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Category:    Home > Reviews > Science Fiction > Animated > Action > Adventure > Serial > Flash Gordon – The Complete Series (1979/Animated)

Flash Gordon – The Complete Series (1979/Animated)


Picture: C+     Sound: C+     Extras: B-     Episodes: B



For decades, Flash Gordon was only rivaled by Buck Rogers as the hero of the prototypical space opera.  That Buster Crabbe was as hit as both characters only kept both more remembered than they might have been otherwise.  When smart Science Fiction began surfacing in the 1960s, many comical space opera type films surfaced and by the 1970s, this even yielded an amusing XXX hit Flesh Gordon (reviewed elsewhere on this site).  In that time, all the Crabbe serials were showing up on TV stations nationwide and Flash Gordon owners King Features Syndicate were licensing the character in all kinds of toys and books while considering a feature film.


The first two attempts fell through.  One was a very artistic epic heavily based on the Alex Raymond original concepts, with major art design aspirations and a more complex story by the brilliant director Nicolas Roeg.  When that did not work out, he moved on and made the 1976 classic The Man Who Fell To Earth (also reviewed on this site) and then there was the second filmmaker.


Wanting to add mysticism to Flash Gordon in a way the company did not want or understand, they turned down George Lucas and he moved on to make the 1977 classic Star Wars with a history that is still being made as you read this.  Those were obviously big mistakes, but a project still was there for the taking and when Lucas’ film was a monster blockbuster, that gave new monetary reasons alone to relaunch the still-popular character.  Filmation, known for its animated cartoon series and live action hits, landed up with all the rights to the character.  They had an ally in NBC, who would also relaunch Buck Rogers as a live-action TV series with Universal long before the companies merged.  Realizing the script cold not be made with a TV budget, producer Lou Scheimer changed the plan to an animated feature for TV (not included in this new DVD set) but NBC would not give him the extra money needed to do it.


With the live-action rights still in his possession, he cut a deal with international mega-producer Dino De Laurentiis to sell him those rights and Dino would give them the rest of the money to do the series.  The result was the 1979 animated Flash Gordon, also known as The New Adventures Of Flash Gordon, and it was one of the company’s biggest hits and best animated series they ever made.


Besides great writing and despite still having some budget limits, the art designs were clever updates of the original Raymond concepts without the immense detail that would have made the show unaffordable.  Colors were more complex than the Technicolor they had used in the past, as well as action designs.  Yes, there is rotoscoping and Xerox animation that repeat often throughout the series, but the maturity of the series (more sexuality than usual without being sleazy and more realistic action) is a peak of the growth of Filmation in a way they would loose in the 1980s before eventually folding.


The first season is the superior one, with all the best attributes of what the show offered, up there with the most mature and serious animated series rivals Hanna-Barbera (Valley Of The Dinosaurs) and DePatie-Freling (Return To the Planet Of The Apes) did.  Formatted like the old serials, Flash, Dale Arden and Dr. Zarkov battled Ming The Merciless in the following episodes:

Chapter One: A Planet In Peril
Chapter Two: The Monsters Of Mongo
Chapter Three: Vultan, King Of The Hawkmen
Chapter Four: To Save Earth
Chapter Five: The Beast Men's Prey
Chapter Six: Into The Water
Chapter Seven: Adventure In Arboria
Chapter Eight: The Frozen World
Chapter Nine: Monster Of Glacier
Chapter Ten: Blue Magic
Chapter Eleven: King Flash!
Chapter Twelve: Ming's Tournament Of Death
Chapter Thirteen: Castaways In Tropica
Chapter Fourteen: The Desert Hawk
Chapter Fifteen: Revolt Of The Power Men
Chapter Sixteen: Ming's Last Battle


The second season simply forgot about the first, added a happy little “cutesy” dinosaur called Gremlin (think Scrappy Doo, Gleek, Godzuki or other unnecessary animal sidekicks) for a more child-friendly and absolutely less interesting show and you even get segments that were shorter like something from Magilla Gorilla.  Those shows are:

Beware Of Gifts
Gremlin The Dragon
Royal Wedding
Sir Gremlin
Deadly Double
The Game
Witch Woman
The Warrior
The Freedom Balloon
The Seed
Gremlin's Finest Hour
Micro Menace
The Survival Game
Flash Back
The Memory Bank Of Ming
Sacrifice Of The Volcano Men



Nevertheless, the art was still about the same, but the first season is so self-contained that it does not matter.  Like the addition of Maya on Space: 1999, it was one of the most commercially motivated about face turns a solid science fiction show that worked did not need and killed each show off quickly in both cases.  It did not increase toy sales, it did not get a larger child audience and it was a disaster.  Most fans moved on to that 1980 Mike Hodges feature film, though it was not a megahit, but still has a following and is talked about.


