Saturday, December 02, 2006

SATURDAY MORNING CULT TV BLOGGING: Flash Gordon: "Ming's Last Battle"

We cap off our Saturday morning double-header today with Chapter 16 of Filmation's Flash Gordon (the last chapter of the series' freshman season). It's titled "Ming's Last Battle," and is written by Ted Pederson.

While Flash Gordon is frozen in suspended animation to be a witness at the wedding of Dale Arden and Ming the Merciless, Vultan and the allies plot the final battle for control of the planet. In one hour, Vultan reveals from his restored throne, "the free people of Mongo" will "march on Ming's palace."

In Mingo City, Dale reminds Captain Erzine (Ming's right-hand man...) of Earth atrocities carried out in the name of "following orders" in hopes of stoking his conscience (a veiled reference to Nazism and World War II...). Also Aura rescues Flash from his prison of ice.

At the same time, the war rages between Ming's fleet and the Hawkmen over Sky City. At the last minute, the others Allies show up to save the day. Queen Undina (from Coralia...) arrives in the nick of time to help Flash and Aura destroy a mobile gun fortress, and Fridgia's Queen Fria turns the tide in air battle, delivering the necessary Orium power supplies to prevent Sky City from dropping out of the sky.

Alas, Gundar "the desert Hawk," Azura (the Magic Queen) and Tropica's Queen Desira are all MIA. Which kind of sucks. We've spent fifteen chapters building allies, making new alliances and so forth, and it seems like this is the time for the reunion. Hope they don't get to share in the spoils once Barin is "regent" of Mongo.

Anyway, the final campaign for control of Mongo occurs in the ornate throne room as Dale (looking sexy in her wedding gown...) and Ming are to be wed. Ming and Flash fight it out on ledges, in corridors, and on high city spires. Ray guns, flame swords and fisticuffs all get play. Inevitably, Ming speaks the classic line "Now You Die!" I waited a dozen episodes for that bit of dialogue. In the climactic duel, there's a surprise and a shock and...well, that would be telling, wouldn't it?

Summing up the Flash Gordon experience: "So many strange adventures...so many new friends."

And, just a teaser: the season ends with a kiss...

We'll return to Filmation's Flash Gordon season two some day in the future. Next week, we begin a brand new Saturday Morning show: the live-action 1976 series, Ark II.

So bring your Cheerios, and tune in then. Same blog time; same blog station.

SATURDAY MORNING CULT TV BLOGGING: Flash Gordon: "Revolt of the Power Men"

"Too long Ming has held my city and people captive," King Vultan notes in this chapter of Filmation's Flash Gordon series, numbered 15. Yes, the worm is turning, and the final battle is nearing.

"It is time for action," Flash agrees, noting that the rebellion needs "an edge" against Ming the Merciless, and that the edge may well be Sky City, the domain of Gordon's "feathered friend."

Flash, Barin, Thun and Vultan thus determine to re-take Sky City, unaware that Ming has dispatched his chief lieutenant, Captain Erzine, to capture Aura and Dale and to make the latter his bride. In this section of the episode, as the women are kidnapped, there's a lovely view of the interior of Ming's dome-shaped hanger bay, and it's an impressive design (and shot), as a warship in Ming's fleet is lowered into the chamber, surrounded by docked vessels.

Meanwhile, Flash joins up with Ergon, leader of the Power Men, on Sky City. The campaign to capture the city goes badly, however, and a stray blast hits the power generator. The city plunges out of the sky, but Ergon realizes before it is too late that the failed anti-gravity beams can be fed directly into the energy matrix, or some such thing. In the end, Sky City belongs to the Allies.

"A good day's work," is how Flash describes the battle before determining that now the fight is between Ming and him. He heads off to Mingo City -- and is promptly captured and frozen by Ming the Merciless.

One episode to go...

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

TRADING CARD CLOSE UP # 8: Alien 3


I've been a long-time admirer of Alien 3, the second sequel to Ridley Scott's 1979 classic, Alien. I'm not one of those fan fanatic bashers who hated the film because the creators had the audacity to kill Newt, Hicks, Bishop or any other beloved character/survivor of Aliens (1986). On the contrary, I've loudly championed Alien 3 (1991) as a great film, in a retrospective here.

Some of what I wrote in that piece:

"Fincher directed a visually dazzling film as determinedly different from Aliens as Cameron's vision was from the Scott original. Perhaps more significantly, Fincher created a film with a message more powerful and relevant than either predecessor. What the Alien faithful actually objected to in Alien 3 was not directorial approach, plot, or even theme, but Fincher's purposeful overturning of every expectation they had carried into the theater with them.

The roots of Alien 3's public relations nightmare can be pinpointed in the very nature of film sequels. The trick in producing a successful follow-up is giving audiences a big dollop of familiar material while also feeding them a diet of something different enough to avoid accusations of "ripping off" or "cashing" in on the source material. Fincher's task was doubly difficult because he not only had to produce a sequel that genuflected to Alien and Aliens, but one that could be heralded as a modern cinematic masterpiece and stand proudly in the franchise valhalla with the highly-regarded earlier movies.

