Flash Gordon



9-10:30 p.m. Friday, Aug. 10
Sci Fi Channel

This new "Flash Gordon" that speaks of "putting a 21st century spin on a science fiction classic" incorporates lots of spiffy effects (courtesy of VFX supervisor Bruce Turner and his team), sleek stylings and a cleverly self-aware bit of modern-day whimsy -- not to mention all of the cinematic production values that the seemingly bottomless bank account of executive producers Robert Halmi Sr. and Robert Halmi Jr. can buy. It has a nice air of self-deprecation that assures us it's in on the joke, that this is less about threats to our planet than subtly cheeky good fun. Yet the 90-minute kickoff and a subsequent hour of the Sci Fi Channel series still somehow feel forced and somewhat empty, perhaps for the very reason that it wants things both ways. It's tough to get a sci-fi project to work as both effective drama and lighthearted fantasy, and "Flash" can't quite effectively bridge that gap.

The opening stanza from scribe and executive producer Peter Hume and director Rick Rosenthal drags in getting us into the story about Steven "Flash" Gordon (a rather whitebread Eric Johnson) who is fleet of foot as a track star but persistently haunted by the death of his scientist father, who died in a fire when Flash was a mere 13. Fate begins to spur him to a greater calling early on here when his old girlfriend, Dale (Gina Holden) -- who is now a TV reporter -- involves Flash in a mysterious alien story spurred by a truck driver who finds a strange device hovering over the road.

Suddenly, the track dude who likes to rebuild classic cars is an investigator charged with, you know, the fate of the universe. No biggie. Turns out that Flash is now finding out more about what his deceased daddy was onto than he'd ever wanted to. It involves sinister "biomechanical" killers and "trans-dimensional rifts" and something called the "Imex" (not to be confused with the oversized-screen cinematic style). It all leads to the ruthless Ming (John Ralston), the despotic ruler of the planet Mongo (no relation to the mentally challenged character portrayed by Alex Karras in "Blazing Saddles"). Flash and his ex-girlfriend now find themselves hopping via trans-dimensional rift back and forth between Earth and Mongo.

If all that isn't ridiculous enough, there's also a Princess Aura (Anna Van Hooft) and a hostile bounty hunter named Baylin (Karen Cliche). This is how you toss "Flash Gordon" into the present day, sometimes kicking and screaming and feeling forced. The whole story is over the top, but it's mitigated by the sense of humor it has about its own broad elements. The acting is serviceable enough and -- to Rosenthal's credit in the pilot -- surprisingly consistent. What the plotting lacks in cohesion and suspense, the production often compensates for in visual appeal. But this doesn't merit must-see weekly viewing unless you're a true sci-fi diehard. And you know who you are.

Sci Fi Channel
Reunion Pictures and King Features Syndicate
Executive producers: Matthew O'Connor, Tom Rowe, Robert Halmi Sr., Robert Halmi Jr., Peter Hume
Co-executive producer: James Thorpe
Producer: Pascal Verschooris
Teleplay: Peter Hume
Director: Rick Rosenthal
Director of photography: David Pelletier
Production designer: Clyde Klotz
Costume designer: Heidi Samuda
Art director: Peter Andringa
Visual effects supervisor: Bruce Turner
Editors: Rick Benwick, Gary Smith
Composer: Michael Picton
Casting: Lynn Kressel
Steven "Flash" Gordon: Eric Johnson
Dale Arden: Gina Holden
Baylin: Karen Cliche
Hans Zarkov: Jody Racicot
Ming: John Ralston
Aura: Anna Van Hooft
Rankol: Jonathan Lloyd Walker
Nick Gligor: Panou
Joe Wylee: Giles Panton