The New Adventures of Flash Gordon (1979-1980) is a delicious adaptation of Alex Raymond’s classic comic strip. According to IMDb, the series was originally conceived as a live action vehicle, but NBC opted for a budget-friendly animated one by Saturday morning staple. The serialized format delivered 16 episodes in the first season. I’m assuming you know the basic plot, so if you’re new to this series, beware slight spoilers.
There’s quite a bit to enjoy in this particular adaptation—including better than average animation and some feisty action. But what got my fist pumping the air was the surprisingly high level of sensuality and romance. For a Saturday morning animated show, Flash Gordon practically bleeds with romance if one counts the various love triangles, secret crushes, and reckless lust.
To wit: “I’d welcome you in another way, wench…if my imperial father hadn’t reserved that pleasure for himself!” so says the voluptuous Princess Aura to Dale Arden, after setting her ocular hooks into Flash upon first seeing him.
The first four episodes contain a romance subplot that nearly takes over the main one—once evil emperor Ming the Merciless kidnaps Dale with the intention of marrying her (!), Flash’s main goal is to rescue her. The fact that he overthrows Ming (for now) felt incidental by the end.
Then there’s the romance triangle involving angst-filled Prince Barin, leader of Arboria. He reminds the viewer of his not-so-secret crush on Aura pretty much about every five minutes. In fact, he even boldly declares his affection to her face with a nasally yet heartfelt, “I love you!”
Plus, you can’t beat the undulating slave dancers and scantily clad Amazonian beauties peppered throughout. When did Laff-A-Lympics ever deliver that?
Boldly going where no Mystery Machine ventured before, the team behind The New Adventures of Flash Gordon managed to insert a bit of Gorean naughtiness that mesmerized a generation of pubescent teens who happened to tune in to the show many a Saturday morning. While enjoying the episodes on DVD, I often found the parade of flesh distracting in a most titillating way, as evidenced by my vocal reactions to some scenes:
Me, upon seeing Princess Aura’s breasts jiggle: “Wow, look at her boobs!”
My husband: “…”
Me: “Check out Flash Gordon’s ass!”
My husband: “…”
Ah, the rotoscoping joys of Filmation…!
To top it all off, there’s a kiss Flash bestows on Dale that sizzles like no other. It also helps that Dale is smokin’ in her
slave Leia exotic outfit. (I swear, in addition to being really, really horny, Ming must have been a fashion designer on the side. What a multi-tasker extraordinaire!)
While there’s a lot to recommend—if you keep the show’s limitations in mind—I only wish the editing and scripts hadn’t been so heavily toward highly distractible kids armed with an itchy index finger poised on the remote. Too many scenes simply exceed the plot boundaries of galactic verisimilitude for my tastes.
For example, Aura falls for Flash about five seconds after first seeing him; a few minutes later and she’s already defying her father—the Emperor of Everything—over him. At that rate, I expected her pregnant by the end of the first episode. Still, I guess even Ming had to obey his pecuniary masters by hawking sugary cereal and Stretch Armstrongs, keeping young eyes glued to the set with non-stop action—even at the cost of stronger characterization.
Speaking of limitations, my favorite inadvertently humorous moments came during scenes of Prince Barin’s disappearing/reappearing hat in between scenes. And then there’s Gremlin, the Scrappy Doo meets Bat-Mite of the Mongo universe. But the less said about that pink critter, the better.
These quibbles aside, this series is still worth a look. It may seem tame to those who have cut their animated teeth on today’s unrated anime, but for fans nostalgic for science fiction pulp, it still possesses a timeless appeal.
Now if only the powers of Mongo would release the TV movie, which wasn’t shown until 1982. It dared to push the boundaries even more with its scenes of war on Earth. Alas, it remains unreleased on home video. Perhaps the forthcoming big budget feature of Flash in 2012 will prompt someone to do the right thing and help send us back to that (almost) forgotten version of Mongo.
Heather Massey is a blogger who travels the sea of stars searching for science fiction romance adventures aboard The Galaxy Express. Additionally, she pens a science fiction romance column for LoveLetter, Germany’s premier romance magazine.