Flash Gordon: Ming Strikes BackFeatured
Flash, Dale, and Zarkov must journey through the far reaches of space to the forest kingdom of Arboria, on the planet Mongo, to enlist the aid of Prince Barin and his Tree Men, where, with the additional assistance of Queen Fria of Frigia and her soldiers, Flash and his friends must discover a way to put a stop to the Purple Death and disrupt the nefarious plans of Ming and his minions.
This is a feature-length cut of the 1940 public domain serial 'Flash Gordon Conquers the Universe', with Larry "Buster" Crabbe, Carol Hughes, Charles Middleton, Frank Shannon, and Anne Gwynne. Despite the dodgy science, improbable escapes, cheesy special effects, sometimes wooden acting, and juvenile story, 'Flash Gordon: Ming Strikes Back' provides a glimpse into how 'Star Wars' may have looked to an audience in 1940.
I really enjoyed this. Moved at a cracking pace, and held together well. Its not exactly grimdark; its a blast, really showcasing the energy, magic and sheer lunacy of the old serial. Well worth the time. Definitely recommended.
I only wish that more of the old serials got this sort of treatment: less exposition and repetition,fewer contrived cliff-hangers, and a lean narrative.
Overview - Yes, kids, and you thought Emperor Ming was dead! The would be ruler of the universe attacks Earth again! This time with mysterious purple dust that kills people dead. Luckily for the sake of humankind, Flash and Doctor Zarkov still patrol the skies, and they know a thing about fighting evil.
The 12 chapter cliffhanger runs three and a half hours, Billy has cut this to a little over two hours.
Video - 640 X 480p AVC. My player did a nice job improving this, but it cannot compensate for what is, at best, a mediocre print. Image Entertainment offers a crisp DVD and Laserdisc. Better source material, rather than getting public domain version.
The editing is solid. All the intros and recaps are gone. Several of the transitions are abrupt, perhaps just before the “NEXT WEEK!” banner launches. Much as I dislike fade to black, that might have solved that. I don’t know.
Audio - 128 kbps AAC 2 Channel stereo. Specs may indicate stereo, but this is mono. No subs. Dialogue is clear throughout. The music grows tedious after awhile, especially Liszt. My same issues with video transitions apply here. Music simply cuts off.
Narrative - I have not watched the original serial in a few years. Even then, I only watched a chapter per week. I had forgotten just how much action this boasts. Being a Universal production, this is not on a par with the Republic cliffhangers, but the production values were first rate back then.
Anyway, this edit really moves, though it gets jumpy at times, as Flash and Zarkov dash from one crisis to another across Mongo.
Enjoyment - For me, definitely. I have a soft spot for classic serials, even Silent ones. In 1966, Universal Television recut this into the hour and a half “Purple Death From Outer Space.” Avoid that, Billy’s edit is far superior! That said, serials were never meant to be binged. Recaps and previews can exhaust even the most patient. Billy’s version, I watched over two nights which is what I would suggest.
Much of the charm of this was always Ming. His henchmen are fools, his daughter is intractable, two Earthmen are pesky thorns he cannot escape from. For all that, his monomania is irresistible, as is that glorious voice of Middleton himself. As for Zarkov, I kept waiting for him to declare, "I've got the power pasties, and I know how to use 'em!" Alas.
Good times, Billy.
Massive apology to the editor, whom I promised I would write a review ages ago and just completely forgot. The edit is no longer uber fresh in my mind, but I still remember it well - I also took notes when watching, which helps.
I’ve never seen the original Flash Gordon serial. The 1980s Queen-scored adaptation is all I know of Flash. But since the source was in the public domain, and being interested in seeing one of the many sources of inspiration for Star Wars, I decided it could be a fun romp. And, of course, you know you’re in for a unique watch when you hear names like “Ming the merciless” and “General Loopy”. Not forgetting the “Death Dust” – what a concept.
If that doesn’t tell you what you’re in for, then let me put it this way: Flash has worse fight moves then Capt Kirk on a bad day, and several actors frequently come across like they don’t know their lines. Yeah, it’s that bad - but it’s also quite fun!
