Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Flash Gordon on Sci-Fi

by Stew Miller
“…Nothin’ But A Man, Who Can Never Fail…” Well, almost never at any rate. Look, I knew going in to viewing the new FLASH GORDON series that I was never going to be sufficiently stunned, but the lackluster disappointment I came away with from this mess was a little more scathing that even I had imagined. SCI-FI Chanel has this inane hit-or-miss ability about them where they can either come blasting at you full force with a great series (see: DR. WHO, THE DRESDEN FILES, BATTLESTAR GALACTICA) or pummel you insultingly with some arbitrary nonsense as to make you seriously wonder what on earth they were thinking (see: Any Sci-Fi original movies, for the most part, though I suppose a few have managed to pique my interest). Now, Take FLASH GORDON; a mainstay character that any Sci-Fi buff worth his or her salt knows and loves from the eighties camp masterpiece. We loved Max Von Sydow as the overly sinister and malevolent Ming The Merciless, Sam Jones as the Jets quarterback set upon to save the Earth, Melody Anderson as the butt-kicking, Princess Leia-esque Dale Arden, and, lest we forget, Topol as the boisterous and gallant Dr. Zarkoff (’If I Were A Space Man… ya da ya da ya da… sorry). The film was absolute and pure twentieth-century tripe served hot and tasty just as science fiction comedy needed to be: never once taking itself too seriously. Or, maybe you are more familiar with the second-run serials from the fifties featuring Steve Holland and Irene Champman, or, even more prehistoric, the original films from 1936 featuring… ACTORS! Regardless of how or when you came to love these characters, one has to be a bit irritated at the path down which our beloved fictional friends have flown.

Basically, from what I could ascertain from the oh-so difficult and astoundingly well portrayed opening sequences (that, friends, is sarcasm), our human-cum-hero (Eric Johnson… at the very least he looks like a Flash Gordon, in the same vein that Brandon Routh looked like Superman) is a marathon runner who has just completed and won his third race within the confines of his little dirt-water burg. Still, a feat of this magnitude ought to drag in some more press than, say, ONE LADY! Enter our woman lead: Dale Arden (Gina Holden, doing a fine Kate Bosworth). She is a journalist and Flash’s ex-girlfriend (natch) and is back in town now currently engaged to a cop whom we see later briefly. So, Flash discovers, by sheer accident, that his apparently still-living father was some kind of NASA-hired scientist working with his partner, one Dr. Zarkoff. Now at this point the acting was just atrocious and actually made me laugh out loud at how painful it was portrayed, that is, except for Jody Racicot as Zarkoff who reminded me so very much of Byers from THE LONE GUNMEN (X-Files fans, you’ll know) and was honestly really good. So, anyway, this ’story’ caroms on for another little while until this alien arrives in the fair city bent on locating Dr. Gordon’s IMEX machine, he stirs up some trouble, attacks Flash’s mom, and gets obliterated by a well-placed bit of electrical current. So this leaves this alien’s possessions strewn about and Flash uncovers some device and his dad’s ID! ARGH! Flash, Zarkoff, and Dale follow the blinkin’ beacon on the object and, just by dumb luck, discover the ability to OPEN A RIFT ACROSS SPACE AND TIME! Wow! Awfully bright for a innocent, hick-like marathon runner… hmm, must be related to Forrest Gump. Okay, Zarkoff had been frittering away the past 13 years preparing for a time rift thanks to his and Dr. Gordon’s work… apparently where the posthumous father has gone. WOW! Anyway, Flash and Dale burst through the tear in time and end up on (cue timpani) MONGO! Hey, look, it’s… Ming? Wow, I guess he’s twisted and evil… or, something. No, I just don’t see him attempting to rule the world, maybe a South Beach Ron John’s, I guess… just a bit under the top for me. Well, Flash gets captured and tortured by Ming’s consigliere, Johnathan Walker as Rankol, who, I suppose, is pretty twisted and sick as he describes a torture ‘gun’ designed to pierce the back of one’s eyes, that was pretty cool. Dale gets whisked away a-la the film by Ming’s concubines and dressed for success complete with the listening earring but, much akin again to the movie, talks her way out or something (never really touched on) and meets up with Flash who is, at this point, free from the restraints and with another one of the ladies in waiting (maybe?). They return to earth with the aid of a new friend who, as it turns out, is Ming’s daughter, Aura (Anna Van Hooft) bent on retrieving the IMEX as well. So what is this bewildering and mysterious IMEX? It’s a damn watch! A TIMEX! Flash has had it on his wrist the whole time, of course, and it evidently hides the ENTIRE SECRET TO THE UNIVERSE IN PRETTY COLORS AND SHAPES (Dr. Who fans, you may cry a little now). Oh, I failed to mention yet another woman from Mongo has arrived on earth to collect Aura and the IMEX and she looks as though Robin Hood, Mad Max, and Bloodrayne had a baby… killer but silly. They have a penultimate melee resulting in the apparent destruction of the IMEX, Aura goes home to Ming’s vengeful whining, and Flash visits his dad’s no-longer necessary grave. And there you have it: far too thin of a story for far too thin of characters. No one really hit me as someone who will stand out in future episodes, well, maybe Zarkoff if they can keep him sufficiently toned to the level he’s at, but all in all, if this series doesn’t come at me with the fierceness of a better ’sequel’ (see: SUPERMAN II or WRATH OF KHAN), I just don’t see myself becoming much of a faithful viewer. I’d say it was crap, but crap might be angry at the comparison.

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