This was no easy task, but Fincher succeeded by adopting an approach he would later repeat in Seven (1995), The Game (1997) and Fight Club (1999), by pointedly toying with audience perceptions and expectations. Although Sigourney Weaver as Ripley, the Bishop Android (Henriksen), the titular xenomorph, and even Weyland-Yutani, the villainous corporation, all returned for Alien 3 action, every plot twist in the third film boldly dashed viewer expectations.

...Appropriately, the film's dialogue echoed the decision to make a surprising, dangerous sequel. The film's lead convict, Dillon (Charles Dutton), gave voice to Alien 3's overall philosophy during a funeral service for the early casualties of Alien 3. Eulogizing the dead, he declared (for the benefit of Ripley and, no doubt, the audience) that "there aren't any promises. Nothing's certain. Only that some get called; some get saved. " It was this application of cruel, random - but realistic, fate, not some kind of "loyalty" to franchise stock characters, that dominated Fincher's challenging sequel."

Anyway, I'm writing about this subject today and featuring Alien 3 as my eighth trading card close-up. Because, let's face it, the execs at 20th Century Fox meddled with Fincher's vision, and Fincher - in my estimation - is one of the few modern "greats" in terms of directing horror/thriller films. Looking at Panic Room today, I can see that he marshals CGI imagery as part of a film's tapestry, not as a special effects gimmick, for instance. In fact, if Hitchcock were alive and making movies today, I imagine he'd use CGI in the manner that Fincher does. So - if execs hadn't interfered in the making of Alien 3, imagine just what a true, unadulterated masterpiece it might have been.

We already know the making of the film was a difficult period, but these trading cards from Star Pics are very revealing. The cards show tons of deleted scenes that would have changed the nature of the film we saw; and would have (perhaps?) remained truer to Fincher's vision. An example: there's a shot of Ripley in the mud of Fury 161 -- what is this? It's a different introduction in the film for her character than the one we saw. There's another card with a shot of her being carried into the prison installation, and it doesn't look familiar either Yet another of her finds her inside a cracked cryo-tube! I also know that in the original (and shot...) version of the alien birth, the xenomorph emerged from oxen, not a dog. Indeed, in the theatrical version of Alien 3, there's an entire subplot missing involving the capture of the Alien, and its release by a deluded prisoner named Golic.

So I gaze at these cards and wonder what might have been. In 1992, David Fincher was decried as a music video director and a hack, and his contribution to the Alien saga was routinely attacked, slighted and misinterpreted. With more than twelve years of hindsight, and a career now composed of great great films, many observers realize the critical community (and fans...) of the day were dead wrong. These cards remind us that somewhere - still - there's a great work of art in Alien 3, just bursting to get out...

And I still think Alien Resurrection sucks.

Monday, November 27, 2006

RETRO TOY FLASHBACK # 51: Gremlins Poseable Stripe Figure (LJN)


Straight from LJN (the company that also held the license to create toys from the movie Dune...), comes this 1984 retro-toy treasure: the Gremlins Poseable Stripe Figure. The very toothy and imposing Stripe stands at over a foot tall, has poseable limbs (and claws...), beady red eyes, and on his blue box is this legend: "WARNING: YOU MUST OBEY ALL MOGWAI RULES!"

Of course, this monstrous creature (the figure designed for ages 3 and up...) is from one of the most controversial genre blockbusters of 1984 (the same summer of Ghostbusters, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom and Star Trek III: The Search for Spock.) Basically, Joe Dante's horror movie featured a lot of violence (like a suburban mother sparring with a violent Gremlin in her kitchen...) yet the film was still aimed at children....the market that had appreciated E.T. Steven Spielberg was the executive producer and his clout was such that the movie (along with Indiana Jones) got a new rating "PG-13" instead of R. Yep, the M.P.A.A. created an entirely new ratings classification just to stay on the director's good side...

Anyway, this is indeed the figure of the malevolent Stripe, leader of the nasty gremlins (or Mogwai). The side of the box reminds us of the dangers of owning Mogwai by reciting the movie's warning. To paraphrase: Keep 'em out of water; Keep 'em out of light (sunlight is fatal...), and don't feed these buggers after midnight.

On the back fo the box, there's a Gremlins "Proof of Purchase" worth three points, and an admonition to "collect the entire line of Gremlins toys from L.J.N." These include the: "3 piece collectible gift set; wind-up Gizmo and Stripe; small Poseable Gizmo; Bendable Stripe; Large Poseable Gizmo; Large Poseable Stripe" and "Stripe and Gizmo Water Hatchers." As for me, I had this bugger, the Bendable Stripe, and the Large poseable Gizmo. But this is the only one that I have the box for.

Also on the back of the box is an array of photos showing how a kid can "have fun making up your own Stripe costumes from accessories found at home." I'm sure Mom would appreciate you raiding her closet.

How do I get my fun from this Gremlin? Well, this little thing really scares my wife Kathryn (he's very lifelike, actually...), so occasionally, when she's not paying attention, I'll sneak into the kitchen and pose Stripe in the pantry, or inside one of the dish cabinets. Once, I posed him in her closet while she was dressing for work; when she wasn't suspecting it. Finally, she laid down the law and told me I was no longer allowed to display Stripe, and that I had to put him back in the box permanentlyy.

So now he sits safe in his box on one of the high display shelves in my office. I think tonight I might put him in Joel's crib...