Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Continuity and Tradition


25 comments:

  1. Ming the Merciless, King of the Eld?

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  2. Ming,
    Ming,
    Ming,
    Ming,
    Some reject from the dandified wing of the SS.

    Excellent post.

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  3. Don't forget the Ming from the 90s cartoon...

    ...never mind. I wish I could forget that!

    By the way, how could you forget Wang the Perverted? LOL

    http://dvdmedia.ign.com/dvd/image/article/529/529771/flesh-gordon-20040712031813163.jpg

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  4. On the one hand, I understand that the original design of Ming draws heavily from very racist imagery of the "Yellow Peril" genre. Even the eye makeup in the 1980 film version looks a little like a clumsy attempt at making a caucasian look asian, though I suspect it was an attempt to get the signature look without actually making him look asian. Anyway, I can totally understand how the executives/producers/etc involved in the production and investment of a new show would want to be careful about something like that. There's a lot of money tied up in project like this, and while a bland villain might contribute to a series failure, it's a safer choice for those involved - nobody's going to get fired if the series fails to take off, whereas a public outcry could indeed lead to heads rolling, if only for show.

    On the other hand, they guy they came up with has absolutely no pizazz, no style, no soul. He looks like any character on any scifi series, not like Ming the Merciless. I would argue that DC's comic book miniseries accomplished the goal of separating Ming from the "yellow peril" problem while simultaneously preserving his look and style. His garb became much more militaristic, though with enough ornamentation of macabre character to keep him standing out, and while his facial hair was toned down from Fu Manchu to Soviet Villain, it at least retained enough resemblance that you could recognize him.

    Plus, he had a skull tattoo covering his freakin' eye! That's what I call pizazz!
    A couple of URLs to give you some indication of the character design:
    First Issue
    Rooftop Battle
    Just a little bit of creative effort - a bald guy with a goatee that forks - is that so much to ask?

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  5. Don't forget the Ming from the 90s cartoon...

    I couldn't find a good image of him or I'd have included him. He too is quite different from the previous versions of Ming, so Blondie at the bottom isn't the first "re-imagining" of the character.

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  6. Just a little bit of creative effort - a bald guy with a goatee that forks - is that so much to ask?

    Indeed. I actually don't have a problem with "re-imagining" in and of itself if it's done well, which is to say, with respect for and understanding of the source material. Too often, though, it's just an excuse to go mine an established IP for random names that have pop cultural cachet in order to sell something the public would otherwise never have given the time of day.

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  7. I know, let's reimagine Darth Vader without the mask and the Germanic overtones. He could be French.

    I just saw the 1980 movie again over the weekend: what a brilliant pastiche/homage it is of the Buster Crabbe shorts - right down to having about 6 false cliffhangers running through the length of the movie. I haven't checked to see if they come at regular, 15 minute intervals...

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  8. Is there a point at which we can just say, "Yes, our grandparents weren't enlightened like we are and were downright bigotted in their stereotypes" and just enjoy good story telling or must we scrub every evidence away.

    I can honestly think of only one recent reimaging I truly enjoyed (not sure if you liked it or not) and that's BSG. A huge part of what made it work over others was a combination of respect for the visual language of the original and a belief that writing was important.

    Too often now it is like you said: steal the names for otherwise humdrum material but it's not just the visual that is ignored. It's common to complain that old comics and movie serials were poorly written and acted and relied on stereotypes. Which puts them ahead of most modern sci-fi stuff which relies on characters who are mere cyphers and stories which exist merely for the next ILM sensory assault.

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  9. BTW, is there any truth to the rumour that Star Wars was originally supposed to be a Flash Gordon treatment, but Lucas ran into problems with it and wound up writing his own story?

    I heard this a while ago and it seems weirdly plausible. On the other hand, I don't recall a Klytus figure in the old b/w serials, so I wonder if Dino borrowed that back from Lucas.

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  10. ..speechless...

    Sometimes the orginal is just better...

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  11. BTW, is there any truth to the rumour that Star Wars was originally supposed to be a Flash Gordon treatment, but Lucas ran into problems with it and wound up writing his own story?

    There is some truth to it. My understanding is that Star Wars arose, at least partially, out of Lucas's inability to secure the rights to produce a new Flash Gordon feature film, which he was very keen to do.

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  12. Granted, I don't think Ming's new look is terrible, but it's just... not Ming. I really think the ostentatious collar and a robe or cloak is one of the most important parts of ming's look (part of the reason I don't care fot the DC version either). I mean, he does look like a dictator out of a sci-fi setting, which I don't mind too much, but he's not unique enough. In my mind, Ming should exude villainous authority by his presence, not by his dress.

