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Flash Gordon, Who Will Save Every One of Us

I am a fan of Flash Gordon in all his forms. The 1940 Buster Crabbe serial Flash Gordon Conquers the Universe is a huge amount of fun, the original comic strip is pure Pulp action, and the 1980 Sam Jones vehicle is, well, I guess it's not exactly "good", but I still derive a great deal of enjoyment for it. I realize this confession may undercut whatever credibility I had, but I think honesty is important on the internet.

So as far as I'm concerned, Flash Gordon is the most exciting aspect of the Sci-Fi Channel's upcoming season, narrowly edging out whatever hilarious Sci-Fi Original Movie is coming up next. (It's Supergator! Of course it is!). I was a little concerned that they'd make it too much like the 1980 film, or that they'd be afraid of making it too campy and go too far the other way. Grim-and-gritty works fine for Battlestar Galactica, but I think you want a Flash Gordon with a sense of fun.

The overall plot is about the same as usual: Flash Gordon is regular (albeit athletic) guy from Earth when suddenly aliens from the planet Mongo show up and start destroying things and taking a liking to Dale Arden. The crazy doctor Hans Zarkov is the only one who can help Flash, and things spiral out of control from there. There's a little more backstory than usual (Flash's father is missing; Dale is actually Flash's ex-girlfriend; there's an alien bounty hunter stuck on Earth and she likes the looks of Flash, and so on) but the general outline looks about right.

The set tour made me reasonably optimistic. Ming's Council Chamber wasn't as crazy and over-the-top as I had been hoping, but his Dungeon Torture Chamber looks pretty good. And I guess if you're Ming, the ruthless (and merciless) ruler of Mongo, you probably do more business down in the dungeons than in the council chamber anyway. As you can see, I've convinced myself that this is a Ming who knows his business, and his business is probably going to involve constantly capturing Dale Arden, Flash Gordon, or Hans Zarkov, and holding them in impenetrable cells for about twenty minutes until one of the other ones breaks the prisoner loose. That's my hope, anyway.

Eric Johnson, the gentleman playing Flash, has a good look for Flash Gordon. You might remember his as Whitney from Smallville. That's what they tell me, anyway. I think it's interesting that this Flash is a marathon runner as opposed to a football player, as in the 1980 movie. If I was in a mood for analysis, I'd start talking about how that indicates that this Flash is a "runner" rather than a "fighter," but I suspect there's actually going to be plenty of fighting anyway.

The important thing is that Flash is enthusiastic. Describing his attitude toward action scenes, Johnson says, "I'm a bit of a golden retriever on set. You throw a ball and I will go get it. And if you keep throwing it, I will keep getting it, because this is the best game I have ever played." I have to think that's a good attitude to have in a business where you have to do the same thing a million time in a row.

The other supporting characters also look about right. Hans Zarkov has been changed from a vaguely-foreign old crazy scientist to a younger comedy sidekick, but that just seems logical. In order for Flash to walk the line between "Dashing Hero" and "Average Guy Caught Up in Events Beyond His Control," it helps for there to be someone else even more over his head.

We didn't get a look at Ming. The word is that they're trying to make this version of Flash Gordon less racist than the previous versions, so Ming (who won't be called "Ming the Merciless") probably won't be a full-on Fu Manchu scheming oriental. You can see how that kind of thing might not fly in the 21st century. They actually mentioned that Ming might be blond, but I can't promise anything. I did notice that his guards will be wearing pretty cool uniforms.

We did get a pretty good look at some of the costumes. The plan appears to involve a number of different alien societies, so I assume there will be some scenes among the people in crazy furs and and then a scene in the decadent high-society culture. That one sounds interesting, because there will be both male and female concubines being led around on leashes, although it won't be the focus of the scene or anything. I approve of that kind of detail being thrown into the background.

Now, with all that out of the way, I shall proceed to bury the lede. You are naturally curious about whether they'll be using the Queen "Flash Gordon" song from the 1980 movie. Well, we got mixed messages on that. Some people claimed they had no idea. But at least one Sci-Fi executive said that they'd found some indie band to either rerecord the song or remix it or something. The important message here is that somehow, some way, there will be a "Flash! Aaah-aaaah!" involved at some level. So there you go. Happy now?

Anyway, Flash Gordon premieres August 10 at 9:00. Personally, I'll be watching raptly, although I am under no illusion that even with the recent popularity of Sci-Fi Channel shows, my tastes are anything ilke the general public's. If they were, The Secret Adventures of Jules Verne would be on DVD by now.


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