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THE BIG THING

Retro as a ray gun

August 05, 2007|Robert Lloyd

When you set out to update old serials, as Sci-Fi has done with its amiable new "Flash Gordon" series, you have the advantage, in a way, of a bar set low: Models hung from wires to represent spaceships, a suit of painted cardboard to say "robot," wooden acting -- these are the pillars of your tradition. But it's a noble tradition too, one that demands not only respect for adventure as an end in itself but also respect for an audience willing to lavish its capacity for wonder on the meanest of materials.

Unlike Sci-Fi's "Battlestar Galactica," which retooled a standard space opera into a series as dark and morally ambiguous as anything on TV, "Flash Gordon" is very much in the simple, sunny spirit of its predecessors. There are specific nods to the past -- in the Deco d├ęcor of the planet Mongo, the harem-wear of the villain's space maidens, the scene of the hero shirtless and tortured -- but there are changes too.

Flash (Eric Johnson) fixes cars and lives with his mother; semi-love interest Dale Arden (Gina Holden) is a TV reporter; Dr. Zarkov (Jody Racicot) is now the twitchy former assistant of Flash's scientist father, who disappeared into a "rift" in space -- one of those economical wormholes that make it possible to travel the universe without having to work a rocket into the production budget. Mongo is still ruled by Ming (John Ralston), no longer officially "the Merciless," but still, you know, merciless, and remodeled from a Fu Manchu mandarin into something more resembling a music business executive -- that's to say, more terrifying than ever!

(Sci-Fi, Fri., 9 p.m.)

-- Robert Lloyd

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