Tuesday, October 10, 2023

Classic TV Flashback: Flash Gordon: The Greatest Adventure of All (1982)

Flash Gordon: The Greatest Adventure of All

Debut: August 21, 1982
Written by  Samuel A. Peeples, Alex Raymond
Starring: Robert Ridgely, Diane Pershing, Bob Holt, Vic Perrin
Synopsis: Flash Gordon, Dale Arden and Dr. Hans Zarkov travel to the planet Mongo and wind up fighting the tyrannical rule of Emperor Ming the Merciless.

Trey: Flash Gordon: The Greatest Adventure of All is animated television movie that aired on NBC in 1982. The project was begun in 1979 following the success of Star Wars, but lead to a Saturday morning TV series, which actually aired before the movie.

This film has never been released on home video in the U.S., so far as I know, but it's available on YouTube.

Jason: I grew up on Filmation as my primary supplier of action/adventure Saturday morning cartoons. Foremost in my memories are the Tarzan and Batman series from the 70s-80s, but I also have some dim recollection of the Flash Gordon series. My memories are occluded by pre-teen rejection of "greasy kid stuff". As a result, I mostly remember viciously lampooning the reused animation elements that resulted in Batman, Tarzan, and Flash jogging identically down and to the left or down and to the right. These rotoscoped sequences looked cool, and were typically the most fluid and impressive bits of animation in the shows.  But as a kid, I bristled at what could only be regarded as Filmation's repeated and unrepentant insults to my intelligence. Do they think I can't tell that when Tarzan swings on a vine he does so in precisely the same manner as when Batman does a Bat-swing on the Bat-rope?

Though many of those sequences were trotted out for Flash, I was pleasantly surprised by this production, which not only looks very good and includes many novel bits of animation previously unseen, but also embraced an ambitious agenda of visual storytelling.

Trey: I think in this era of overseas outsourcing of animation and heavy use of computers, it's easy to be derisive of the shortcuts and failings of animation with less than a feature film budget in the 80s. Filmation here shows the failings of their economical style, but also brings in some techniques borrowed from Japanese animation and even, I believe, some early computer use in addition to some accomplished rotoscoping.

Jason: I found the battling dinosaurs to be remarkable for American animation of the era. 

The Beast Men's Temple of Ming sequence sold me. I was amazed at the minimal dialogue and long, entirely visual sequences. Danger felt real! Violence felt consequential!

The script by Peebles hummed along at a steady pace and seemed unusually adult, again for American animation of this vintage. And when I say adult, I mean stand by for 1930's norms visited upon impressionable children of the 80's. Eugenics comes into play, retrograde depictions of female characters (Dale Arden, in peril of a horrible marriage to Ming, disappears for a lengthy portion of the movie), and, astonishingly, Hitler! Yes, Hitler! Sorry for the spoiler, folks. Trey, help me understand!

Trey: Yes, Peeple's (who wrote the second pilot for Star Trek as well) provides a script clearly for primetime, not Saturday morning. Note the use of firearms in the fight with the dinosaurs and the flaming sword in the final duel. Overall, not only does it move along pretty well, it's fairly faithful to Raymond's original comic strip, though not as faithful as the more extended Saturday morning cartoon version. The Hitler connection is original to Peeples, so far as I know.

I enjoyed hearing Ted Cassidy as Thun. He doesn't voice him in the series. Several of the other voices are different as well: Vultan, Barin, and Ming. No disrespect to Vic Perrin here, but I miss Alan "Skeletor" Oppenheimer's villainous cackle for Ming.

Jason: My verdict: Overall, this incarnation Flash Gordon delivered constant (adequate) thrills, solid animation, well-imagined vistas, and was, against all odds, pretty entertaining. 

Trey: I love the animated series from my youth, so it's hard for me to judge with objective eyes. This is only the second time I've seen the TV movie, though, so I was pretty fresh on it. I enjoyed it for the reasons you say, but I miss the more expansive storyline of the series.

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