Tuesday, November 7, 2006

DEFENDERS OF THE EARTH: THE COMPLETE SERIES, VOL. 1

In 1986, Hearst Entertainment (parent company of King Features) and TV animation house Marvel Productions, teamed up to produce 65 episodes of a new syndicated animated adventure series featuring three of Hearst’s longest-running and best-known newspaper comic strip heroes: Flash Gordon, Mandrake the Magician, and The Phantom. The series also promoted Mandrake’s African manservant/bodyguard, Lothar, to full-hero status, and gave each of the four leads a teenaged child (in bachelor Mandrake’s case, an adopted one). Together, they battled Gordon’s arch-nemesis, Ming the Merciless, as he attempted to conquer the Earth.

That series makes its DVD debut with BCI Eclipse’s DEFENDERS OF THE EARTH: THE COMPLETE SERIES, VOL. 1, which includes the first 33 episodes on five discs.

Unfortunately, despite a very talented crew and a great premise (and a nifty theme song penned by Stan Lee), the show suffers from uninspired or illogical scripts and extremely crude animation. In the style of other 80’s syndicated adventure cartoons, violence is limited to ray blasts against robots (Ming’s Ice Robots, in this case), and each episode must deliver a moral. Two story points in particular that annoyed me: in the first episode, Flash Gordon’s unnamed wife (presumably Dale Arden) is killed by Ming, and her brain patterns somehow imbedded in a crystal, which son Rick Gordon uses as the core personality for the team’s super computer. Aside from wondering what would make her mind suitable for such a purpose, it seemed odd to me that neither Flash nor Rick seem at all disturbed by this. Secondly, the Phantom, who is repeatedly referred to as being an African hero, has the mystical ability to call upon the “strength of ten tigers,” and does so at least once in each episode. Now, it’s been years since junior high, but as I recall, there are no tigers in Africa!

Regardless of the quality of the show itself, BCI’s DVD set, from their Ink and Paint label, is great. The first half of the series (33 episodes) is presented on 5 discs. Presented in the original full-screen TV aspect ratio, the picture quality is generally good, although the source material itself is occasionally littered with dirt and debris inherent in pre-digital era animation. As with BCI’s other recent animation releases like HE-MAN and SHE-RA, the set includes extensive bonus material, as well.

There are video interviews with several of the creators of the show, commentary tracks on two episodes, a short presentation “pilot” created to sell the series, numerous image galleries and bio/trivia text features, and 2 collectible art cards with illustrations by Mike Allred and Rafael Kayanan. There’s supposed to be the first episode of the 70’s FLASH GORDON cartoon on there, too, but I couldn’t seem to find it.

While I can’t really recommend the show to anyone, if you’re a fan of the show from the 80’s or a diehard collector of Flash Gordon, Phantom or Mandrake material, you may want to pick it up. The set is a first-class production all the way.

BUY: Defenders Of The Earth - The Complete Series, Vol. 1