Flash Gordon... For those who faithfully watched the entire 16 episodes of the first season unfold, it was magical. The splendor of creator Alex Raymond's strip was in great evidence.
Filmation began work on Flash Gordon as a reaction to the release of Star Wars in 1977. It was originally intended to be a made-for-television movie. The script was by author Samuel A. Peeples, best known as the author of various Western novels and scripts for Western-themed TV shows. But he'd also written the script for the Star Trek episode "Where No Man Has Gone Before". The film was set during World War II, and featured a subplot about Ming supplying Adolf Hitler with military technology. When NBC saw the finished work, it ordered the film chopped up and turned into an animated TV series. This forced a major expansion in the story, and reqeuired setting it in the modern day (which meant the subplot about Hitler was dropped). Most of the characters were recast and redubbed, with the exception of Robert Ridgely as Flash Gordon, Diane Pershing as Dale Arden, and Melendy Britt as Princess Aura.
The series began airing in September 1979. The first season was a serial, with each episode telling part of a season-long narrative. The basic story was lifted right out of the Alex Raymond comic strip, and followed Flash, Dale Arden, and Dr. Zarkov as they travel to Mongo and do battle with Ming the Merciless, Princess Aura, and Ming's army of Metal Men. The TV show includes nearly all the characters developed by Raymond, including King Thun of the Lion People, Prince Barin of Arboria, and King Vultan of the Hawkmen.
NBC renewed the series late in the spring of 1980, which delayed the second season a full year (due to the long lead-times required to do animation). NBC demanded that the second season be episodic rather than a serial (each episode a self-contained story), and that the series aim at younger children. To this end, a new character was added, Flash's goofy pet dragon Gremlin (which can make images with its smoke).
The series was canceled after its second season, after ratings plunged.
The original footage was reassembled with the original soundtrack, and aired on NBC as a primetime movie in 1982 under the title Flash Gordon: The Greatest Adventure of All. It has never been released on DVD or blu-ray. (There was a laserdisc release in Japan that is long out of print.)
The animated film is much more adult in tone and visuals, and has a large number of differences from the TV series:
- The departure of the trio from Earth is depicted. Instead of Zarkov forcing Flash and Dale aboard his rocket, they are trapped there when molten lava floods the area and a launch is their only escape. Unfortunately, the rocket is programmed only to go to Mongo...
- Flash and Zarkov use 1939 firearms.
- Ming's Lizard Women overseers are depicted as eating their human prisoners.
- Mongian firearms look much more like 1939 Earth weapons than those in the animated series.
- The Hawkmen's sky-city is clearly destroyed (not just damaged).
- Flash and Dale Arden see their clothing become ripped and torn, exposing more of their flesh. Dale spends the majority of her time in a very revealing costume imposed on her by Ming. Flash does not receive his red and blue uniform until the last 20 minutes of the film.
- Various people (hawkmen, lionmen, Arborians, etc.) aren't just shot and fall -- they die on film. Ming also clearly intends to put Barin, Vultan, and Thun to death.
- The final fight between Ming and Flash involves the use of both pistols and swords by both parties.
- Aura is much less sympathetic. There is physical attraction between her and Prince Barin, but no romance. In the end, she refuses to swear allegiance to Barin as Regent, and Barin imprisons her.
- Flash, Dale, and Zarkov learn they will never be able to return to Earth. (The animated series never addresses the issue.)