I'm currently in the middle of three movie serials: The New Adventures of Tarzan, Flash Gordon, and The Undersea Kingdom. Consider this my first check-in on each of them. I'll do another one when I'm nearly done with them and a third once they're all finished.
The New Adventures of Tarzan is different because it takes Tarzan out of Africa and into South America. His old pal D'Arnot from the novels has gone to Guatemala looking for a statue of a goddess that apparently has some kind of formula for a super-explosive encoded on it. When D'Arnot disappears, Tarzan hooks up with a second group of explorers who go looking for it. And of course, to keep things interesting, there's a bad guy trying to get his hands on the formula too.
I can't make myself believe that an ancient statue contains the formula for a super-explosive, but I have to give love to whoever decided to combine the hunt for an ancient artifact with trying to keep a deadly scientific discovery out of the wrong hands. It may not be two great tastes that go great together, but it's not inedible.
Putting Tarzan in South America, on the other hand, is an awesome idea. He still has plenty of jungle animals to fight, but it's unfamiliar territory for him. I also like that his animal companion is named Nkima, like in the books. Unfortunately, Nkima is still a chimp like Cheetah instead of a monkey like the literary Nkima, but it's a step in the right direction. And as I'm watching these old movies, I'm warming to the deviation from the novels. Chimps are undeniably funny.
I don't care so much for D'Arnot in this serial. Tarzan does find and rescue him, but D'Arnot spends most of the time (so far) stumbling around looking like he's just been beat up. Which he has, but the literary D'Arnot went through worse and with a lot more dignity. New Adventures' D'Arnot is rather pathetic.
Something I'm finding refreshing though is another character who's looking for the statue, a woman named Ula Vale (played by Ula Holt, which I can't believe is a coincidence). When she was introduced, I fully expected Ula to quickly get in trouble and need rescuing by Tarzan, 'cause that's what usually happens to women in Tarzan movies. To my surprise, Ula's proven very capable on her own and have even rescued Tarzan's group on a couple of occasions.
So, I'm enjoying the story so far, even if the acting isn't all that great. Everyone, including Herman Brix (Tarzan), sadly, talks like they're reading off cue cards. It's pretty awful. The only one I part-way like is Ashton Dearholt who plays the bad guy. He's not as wooden as some of the other actors and it's especially nice that he doesn't over-act his part. He ends up coming across as a normal guy who just so happens to be selfish and evil rather than a stereotypical, mad villain.
Flash Gordon so far has Flash avoiding giant iguanas, befriending lion-men, trying to survive a giant lobster-creature and an octopus, and fighting beast-men and shark-men. And that's all while trying to keep Dale safe from Ming's hot, but evil daughter, who wants Flash to herself. It's a cornucopia of fantastic scifi-pulp ideas. No wonder it was such a hit.
The special effects blow by today's standards, but that's really part of it's charm because it's so much fun otherwise. This is easily my favorite of the three.
Undersea Kingdom is another fun one, but it's nowhere near being in the same class as Flash Gordon. Flash is actually good, even though it's got dated effects. Undersea Kingdom is absolutely terrible, but hilariously so. If memory serves, Mystery Science Theater 3000 may have done their magic on an edited version of it.
It's all about Ray "Crash" Corrigan -- whom I've always heard of, but didn't know anything about -- and his friends, all of whom are cheesy stereotypes. Crash is a flawless hero and his pals are a brilliant scientist who's developed a world-threatening technology that has to be kept safe from the wrong hands, a scrappy boy-sidekick, a plucky girl-reporter, and a couple of cowardly, comic-relief sailors. All of them hop in the scientist's sub to check out strange goings on in the Atlantic and wind up discovering Atlantis.
The plot and setting aren't that bad actually. Atlantis is a mixture of societies and technologies. The good guys ride horses and are led by a high priest who looks like King Vitamin. Their culture is kinda Roman-esque with their chariots, trials by arena-fight, and whatnot. The bad guys -- led by a Asian-looking tyrant named Unga Khan -- also ride horses, but are supported by robots in hovercars. Fun stuff.
What makes it laughable are the designs. I'll show pictures in one of the future posts, but between the clunky robots and everyone's goofy headwear, it's hard to take any of it seriously. I keep imagining what it might look like with updated effects, cooler designs, and better actors, though and I like it a lot more.