When you start to watch the beginning “chapter” episodes of the first season, they quickly become interesting and even addicting to some.  For younger fans, once they get past the different style of animation and effects, they too start to see how great the show is when the attention span gives it a chance.  The jokes work, the timing works, the many worlds they visit are fascinating and even intriguing.  That U.S. commercial TV turned out a show this good ever is stunning in itself.  Now that it is out on DVD, you can watch them non-stop without commercial breaks and you realize what a great successor to the Crabbe classics they really are.  In many ways, this is as definitive a Flash Gordon as any that has been put to film to date!



The 1.33 x 1 image varies a bit throughout.  At its best, it has some good detail, but in other cases, there are detail limits, washed out color and slight aliasing troubles we did not find on the He-Man DVD set from produced a few years later.  Previously, the best material of the series was an old 12” LaserDisc from Image Entertainment that picked up with the first season in progress and was dubbed To Save Earth after the fourth chapter.  Though not perfect, color was on the consistent side and the prints used there look to be in slightly better shape, likely because it was a special edit and not the separate shows.  In this case, it is going to take digital HD to really totally do justice to the color and detail the show had at its best, so these DVDs will do fine until then.  Larger screen playback should yield a few more flaws, though.


The Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono is not bad for its age and nearly comparable to the PCM 2.0 16bit/44.1kHz Mono from the old 12” LaserDisc, though it is a shame this was never in stereo.  Maybe the animated feature film will get that treatment, because the theme song is great and the voice actors really excelled here.  The audio commentary tracks and audio on the extras are simple stereo at best and is all very enjoyable.


Extras include the Blasting Off With Flash Gordon documentary featuring interviews with creators and historians, audio commentary on 3 episodes (the pilot for the first season and two of the lesser second season installments), animated storyboards, art galleries, character profiles, DVD-ROM accessible scripts, storyboards, and series “Bible” that sets the rules, past and limits for each character for al the writers on the show, two collectible art cards, a nicely illustrated fold-out episode guide and pilot episode of the awkward Defenders Of The Earth series that tried to combine all of King Features’ classic hero characters, starting with the oddball Escape From Mongo pilot show that makes little sense and is very choppy in its art, voice work and animation that looks like it is missing at least every the frame.  Not only is this older show smoother-looking, but the color for the new show is poorly thought out.  We are spared the mid-1990s series when Flash became a teen skateboarder that is considered the nadir of Flash Gordon on any screen.  The rest of these extras are terrific and highly enjoyable.


The only thing missing is about the toys.  Besides the comics, novels and toys ray guns and games that were constantly in production, there were action figures.  Just before this series arrived, the great (and sadly defunct) Mego Company produced four stunning and stunningly detailed 9” figures in 1976 of Flash, Dale, Zarkov and Ming that even included a playset.  They are very valuable and some of the best, most desired more relatively recent Flash Gordon products to hit the market.  However, Mattel picked up the license for the 4” size Star Wars made popular and they are the greatest such space action figure series next to the Lucas classic itself from the time of the original Star Wars trilogy.


Issued in three rounds, Flash, Ming, Lizard Woman and Thun The Lionman were the first to arrive.  Zarkov and Beastman were next.  Finally, Captain Arak and the highly prized Vultan rounded out the nicely articulated series, including colors worthy of the show, though Ming was a bit different color-wise.  Except for color differences where the figure was carded, they each had the same great color artwork on the front and the figures available on the back depending on what series they were from.  In addition, a Ming Space Shuttle (for him to escape?) and giant inflatable space blimp like the one from the opening credits with its own detachable space shuttle were produced for the figures.  Had the show gone on in the mode of the first season, the line could have lasted longer and grown, but that was not to be.  Along with some other tie-ins from the cartoon like a lunch box, it is too bad a featurette and/or stills section was not included on these gems, but you can find them in print and on line if you search for them and maybe a DVD of the animated feature could have this.


While the U.S. market waits for that, the Special Edition of the 1980 feature that has been available for a few years in England and a new feature film possibly due in 2008, this collection is as much a must-have as any of the classic animated releases that have hit DVD lately and even Animé fans should take particular note in what this show achieved at a time when U.S. animation was often the childish opposite of what the Japanese were doing then.  Flash Gordon – The Complete Series is better than ever.



-   Nicholas Sheffo


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