Personal blog - and temporary home page until new website is finished - of writer, editor and graphic artist Christopher Mills

Sunday, September 10, 2006

That Filmation Touch

I can't remember the last time I was actually up before noon on a Saturday, but as a kid, I loved Saturday morning... cartoons.

Sitting on the living room floor eating cereal, fighting with my sister over control of the dial...

Anyway, I always preferred the adventure cartoons from Filmation. Yeah, I know they're notorious for cheap animation and recycling, but I came to love the over-familiar music, sound effects and animation (especially, the rotoscoped "hero running" footage). And I loved the character and background design on their adventure shows. Whoever designed their cartoons really made them look like comic books.

I was a big fan of Star Trek, Tarzan, The New Adventures of Batman, New Adventures of Flash Gordon and even their live-action shows, like Ark II, Shazam!, Isis, Space Academy and Jason of Star Command. Hell, I just found out this week that they were even the co-producers of the Starchaser feature film I blogged about a few days ago!

Well, BCI/Eclipse has a bunch of Filmation stuff coming out on DVD in high-quality box sets. They've already released several volumes of He-Man and the Masters of the Universe (which was a little after my time, frankly) and its spin-off, She-Ra.

Over the last few months, they've also released The New Adventures of Flash Gordon and Blackstar, probably the last Filmation cartoon I remember actually getting up early to watch. I was into D&D by then, and anything with a sword & sorcery theme caught my interest. Unfortunately, it aired in the same timeslot as Ruby-Spears' superior Thundarr the Barbarian on another network, so unless Thundarr was a repeat, I usually opted for the post-Apocalyptic barbarian over the sword-slinging astronaut, John Blackstar.

Watching them today as a 40+ adult, I find that Flash Gordon still holds up as one of the top four animated adventure shows ever (the others being Jonny Quest, Batman The Animated Series and the aforementioned Thundarr), while Blackstar is actually somewhat better than I remembered.

The animation still looks pretty slick and, oddly enough for a Filmation adventure show, uses very little, if any, rotoscoping. The character designs and background paintings are excellent, really "selling" the alien environment of planet Sagar. I still hate the little pink "trobbits," though, and prefer the episodes that play down their child-friendly antics.

BCI's DVD transfers are excellent; the source material on Blackstar looks much better than the prints used on Flash Gordon, with virtually no visible debris or damage. If you're nostalgic and want to revisit your childhood – or know kids who are into fantasy adventure – they're worth picking up.

Now I'm really looking forward to their live-action sci-fi shows being released next year, especially Ark II and Space Academy.

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