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  13. Ha!

    Personally, the new FG show was so far from what I wanted it to be I never watched a second episode and pretty much put the pilot out of my mind as well.

    I’m glad Lucas didn’t get a FG license. I always use Star Wars and the Dune movie as an example. Lucas combined inspiration from Dune, pulp sci-fi, WW2 movies, and more to create his own movie. Wildly successful by almost any measure.

    Trying to adapt something from another medium directly? You either end up with something not so good, or something so different from the original there’s no reason for them to share names, or both.

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  14. Robert, indeed. Just look at Lucas' attempts to adapt his own work. If he can mss the point of something he created, then we're better off without his Flash Gordon.

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  15. "Too often, though, it's just an excuse to go mine an established IP for random names that have pop cultural cachet in order to sell something the public would otherwise never have given the time of day."

    This is often true. I've seen it before plenty of times. But in this case I have to believe that sensitivity to charges of racism was probably the real culprit. Circumstances being what they are, and all. You just don't go on tv with a fu-manchu Yellow Peril type baddie today.

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  16. But in this case I have to believe that sensitivity to charges of racism was probably the real culprit. Circumstances being what they are, and all. You just don't go on tv with a fu-manchu Yellow Peril type baddie today.

    Certainly. I think, though, it would have been possible to "reimagine" Ming in a way that was at once true to his origins without necessarily being quite as stereotypical as those origins. The new conception of Ming strikes me as a failure of imagination.

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  17. The new conception of Ming strikes me as a failure of imagination.

    Something only fails if it is used. Modern media properties are supposed to be many things but not imaginative. Even RPGs have gotten like that or we wouldn't have so many licenses (and people wondering what license would take RPGs mainstream).

    Modern media is so "follow what was popular" last year that you're more likely to be rewarded for failing while doing that than be rewarded for being the hot new thing popular this year.

    Sci-fi channel is the worst. Don't get me started on their "Riverworld", "Earthsea" (hey, look at all the white people...fsckers), or "Dune" productions.

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  18. I know the original Ming was a Yellow Peril poster child, but it's so easy to retain the look without the racist curse: the forked beard was Satanic long before the 19th century, the high collar's no more or less oriental than the scifi channel's preferred (Nehru) martial shirt. Stage magicians were rocking the whole ensemble as Italians or central Europeans from 1840 to 1940 or so. Apart from that (and here I stray into more controversial territory, but I think with reason), you have to consider the constituency. Not all races or ethnic groups are equal where charges of racism are concerned: the US tends to be much more sensitive about Africans than anyone else. Current nervousness about Chinese and Japanese peoples may be more about global economics than offended minorities. Worried your Yellow Peril may be out of date? Make him more Mongolian - nobody cares about them.

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  19. ...oh, wait. A moment's reflection reveals the flaw in my argument: his name. He's going to be a Yellow Peril character no matter what you do, right? Why not own it?

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  20. An excellent post.

    I have a very high opinion of Flash Gordon; both the original comic strips and the 1980 feature movie - the latter an enjoyable and adventurous space opear without the annoying faux mysticism and moralising of Star Wars. In fact, it was very faithful to the first run of Alex Raymond's comic strips in that all characters, including ostensible "good guys" like Prince Barin and Prince Vultan, were completely psychotic and unpredictable. :D It is, of course, a "bad movie", but a "bad movie" done with love and genuine talent, the thing that puts "opera" in space opera. Max von Sydow is a suprb actor whether he is playing a Swedish knight struggling with his lack of faith, or an interstellar tyrant in flamboyant clothing, and with major father-daughter issues. ;)

    As for the tendency to make things inoffensive, the strategy works so well that increasingly people are not bothering about going to the movies anymore. Three cheers for Hollywood on that.

    --Melan

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  21. Erik Mona over at Lemuria Press pointed this out a while ago. Though you added the comic. Still more people pointing it out makes it better to be heard. Though I could see the new re-imagined ming turning into a more classical ming. He does have the forehead for it.

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  22. Erik and I share many of the same tastes, so I'm not at all surprised that he'd feel similarly.

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  23. The recent version of Flash Gordon produced by the Sci-Fi Channel was an abomination. I never get worked up about sci-fi shows. I've always been of the opinion that the more sci-fi shows there are on the air, the better off the genre will be. But this remake was a huge step backwards and in the wrong direction. With CGI being so cheap these days, the new Flash Gordon television show could have been a magnificent spectacle that recaptured the look and feel of the comic.

    In short, EPIC FAIL. I'm so gald it was canceled.

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  24. Blond Nordic-looking villains are a racist stereotype. >:)

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  25. The blonde Ming looks more like Ming's son Scott Merciless.

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