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First (and Last) Impressions of Flash Gordon

The original Flash Gordon comics and serials were before my time and the atrocious 1980 film has been successfully purged from my memory. Well, all except for that tiny, persistent snippet of the Queen soundtrack, of course. (Ah-Aaaaah!) So SciFi Channel’s remake (sorry…I mean “re-imagining”) was my chance to finally see what the hubbub was about.

Or not.

Generally speaking, I tend to like the things I choose to consume for entertainment. And when I don’t, my misfire usually ends in an experience of mediocrity. But Flash Gordon blows. If anyone ever asks why sci-fi TV has the reputation it does, point them in this direction.

I’m not sure where to begin. Is it the uninspired acting? Or should I blame the infantile script that the actors had to work with? How about the unresolved scenes like the one involving an alien disintegrating a bowling ball? Or the illogic that he was carrying the driver’s license of Flash’s (Ah-Aaaaah!) supposedly-dead father when he was doing it?

Here’s what I do know:

Instead of being portrayed as the “savior of the universe’, Flash (Ah-Aaaaah!) is portrayed as a go-nowhere mechanic/jock who still lives with his mother. The only explanation I can summon is that this is meant to appeal to the stereotypical geek who lives in his mom’s basement. If the stereotype is true, then the last thing they need is a reminder; if false, then it’s just insulting. Either way, how can the audience believe that underneath it all, Flash (Ah-Aaaaah!) has the wherewithal – even with the help of the nerdy, RV-stalking Professor Zarkov – to save planets from the merciless Ming?

Speaking of which, Ming isn’t so much merciless as he is a conceited boor. And, unlike the water situation, I see there’s no shortage of hair mousse on the planet Mongo. Seriously, this guy could learn lessons of villainy from Richard Simmons. I’d sooner see Ming’s second-in-command take the lead, zooming around the complex on his hidden Segway or whatever, torturing his minions with the clichéd dialogue. At least Flash (Ah-Aaaaah!) would be fighting someone worth his time, though still not ours.

But then people like Segway-Guy don’t get gals like Dale. Dale is such an experienced news reporter that she rushes off to breaking news stories with Flash (Ah-Aaaaah!) in tow instead of a news crew. These are the kind of storytelling details that add to a story if given an iota of thought but are unbelievably annoying when ignored.

I could understand if the makers were trying to go for camp, like Doctor Who. But the show is not campy, it’s just bad. I wouldn’t have finished the damn thing at all if the wife wasn’t all “you gotta at least see how it turns out.” Of course, she fell asleep on this snoozefest 10 minutes later. Thanks, hon. Now the abomination sits on my DVR until she can muster up enough strength to relive this nonsense. Good luck with that whole thing.

As for me, I won’t be tuning in again. Good riddance, Flash. (Ah-Aaaaah!)

About John DeNardo (13012 Articles)
John DeNardo is the Managing Editor at SF Signal and a columnist at Kirkus Reviews. He also likes bagels. So there.

14 Comments on First (and Last) Impressions of Flash Gordon

  1. Agreed on all counts. I was more bored than anything else and that’s death for a TV series. Also, a lot of their “creative decisions” (rifts instead of rocket ships, etc.) seemed to be “budget-saving decisions”.

    Between “Flash” and “Masters of Science Fiction” last night (And the award for most laughable geopolitical screenplay goes to…) it’s no wonder people don’t watch sci-fi. Lord knows I won’t waste any more time on thie tripe.

  2. Great review.

    Horrible show.

    I’ll watch another couple of episodes… okay, ONE…to see where they take it and if it gets any better, but I’m not expecting much.

    I mean… THIS is the “savior of the universe?” THIS is the guy who “saved every one of us”? Ummm-no. In this version, Flash is apparently some kind of jock-geek hybrid who combines the worst traits from both groups and stumbles his way through “saving the day” based on luck.


    Oh yeah… Ah-Ahhhhh!

  3. Actually Flash was always a jock (football star is what I remember) who gets picked up by the crazed Zarkov to go battle Ming. In general, the comic is not a fantastic piece of science fiction either.

  4. Wow. I had planned to record it, but now I’m glad I forgot and thus can’t really watch it.

  5. Matthew Sanborn Smith // August 12, 2007 at 10:40 am //

    The Flash that’s near and dear to me is the Filmation cartoon series from the eighties. I don’t know how it holds up now, but I absolutely loved it back then. Check out the DVD sometime for a Flash fix. No other Flash comes close. Thank you for all of your comments on this show. I won’t waste my time with it. Not that I expected brilliance from a SciFi channel original series or anything.

