Any Star Wars fan worth his or her salt knows that George Lucas was heavily inspired by the Flash Gordon serials of the 1930s. I also fell in love with those serials as a boy, when they aired on television as part of a locally produced children’s show called Lighthouse 20 (it was on channel 20, get it?). They were pretty primitive looking by the standards of the late 1970s (never mind how they look today!), but I was enchanted by their earnestness and sense of exotic adventure, as well as the compulsively addicting cliffhanger endings of each episode. (It didn’t hurt that the serials were one of the very few bits of sci-fi I could share with my father, who didn’t understand my nerdy obsessions at all but had happy memories of watching these on TV himself as a kid in the 1950s.)
Flash is one of those great characters, like Sherlock Holmes or Superman, who seems to get reinvented every few decades for a new generation, and who can adapt to just about any medium. He started off in a newspaper comic strip written and drawn by the great artist Alex Raymond, and has since appeared in the film serials starring Buster Crabbe; in radio serials; in a 1950s TV show starring Steve Holland; in a variety of animated TV versions; in a plethora of comic books and novels; and of course, in the infamous 1980 feature film that’s likely remembered more for its bombastic soundtrack music by the rock group Queen than anything (although weirdly enough, it’s actually pretty faithful, visually speaking, to Raymond’s original strips!) The most recent effort to revive the character, a live-action series produced for the Sci-Fi Channel in 2007, was a misfire, but I’ve no doubt some big Flash project will be coming along again before too long.
In the meantime, we Gordon fans can content ourselves with a little treasure I’ve just discovered called Flash Gordon Classic, a fan film produced by a professional animator named Robb Pratt, who has worked on a number of features and TV series for Walt Disney Animation Studios. Pratt has blended elements from the ’30s serials (the opening crawl, the music, the giant lizard) and the 1980 feature (Flash’s origin as a football player and Ming’s magical ring), and spiced it up with a bit of Heavy Metal-style pulchritude (you’ll see what I mean), and the end result is, well, charming. Doctor Zarkov sounds a bit too much like Groo from the Despicable Me movies, but that’s a middling complaint. The truth is, I’m in love all over again…
I wish there was more of this… I’d not only watch an entire series of this Flash Gordon, I’d watch the hell out of it!