Obviously, this is not Star Wars to a T (don’t expect light sabres), but the influence is clear. Camp costumes, ray guns, spaceships, an evil dictator who wants to rule everyone, a dashing hero and a Princess in need of rescue. There are also a couple of more specific Star Wars-esque moments of which I’ve noted at the bottom of the review.
Audio/video quality – for an old TV serial taken from the public domain this looked pretty decent. Not amazing, but not nearly as bad as I was expecting. Perfectly acceptable SD quality.
Video editing - apart from some overly quick fades (a pet peeve of mine), all seemed good. I’ve never seen the original, so I had no knowledge of what was cut. I imagine there were probably some custom swipe transitions, and if so they clearly blended fine. There did seem to be a noticeable dip in brightness after each swipe transition, but since this was consistent after every swipe, I assumed it was source inherent.
Audio editing – there were a number of bad audio jumps at the start of the edit, but things seem to smooth out as the film went along. Some notable errors were:
• 8:54 – you can hear someone say “that is all” as the guards bow. The voice wasn’t familiar and bore no resemblance to the scene, so I assume this is not meant to be there.
• 1:15:59, 1:23:31, 1:45:39 – jarring audio cuts.
• 1:16:47 – start of dialogue cut off due to audio transition
Generally pretty good though. The editor took a very large quantity of material and compressed it right down. Considering the scope of the edit, the errors listed are relatively few, and with something this old, there are bound to be jumps in the original source.
Narrative – I’ve never seen the original before so it’s hard to compare, but the story was fairly straightforward and easy to follow (especially considering this is the third of three Serials). Of course, the writing is absolutely terrible and the exposition dumps are shamefully done - but I guess it’s all part of the so-bad-it’s-good package!
Enjoyment – I’ll be honest, it was a bit of a drag - but the element of fun was not absent. My occasional boredom was no fault to the editor at all – reading up on the original it seems he definitely excised a lot of material that probably would have otherwise made this unwatchable for me. I think I probably would have preferred it to have been split into two parts – that’s how I ended up watching it anyway, since it’s a rather lengthy edit.
Overall, lengthy, but fun. It was nice to see some of the space opera roots that inspired Star Wars, but this is probably not one I’d watch again.
Moments worthy of note:
• 11:38 – live long and prosper?
• 45:24 – theme very reminiscent of Star Wars (John Williams).
• 1:24:20 – Give that man an Oscar.
• 1:43:40 – Catfight.
• 1:44:01 – Insert Wilhelm Scream here!
• 2:05:44 – this is pretty much exactly the same as when the Nemoidians communicate with Amidala in Phantom Menace
May the Flash be with you ;)
Flash Gordon is easily one of my favourite all time pulp-esque heroes. Raymond's comic strip is filled with action packed drama and glorious illustrations. The Buster Crabb serials are a pure delight. The first serial made in 1936 may be the most faithful comic adaptation ever put to screen, though I think the two sequel serials are more fun and have a stronger narrative.
Which brings me to the fan edit MING STRIKES BACK! I watched this on Youtube a little while ago, and I was thoroughly impressed. Billy Batson has taken the longest and most convoluted Flash Gordon serial and nicely streamlined it to it's core elements. And while the story moves swiftly, due to the nature/style of the material I couldn't help wonder if it would play better as two 70 minutes movies rather than one long epic? Still, I was highly entertained. And when you watch the story in this configuration, it really hits home how much George Lucas "borrowed" from this amazing serial series. Almost to the point, I asked myself, was it loving homage or blatant theft? LOL.
Technically, some very minor audio and cut issues but nothing that detracts from the viewing pleasure.
All in all, a fun edit.
Thanks for the nostalgia trip Billy Batson, it left a smile on this old man fanboy's face. :)
A great fanedit of a great serial, it manages to preserve the energy of the original while dispensing with least necessary elements that only slowed down the pace of the story without adding much. It's great to see someone taking time to work on an old classic like this and doing it so well.