  6. The comic may not of have been great SF, and the movie may not have been great SF, but what they were, was campy fun (YMMV). I’ve never read the comic so all my comparisons are with the movie.

    The movie had a huge sense of style and imagination, even if the SF couldn’t keep up with the ideas. The whole thing oozed style.

    This Flash has nothing. We only see Mongo for a bout 20 minutes, and then mostly indoors, with lots of long, dark corridors. Ming is really a huge letdown. He looks like a nuevo-Prussian general, and acts like a whiny bureaucrat. Ming doesn’t seemingly negotiate with underlings, then tell his right hand man to do something sneaky. His word is obeyed unquestioningly. I see what they were trying to do with Ming, but the execution was poor.

    Much like the rest of the show.

    There is nothing, no hook for me to want to come back and watch.

    All you need to know about the Sci Fi execs: ECW and ordering 22 episodes of Flash Gordon.

  7. The comic was camp, but the artwork, especially the Alex Raymond version, was fantastic. Along with Prince Valiant and a few others, those were the golden strips of a golden age.

  8. Agreed, Fred. The strip managed to convey a true sense of wonder almost strictly visually, while apeing a lot of adventure tropes.

  9. OMG, that was an agonizing pilot episode! In what world did they think it was good?

    I think for the series, they changed Ming’s title from “the Merciless” to “the Bald-less.” WTF, Ming has hair!?!?! You can’t be diabolical and oh yeah, merciless, WITH HAIR!!?!?!

    They basically got the script for a bad WB, er…CW teeny bopper show with a lot of “pretty” people and put the Flash (ahh-aaaahh) Gordon characters’ names on them.

    Despite all that, I’ll probably keep watching/TiVo-ing it before it gets cancelled (probably not that far off) and cater to my base taste of watching (with the sound off) hot actresses do some bad acting…

    Poor Ms. Karen Cliche, she’s so hot but she just can’t seem to pick a show that has any kind of longevity…

  10. To me, Ming and Zarkov both looked too young for thier roles. Ming looked more like his daughter’s older brother, than her father, and Zarkov was supposed to have been Flash’s father’s assistant 13 years ago but looke to be in his twenties. The chicks were hot, but that’s not enough to make me come back. And whats with this bounty hunter girl being unable to give Flash a good thrashing?

  11. The original Alex Raymond strips are pure visual splendor, leavened with just enough plot to not slow down the wonder-show. Every trope and cliche from 1930’s sciffy appeared in glorious color there: Ming was a spacebourne Fu Manchu (though he also appeared in costumes of a Roman Imperator, or anything else that strike the artists’ fancy); Prince Barin was a space Robin Hood, complete with Lincoln Green and bows and arrows; Princess Aura was the femme fatale’s femme fatale; Queen Azura was Ayesha from H Rider Haggard, hardly even with a name-change; and thrown into this were winged space-vikings, dinsosaurs, rayguns, man-eating plants, ape-men, lion-men, cave-men, and every other danger or disaster a two-fisted hero could shake a knife at.

    The Filmation version from the 1980’s is available on DVD, and my childhood memories were not disappointed. Aura is still the most beautiful evil space emperor’s daughter on film. The Filmation version took great pains to be true to the spirit and look of the Alex Raymond strip, and deserves every compliment fanboys can bestow: it is simply wonderful — until the second season, when the idea of following the strip was abandoned and the series was severely amputated of charm and good ideas, being dumbed down for smaller kids.

    That Flash Gordon, the icon of popular Science Fiction equaled only by Buck Rogers, should be treated by Sci Fi channel in such as fashion means … it means …

    It means WIZARD OF EARTHSEA, also known as Ged Goes To Hogwarts, was not an unparalleled travesty and prodigal disaster. It means disasters are par for the course.

  12. Re: The Filmation cartoon.

    I agree, it jumps the shark at the end of the first season. Once the second season starts, with the dumbing down of the show, and the introduction of Scrappy…err, I mean, Gremlin, the show isn’t worth watching.

    Up to that point, its lots of fun.

  13. To be quite honest… I adored the comics and the 80’s film. But the reimagining sucked… really sucked… I haven’t watched too much of the series and the bits that I have seen are just crap. It reminds me of bionic woman. That just sucks really big time… Feels like watching Alias when it was ending… you wanted more but it just didn’t have anything to give…

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