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I never saw this movie in its original network broadcast (NBC late
night Sunday after the local news) and assumed that it was merely a
compilation of the first 4 episodes of the TV series, "The New
Adventures of Flash Gordon." In fact, "Flash Gordon: The Greatest
Adventure of All" was an original movie separate from the TV series.
This movie is the pilot episode made by Filmation to sell the TV series
to the networks.
Although some of the footage from this pilot movie was recycled and reused in the TV series, the movie tells an original story that parallels some of the story elements from the TV series, but also has many scenes that never appeared in the series at all. As just one example, the TV series begins with the arrival on Mongo by Flash, Dale, and Zarkov. The movie begins earlier, with Flash still on Earth in Poland in 1939, as the Germans are bombing Warsaw. Flash later meets Dale Arden on a commercial airplane flight, and they both meet Zarkov after they bail out of their plane before its crash. Eventually, the three blast off in Zarkov's rocket immediately before a flaming comet destroys Zarkov's lab. (The first scene in the credits for the TV series included several seconds of this footage of their departure from Earth.) All of this is straight out of the original Alex Raymond comic strips, and the entire movie is faithful to the spirit and sense of wonder in the original 1930s and 1940s comic strips.
This movie is much more adult in tone than the Saturday morning TV series it inspired,which may explain why NBC effectively buried this movie by airing it late at night on Sunday. Although broadcast standards have changed since 1979, this movie would have been considered too violent to be aired on Saturday morning in the 1980s. This is unfortunate because this movie is so entertaining and well animated. The story is superb, and the animation is superior to most of the animation in the TV series. (The best animation in the TV series is the animation reused from this movie.) This is one of those rare cartoons (like Jonny Quest) that can be enjoyed equally by adults and children. It is a crime that this movie has never been released on home video (yet), since it seems never to be aired on TV. You may be able to find a bootleg copy on eBay if you are fortunate.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
This was the feature version of the Flash Gordon animated series, from
Filmation and NBC. It had actually been in production before the series
version. NBC was so impressed with the footage that they commissioned the
series, using footage from the feature for stock scenes.
The feature was in production at the same time as the Dino De Laurentis version. In fact, according to Animation by Filmation, (by Michael Swanigan and Darrell McNeil, Blackbear Press, 1993), De Laurentis was also impressed by the footage, and invested money in it when the studio ran into budget problems.
SPOILERS: The film begins in Warsaw, Poland, in 1939, as the Nazis are bombing it. Flash is working for the state department and comes across the name, Mongo. He escapes Poland and flies back to the US on a plane, which is also carrying Dale Arden, reporter. The plane is hit by a meteor and Flash and Dale bail out, when they are rescued by Dr. Hans Zarkov. Zarkov informs them that the meteor shower is a deliberate attack by Mongo, which they must stop. The trio rockets off into space, on their journey to Mongo.
On Mongo, the group meets up with Emperor Ming the Merciless and his daughter Aura. They befriend Prince Thun, of the Lion Men, and make their escape. They form alliances with Prince Barin of Arboria and Vultan, King of the Hawkmen. Together, they launch an assault on Ming's palace and rescue Dale and Zarkov, as well as push Mongo away from Earth.
Over the course of the movie, it is revealed that Ming is the source of the Nazi's greatest weapons, such as the V-2 rocket. This adds a whole new wrinkle to Ming's villainy and makes Mongo an even greater threat to the Earth. Flash is given a government connection and a background in the 1936 Olympics. This is a much better background than an NFL quarterback, as in the other movie.
There are different voices in the film, with a few exceptions. Robert Ridgely is still Flash, Diane Pershing is Dale and Melendy Britt is Aura. Thun is played by Ted Cassidy (Lurch of the Addams Family) and Barin, Ming, and Zarkov have different voice actors. The performances are quite good, something Filmation was not noted for.
I was blown away by this film when it was finally broadcast. It had all of the key episodes and finally provided the beginning of the story, which had been missing from the series. Unlike the De Laurentis film, it kept a serious tone and was faithful to Alex Raymond's wonderful strip. Unfortunately, it was never released on video, although several episodes of the series were. You can still find it from tape traders and, occasionally, on ebay. it's definitely worth seeing if you like the cartoon series or the Sam Jones version.
I'm normally not a big fan of anything that Filmation did after Star Trek, but this movie just blew me away when I saw it one Saturday night when I was only 15. The stunningly good animation, the surprisingly high level of violence for its day (Adult Swim has much more nowadays), and great voice acting all made an impression on me. What was more I noticed that the artists were given much more leeway than is normal when it came to showing female flesh, especially that many of the female creatures wore little more than very narrow straps over their breasts. Princess Aura acted more sultry than ever, posing like a pinup model and reclining suggestively upon her ever-so-handy couch. About the only clunky spot in the movie came when Thun and Flash were about to turn in for the night and Thun spoke about his personal sexual desires. Well-intentioned upon the writers' part, but it just seemed more than a bit weird to me. It's too bad that Filmation buried this gem after showing it only once. However, my sources tell me that it was not the level of violence that concerned the company. It was all of the sexually suggestive costumes which, in the days before digital editing became possible, would have been impossible cut out of the scenes without eliminating the scenes altogether.
This animation was my first contact with magical world of Flash Gordon. I had never before even heard of him, although there was some similarities with one Micky Mouse story. This film was made with love and it shows: the animation is absolutely fabulous.
Flash Gordon began as a comic strip drawn by Alex Raymond. In the 1930s
it was the inspiration for three much-loved movie serials starring
Buster Crabbe, which George Lucas says were his inspiration for Star
Wars. In the 1950s, there was a really bad live action TV version. In
the 1970s, there was a camp live action film, most famous for its Queen
soundtrack. "Frash Wawa, he saved every one of us..." Al Williamson
drew some beautiful Flash Gordon comic books, before moving on to draw
the Star Wars comic strip.
The Flash Gordon comic strip is now all reprint. My favorite Flash Gordon stories are those written for the comic strip by Harry Harrison, of Stainless Steal Rat fame, and drawn by Dan Barry, reprinted in Comics Revue.
This TV movie, also released as a Saturday morning cartoon, was written by Star Trek writer Sam Peeples, and more or less faithfully follows the early Alex Raymond comic strip adventures. The less polished, more repetitious, Saturday morning version is now out on DVD.
Flash Gordon, Dale Arden and Dr. Hans Zarkov travel to the planet Mongo
to fight the evil emperor Ming the Merciless who is secretly giving
military technology to Hitler.
Despite Filmation reuse and overused of recycled cells (notably Ming laughing) this truly is one of Flash Gordon's greatest adventures. The setting and scenes ooze the imagination, with giant statues, palaces, space crafts and monsters. The 1980's live action movie borrows plenty from this Filmation film. Although shown in 22 December 1983 in the UK on ITV it was split up and used as the bases of the Saturday morning series Flash Gordon (1979).
Written by Samuel A. Peeples, whose credits include the original Star Trek series, its packed with great action set ups and array of memorable characters including the voice talent of Melendy Britt as Aura (later she voiced She-ra) and Ted Cassidy's Chewbacca lion like Thun. It's only short coming is that Dale Arden is sorely underused, reduced to a damsel in distress.
It's edgy has a great atmosphere and even delivers a twist ending that outdoes it's 1980's live action counterpart.
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