on HBO or Showtime in the '80's. I watched the television cartoon series. I even had Flash Gordon and Ming the Merciless action figures (even if Ming's gun looked more like a hair dryer).

I had high hopes for the new Flash Gordon series when Sci-Fi's teaser commercials used the old Queen song, Flash's Theme. Then I began seeing more substantial commercials showing the actors and a little of the action. I was not impressed. Several reviews of the show I had read gave me even more pause about the new Flash.

With great trepidation I got comfortable on my couch and tuned into Sci-Fi channel's premiere of the pilot for the new Flash Gordon series. My two boys were ensconced in their favorite tv-watching spots (couch for one, floor with pillow for the other). Mom was kicked back in her recliner.

The opening sequence was a huge disappointment. Generic music alongside images of a buff, blond guy running in a marathon, actor names superimposed over the whole thing. How utterly boring. Here is this (hopefully) high energy sci-fi series of an iconic space hero, and your big opening sequence is him basically jogging?!?! My hopes were dwindling fast.

The new series diverts from the traditional and familiar, while still staying fairly true to the legacy of Flash Gordon. What irks me the most about this newest incarnation is the sheer youthfulness of most of the principle actors. I know it's a ploy to garner the younger demographic, but when Flash's Mom looks like she could be dating him instead of mothering him, I get the creepy-crawlies.

One stylistic change is no space ships travelling between Earth and Mongo. Instead we get rifts between the two worlds, operated by a handheld remote control/tracking device. (Sliders, anyone?) While this makes a certain sense in being able to allow inhabitants of either planet to instantly move back and forth between worlds without all that pesky interstellar travel time, it just doesn't seem like Flash Gordon with out cool spaceships. And, why not have some sort of spaceship with warp technology, or something? I imagine it was a budget constraint behind that choice, but I have a feeling it will bite them in the butt.

Flash's big motivation in this go-round is finding out the truth about his Father's supposed death. Turns out Flash's Dad and Dr. Hans Zarkov had been working on a rift generation program called "Portage". Instead of dying, as everyone thinks, Papa Gordon ended going through a rift to Mongo, where Ming (sans the Merciless) finds out about this powerful technology and sends robots to Earth to search for the Imex, which holds the key to the "Knowldge of the Universe".

When all is said and Done, Zarkov, Flash, and Dale Arden (now a television reporter and Flash's high school ex-sweetheart) team up to discover where Papa Gordon is. Flash and Dale accidentally end up on Mongo where we meet Ming (played more modern-tyrant than maniacal despot, and also very, very white ... you'd think they would have kept the oriental influences ... too non-pc, perhaps?) and Princess Aura. Things begin to go downhill for our heroes; torture, enforced sexual slavery, and being involved in tepid dialogue and weak action sequences, not too mention the worst fake blood I've seen in modern television.

Flash and Dale escape Mongo with the aid of a disguised Princess Aura. Hijinks ensue back on Earth, with Baylin, one of Ming's best bounty hunters, arriving to bring both Aura and the Imex back to Mongo.

The pilot episode wasn't bad, but it wasn't a Stargate or Battlestar Galactica.

I warmed up to both Eric Johnson as Flash and Gina Holden as Dale. My favorite so far is Jody Racicot as Dr. Zarkov. John Ralston plays Ming very flat and uninspired, at least so far. He's about as generic a villain as you can get. Aura is also a tad over-acted; another generic spoiled princess with something to prove to Daddy Dearest. The bounty hunter Baylin seem like she will be an interesting addition. Everyone loves the bad-girl gone good characters. And, as a really new addition, Flash's best friend on Earth is black guy named Nick. I guess this was their nod to a balanced racial cast in this blandish, politically correct casting. (Which I find odd a Hispanic character is lampooned so badly for cheap humor in this episode.)

The special effects weren't anything special. We've seen it all before, often done better. But they weren't bad.

The show held my attention, barely, and it got better as it progressed. The subtle inter-play between Flash and Dale is not overdone, but you know where it's going. Humor abounds without getting too over-the-top, excessive, or campy. Dialogue is sometimes contrived; again, we've seen it all before and better delivered.

Still, I am going to give this a few more looks. there is a wealth of as yet untapped Flash Gordon lore to delve into; the various kingdoms of Arboria, Frigia, Tropica, and the Hawkmen's flying city, as well as Prince Barin, Prince Thun, and Prince Vultan. I know Barin will be in it, based on the info on IMDb.

I'm not impressed yet, but I'm not disgusted either. I'll be trying to catch the new episodes each weekend. Time will tell.

Flash Gordon airs on Sci-Fi Fridays at 9/8C. you can visit the official Sci-Fi Flash Gordon website for more info and 30-minute peek at the first half of the pilot episode.

As a special treat for you, here is a video of Queen singing the iconic Flash Gordon theme song!

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