Saturday, August 11, 2007

A Flash in the pan

SciFi Channel’s new Flash Gordon series debuted last night with a 90-minute pilot. Eleven more episodes should make up the first season. But I think I’ve already seen enough.

If you’re gonna tackle an American sci-fi icon like Flash Gordon — even if you plan to give him something of a contemporary spin — you’ve still gotta give us Flash friggin’ Gordon. If you plan to just stick the 1934 Alex Raymond names on 2007 faces and then ignore the spaceships, ray guns, swashbuckling swordfights, minaret-strewn landscapes, colorful villains, and flamboyant costumes, don’t call your show Flash Gordon. Call it anything else, call it Zippy Corrigan or something, but don’t call it Flash Gordon.

Two weeks ago, I attended a panel discussion about this new show at Comic-Con. The producer was there. The head writer was there. Stars Eric Johnson (Flash) and Gina Holden (Dale Arden) were there. And even though the two or three clips they showed didn’t particularly impress me, these people seemed enthusiastic and sounded like they understood the series’ source material. I left with a small bit of hope.

That teeny bit of hope was demolished last night. Flash Gordon sucks. Period. You can camp up the old comic strip, as they did with the 1980 movie, and get away with it, because we old fans get the joke, we know that Flash is “of his time,” he’s retro sci-fi, and the whole idea of Ming the Merciless, Mongo, and winged men is, well, a bit silly. But don’t fuck with Flash’s very essence. Don’t suck all the life out of him. Don’t give us a Zarkov who’s nothing more than an eccentric, RV-driving, sputtering, loser geek. Don’t give us a politically correct Ming who’s more Donald Trump than Fu Manchu.

Thankfully, Johnson does a reasonably good job as Flash. He’s not embarrassing. And Holden is an appropriately yummy Dale. She’s no damsel-in-distress, but Dale’s never had to be. If the rest of the cast were as good, and if the scripts were, well, even “OK,” we might have at least something to work with here. But I’m afraid we don’t. And that’s a pity.

Go rent — or better yet, buy — the new DVD of the 1980 Flash Gordon movie. You know, the one with the terrific Queen score. Revel in its comic strip sappiness. Or rent the old Buster Crabbe serials from Netflix. Have yourself a party. Just ignore this new SciFi Channel “original.” It’ll be gone in a few weeks anyway.

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At 4:28 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I was in Seattle at Gnomedex and missed it. Sounds like I didn't miss much. Did Zharkov have a rocketship?

At 9:43 PM, Blogger Wally Conger said...

No rocketship for Hans. He drove an RV.


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