Welcome to the animated realm of Filmation's Flash Gordon. Primarily penned by prolific screenwriter Samuel A. Peeples, this sector of the Flash Gordon multiverse may be the most compelling and well written version of all.
As a kid, I personally never missed the wonderfully plotted and suprisingly intelligent Flash Gordon
cartoon when it ran weekly on Saturday morning television in 1979. Before the regular series began however,
Filmation produced a full length animated feature called Flash Gordon: The Greatest Adventure of All. Though suspiciously, this extremely well crafted telefilm wasn't broadcast until 1982).
Initially set against the backdrop of the global upheaval and turbulence of World War II, this incarnation (the belatedly televised pilot/telefilm) of the Flash Gordon mythos, begins
in war ravaged Europe, where our intrepid hero (played by voice and screen actor, Robert Ridgely) is on a US state department mission.
Like the Filmation style of animation or not, this is one of their all time best productions
Arriving at the appointed meeting place in Warsaw, his contact is soon in the throes of death, only managing
to croak, "You must get to Dr. Zarkov. Tell him... Mongo...," before more explosions force Flash out of the
building only moments before its complete destruction.
Naturally, this all sounds like pure mumbo jumbo to Flash,
but he boards a plane to get to Zarkov, where he first meets Dale Arden (Diane Pershing), who is on her way to interview the enigmatic doctor, that even in this version of the classic scifi saga,
is rumored to be a madman, constantly raving about the impending doom of the planet Earth.
Suddenly, the plane comes under attack from a mysterious force from the outer atmosphere, so Flash and Dale are forced
to bail out. As they descend precariously on a single parachute into the cataclysmic disaster of an
explosion wracked landscape below, the pair is miraculously saved by a strange particle beam that brings them
gently down, safe and sound.
With explosions going on everywhere around them, they are then forced to take
refuge in a nearby cave, which leads the newly formed couple straight into the secluded laboratory of Dr. Hans Zarkov (David Opatoshu). Then, in order to save them all from sure destruction (due to the massive aerial bombardment wrecking
havoc around them) Zarkov herds the newcomers into his already prepped rocket and the trio is soon slipping the surly bonds of Earth's atmosphere.
Flash then delivers the cryptic message about Mongo to Zarkov, but before much more can be said, their
ship comes under attack by an unknown starship. This bombardment forces the group to crashland on the planet Mongo, where they soon become embroiled in an intergalactic civil war against tyrannical space lord Ming the Merciless (Bob Holt). And so begins one of Filmation's finest animated efforts, The New Adventures of Flash Gordon.
The New Adventures of Flash Gordon from Filmation
The first installment of Flash Gordon: The Greatest Adventure of All, can be seen in the YouTube offering (below) from the dubiously named goclickyourself. This video clip collection (which appears to have been transfered from a vintage VHS recording) is,
for now at least, a really great way to catch the mostly forgotten telefilm.
Yet hopefully, with any luck, Filmation or King Features (as the case may be), will soon release this extremely faithful retelling of the original Alex Raymond comic strip as a high quality DVD transfer. Until then, I guess Flash Gordon devotees such as yours
truly, will just have to keep our fingers crossed and our ray guns at the ready.
The New Adventures of Flash Gordon
Below is the exciting series opener for the weekly The New Adventures of Flash Gordon cartoon series. The first sixteen episodes (season one) were really well done for
a TV production (animated or not), leaving one to wonder what the show might have become if it had originally
been greenlit as a live action show.
Yet perhaps the highly imaginative and epic nature of the Flash
Gordon saga forced the filmmakers to resort to using relatively cheap animation to tell their story, as the characters and
exotic locales originally plotted out by Peeples would have been much too expensive to do in any other format than as a big
budget, live action feature film.
Unfortunately, the NBC Network later tampered with the storyline and format of the weekly show, which resulted in a second season in 1982
that is widely regarded to have been of much lower quality than the first sixteen episode run of the series. This
was apparently done to make the stories more episodic and thereby more compatible with the network's usual practice
of repeating televised installments throughout the season.
By adding a dragon character named Gremlin in the second season, they also hoped to make the show more appealing for a younger audience. Neither strategy
proved especially successful, but we will still always have those wonderfully written first sixteen episodes (and
the Flash Gordon: The Greatest Adventure of All telefilm), which are still regarded, both as some
of the Filmation company's best work and as one of the most faithful retellings of Alex Raymond's seminal space saga to date.
Flash Gordon: The Greatest Adventure of All 4 Inch Figures from Mattel
A gallery of promotional images of the 1:18 scale action figures,
based on the 1979 cartoon telefilm and produced by Mattel in about 1980, can be found at Plaid Stallions.com. The photo below, from the collection of Enigma Force, actually shows a more complete set of the figures themselves - though it does not include the now much
more rare inflatable rocket ship.
Altogether, Mattel only released eight characters from the show, including the four
bad guys pictured at left (Lizard Woman, Beast Man, two of which are shown, Captain Arak
and Ming) and the good guys at right (Flash Gordon, Dr. Zharkov, Thun
the Lion Man and Vultan). It should be noted however, that Enigma Force custom added the
wings that Vultan is wearing in the photo. The actual vintage wings that came with the figure were highly detailed and
cast in a maroon color.
Below are front and side views of the white mailer box that many of the Mattel Filmation Flash Gordon figures were
sold in. Look at that $1.88 sale price! Those were the days, my friend!
Photo courtesy of Enigma Force
Photo courtesy of Enigma Force
The Vibrant Characters of Filmation's Flash Gordon
As with 1980 big budget update of the
Flash Gordon mythos, the Filmation version of Flash's exploits certainly has more than its share of wonderfully
rendered classic characters, all more or less in keeping with the pre-established history of the franchise.
Emperor Ming (Alan Oppenheimer), ruler of the planet Mongo
Animated Flash Gordon (Robert Ridgely)
Beautiful and intelligent Dale Arden (Diane Pershing)
Dr. Zarkov (Alan Oppenheimer), genius or raving madman?
Prince Baron (Robert Ridgely), noble ruler of Arboria
Princess Aura (Melendy Britt), smoking hot daughter of Ming
Prince Vultan (Allan Melvin) of the Hawkmen
Thun (Ted Cassidy/Alan Melvin), the Lion Man
Ming's loyal henchman, Captain Arak
Ming's expendable foot soldiers, the "Metal Men"
Gremlin, the Jar Jar Binks of Filmation's Flash Gordon
The Beast Men, one of the many races of Mongo
The whip cracking Lizard Women of Mongo
Just one of the many monsters of Mongo
Filmation did a great job of depicting the various races and civilizations of Mongo
The New Adventures of Flash Gordon features a great story and many wonderful animation sequences