Thundarr The Barbarian: The Complete Series:
The scene: The beginning of that fabled decade known as the '80s. The mere mention of that name summons many conflicting emotions, though it's empirical that the best you can say for most of the decade's output is that it has camp value. While I put on my skinny grey leather tie with kanji and the red sun of the Japanese flag on it, let's look back at Thundarr The Barbarian, a cartoon series that lasted all of one season, though it seemed to go on forever and ever in the halcyon days of 1981.
The players: Thundarr, a barbarian progenitor of He-Man, but with more leather and fur; Princess Ariel, a sorceress in the vein of a buxom brunette in a bathing suit; and Ookla the Mok, a big, weird alien with a screechy growl. Yet we shouldn't forget Gemini, the two-faced super villain, and the dozens of scaly, webbed or fuzzy monsters constantly besetting our heroes. For those who've forgotten, The Setup: In 1994(!) a rogue planet zips between the Earth and Moon, causing untold damage. Centuries later a brutal new form of civilization has risen, featuring evil humanoid lizards and other weird shit. Basically, it's a bad time, but Thundarr, Ariel and Ookla persist in riding their horses around, doing the right thing whenever they stumble onto some bad mojo.
The Routine: Thundarr, Princess Ariel and Ookla are out riding their steeds around, they happen upon lizards or apes or skeletons attempting to capture and enslave humans; our heroes then bust that shit up, leaving bedraggled humans to wander towards whatever pathetic hovel they may call home in this post-apocalyptic world. This is what I wasted countless hours on? (Actually about 8, as far as the series' total runtime is concerned.) Yes, in fact it is, and delving into this MOD (Manufactured-On-Demand) 4-Disk set, I don't begrudge that couch-time at all. Thundarr may be juvenile, cheap, repetitive and an intellectual wasteland compared to today's cartoons, but it's also a whole lot of brainless fantasy fun. Basically a monster-of-the-week setup delivered through frequently blunt, primitive animation.
I know there are many out there like myself, nostalgic devotees of camp pop culture from the '70s and '80s. Hell, we loved the stuff as kids, so why not as adults? Obviously adult viewers will approach this from an entirely different perspective, while if you tried to show this to your 12-year-old he'd laugh in your face. So while you're wondering what you ever saw in the show, gaggles of mutant aliens, (three types or more per episode!) weird bits of action, adolescent humor, and cheap animation - that becomes charming for the wrong reasons - all grow to be oddly entertaining.
You get lizard men, snake men, space-vampires, giant hairy snakes, swamp creatures, werewolves and plenty more. Clearly one of the show's strengths, throwing endless beasties in viewers' faces, was more of a reason to watch than following Thundarr's bland heroics, Ariel's persistent inaction and Ookla's brutish growling. But why does every villain have the same high-pitched, crabbed, growling sounding voice as Ookla? ANyway, if not getting jacked-up by giant bat-people, we might find our trio menaced by a Statue Of Liberty come to life and torching a ruined Manhattan - incidentally now hidden in a huge cave and called Manhat. Maybe Amazons riding sharks will get our heroes, or Rats that shoot lasers out of clubs while riding motorcycles. Though silly and simplistic, real whacked-out creative care went into thinking this stuff up.
In further appealing to the 12-year-old boys of 30 years ago, Thundarr throws around plenty of juvenile humor and primitive social dynamics. An occasional slip-up finds writing directed at actual adults, like naming the leader of the werewolves Zevon (after Warren Zevon's hit song "Werewolves of London"). But mostly, Thundarr ribs Princess Ariel for being a girl, and constantly refers to Ookla as his old friend - there's no greater psycho-spiritual fantasy fiction signifier than calling someone 'old friend'. Since Thundarr himself is mostly good for shouting oaths and threatening marauders with his Sun Sword, and Ookla can't actually speak, it's up to Ariel to act like an entertaining human, which she does by standing around ineffectually until that one moment when she realizes she can cast a spell and settle some alien hash but good. Then she might make some silly quip while thrusting forward her ample bosom. Later, everyone rides off into the sunset, using the same piece of animation seen in every single episode, and Thundarr says one word but his mouth keeps moving for the next 5 seconds. Yes, and Ookla knocks over the werewolves by swinging a whale at them.
The Reason: Though this release consists of 88% nostalgia value, once you get beyond that, open-minded adults may just find Thundarr pretty entertaining now for some strange reasons. Clearly genre-fans who live for sci-fi, fantasy and horror will relate on some primitive level to the sheer volume of monsters on display, but really Thundarr is just silly. It's slow-paced enough to appeal to those of us weary of our constantly accelerating lives, unintentionally funny for a number of reasons, and suffused with enough strange kid-stuff to make you understand why you spent so many beautiful afternoons lying on the couch with a soda in your hand. At least I did, you probably got exercise or something.
This MOD 4-Disk DVD-R set comes in glorious OAR made for badass console TVs of primitive years. Fullscreen 4 X 3 ratio all the way, baby. On the one hand, this looks in many ways better than it did back in the day, or at least just as good. Colors are moody but fairly well saturated, while the image is nicely sharp. At just about 2-hours of recorded material per disc, no compression artifacts or authoring glitches appear. On the other hand, these prints are showing their age by way of relatively frequent, and sometimes more-than-mild print damage. This is far from being a deal breaker, however, and for the most part you'll forget about it if you aren't looking for it.
Dolby Digital Mono Audio is suitable to this collection's station. Audio is solid and relatively distortion-free. Also mixed well, audio tracks highlight the series' rousing musical soundtrack, in particular.
Don't expect any extras; your fond memories are the only things that will accompany these 21 episodes.
Thundarr rides a steed of nostalgia into your beating adolescent heart. Though in many ways primitive, the appeal of the show, with numerous monsters and plenty of action, is clear. What is also clear is that the show is simply a childish romp, appearing sillier than ever with the passage of time. Simplistic humor, repetitive plotlines and now-quaint animation hold ironic interest as well, meaning you can get a silly kick out of this series on multiple levels. Children of the '80s now swimming in money might enjoy putting this on the shelf, to pull out and sample a few episodes on those evenings when your past beckons. But the collection's lack of extras and some weird feelings of responsibility on this reviewer's part limit any recommendations to a solid Rent It status.
- Kurt Dahlke
~ More of Dahlke's DVD Talk reviews here at DVD Talk I'm not just a writer, I paint colorful, modern abstracts, too! Check them out here KurtDahlke.com