Of all of the new summer TV series, I was most looking forward to "Flash Gordon." As "Battlestar Galactica" nears its final season, the network has a void to fill. While Flash is in no way shape or form equal to Battlestar, the series has potential to be a fun cliffhanger adventure.
The story of the Pilot episode: After a number of strange encounters with an alien and a scientist, Flash discovers that his father (whom he thought dead) is alive and well somewhere on the planet Mongo. In his search to find him, Flash winds up captured by Ming The Merciless. From there on out, Flash has to fight for his life while trying to prevent the world of Mongo from spilling over into Earth.
Fans have complained the pilot doesn't capture the spirit of the comic series or the campy 1980 film version, but they are judging too quickly. This modern re-telling contains most of the story elements we know and love. Ray guns, aliens, Ming, Flash and Dale, Mongo are all here. True, the Lion Men and Hawkmen are missing, but they will surely turn up later on in the series. It wouldn't make sense to introduce every character in the pilot. You need to keep viewers tuning in.
Since the show is an update, story tweaks are to be expected. The characters cannot stay the same as they were decades ago. That would be illogical as they were decidedly paper thin. The characters now have more meat to them which allows the writers to take the characters to new places.
The fans do have the right to complain about the low budget because it hurts the series in that Flash stays on Earth too much. No one wants to see Flash on Earth. What made Alex Raymond's comic series so exciting was Flash's adventures on the planet Mongo. All of the aliens, places, danger Flash faced kept you turning the page. However, since the world of Mongo would no doubt be expensive to the Sci-Fi channel, the writers are likely forced to have events occur on Earth. While I'm on the subject, the inclusion of the rift is utterly unnecessary. The show should distance itself from the likes of "Stargate" and "Sliders," not resemble them.
Complaints aside, the cast makes "Flash Gordon" work. Eric Johnson (best known for playing the loathsome Whitney on "Smallville") pulls out a surprising performance. His charming persona carries the pilot and you can tell he's having the time of his life. Not to be outdone, the lovely ladies Dale Arden, Baylin, and Aura (played by Gina Holden, Karen Cliche, and Anna Van Hooft) manage to hold their own. Instead of being portrayed as mere love interests, each of the women have their own rich history. Dale is engaged to be married and works a steady job as a reporter, but she still has feelings for her ex-boyfriend Flash. Aura lives under a tyrant (Ming) who also happens to be her father. Baylin is a bounty hunter whose past comes into play in episode 2. I won't spoil it for you. The only miscast role is that of Zarkov played by Jody Racicot. His constant stuttering and mile an hour talking wears thin. The network would have been better off casting one of the Lone Gunmen from "The X-Files" in that role.
As for Ming The Merciless, much has been said about the show's interpretation of the character (played by John Ralston) being a wimp, but I strongly disagree. I for one am glad he is not a stereotypical mustache twirling ruler. No one wants to see a one dimensional villain. Viewers expect and deserve more than that. Besides, Ming is still an evil tyrant. He tortures Flash, and recently in episode 2, he has a man executed for stealing ice. Ming is also a more complex character than he has ever been. He has a shaky relationship with his daughter and must deal with the water crisis and the effects it has on the world of Mongo. The weight of the world is on his shoulders and he's under pressure. He has to maintain the law in order to prevent chaos, but his methods are cruel. I am curious to see how his character will develop throughout the series.
The widescreen video quality is identical to when it aired on TV, which is to say average. The cinematography of the show isn't as sharp or stylistic as say "Battlestar Galactica." The faded color scheme is overly bright on Earth, and much too dark on Mongo. Obviously, the filmmakers need to differentiate between the two planets, but they could have come up with something a bit more attractive.
The unspecified Dolby Digital track sounds fine indoors, but the outdoors scenes suffer from what I assume is poor voice dubbing.
Three extras have been included. 1.) A 2 1/2 minute preview of "The Wizard Of Oz" re-imagining "Tin Man." Judging by the preview, I am not too thrilled with the notion of this mini-series, especially when Oz is pronounced "The O.Z." (like "The O.C.") If that doesn't make you cringe, I don't know what will. 2). 10 deleted scenes with unfinished F/x and incomplete sound. The scenes are justifiably deleted, as they are little more than extended scenes or brief ten second snippets, but I wouldn't have minded a few of the scenes with the character of Nick in the final cut. He seems to be an important character in Flash's life and we learn very little about him in the pilot. 3). Storyboards, sketches, and photographs- I'm a sucker for pre-production art on Sci-Fi films (such as "The Art Of Star Wars" books), so I enjoyed seeing how certain characters and locations have developed before hitting the screen. My only complaint is the absence of a preview for future Flash episodes.
"Flash Gordon" is a welcome addition to the Sci-Fi Friday night lineup. Flash may not be the second coming of sci-fi, but the series has definite potential and the pilot is well worth renting. I wouldn't recommend a purchase as it makes more sense to wait for the first season to be released on DVD.
Film and television enthusiast Nick Lyons recently had his first book published titled "Attack of the Sci-Fi Trivia." It is available on Amazon.com.