ROCKS 2A: Defenders Of The Earth opening episodes

Discussion in 'Other Cartoons & Collectables' started by LiamABC, Oct 29, 2016.

  1. LiamABC

    LiamABC Thunderian Legend

    A big thanks to everyone that are joining us through all of this. It’s going to be an enjoyable ride!

    Threads 2A through 2D will focus on the 80s classic Defenders Of The Earth, and specifically this week, we're discussing the opening episodes:

    - Escape From Mongo
    - The Creation Of Monitor
    - Bits 'n' Chips*

    *technically this episode was aired 5th not 3rd, but in continuity terms, it belongs straight after the second episode. (Think of Thundercats where "Trouble With Time" is wrongly placed after "The Terror Of Hammerhand" on the DVD order!)

    Just a friendly reminder to everyone that, whilst fans are obviously welcome to passionately discuss and give their views on these episodes, please remember to keep things on a friendly footing and respect your fellow posters.
    Also, please do not post where or how to find the full episode online. And do not post asking others to PM it to you. You are however allowed to watch the show in whatever manner you want.
  2. Wilycub

    Wilycub Staff Writer and Artist Staff

    Let’s dive right into it! :)

    Escape from Mongo
    The plot is pretty simple and straightforward, which I think is necessary for a pilot episode. This allows the viewers to focus and familiarize themselves with the characters rather than trying to figure out the story. I like that the story takes off immediately and we learn about the characters and their powers on the go (something that ”SilverHawks” should have done).

    I gotta say that this is probably the only 80s cartoon that I have seen which has such a diverse cast. We have people from a number of different races, cultures and even time periods. It was refreshing to see that.

    Killing of Flash Gordon’s wife, that was bit of a jolt. Like the death of Bambi’s mother. But at least in the end it was revealed that her psyche was alive in the crystal. (phew!)

    Another interesting and rather novel thing that I noticed was that many of the heroes had teenage children. This is something you don’t often see, even in cartoons of today. I think it’s better to have it this way where the teenagers fight alongside their parents rather than to have a spin-off focusing only on the adventures of the “meddling kids”. ;)

    I couldn’t help but notice some similarities to ThunderCats. Ming’s pet dragon is called “Mongor” and everything about Lothar just screams Panthro! Ming’s son’s attitude towards his father were similar to those that Starscream had towards Megatron.

    The Creation of Monitor
    The story continues from the previous episode and it does a good job of adding more complexity. More characters are introduced and we get to see and learn more about the heroes themselves, their powers and their desires.

    One thing that did disappoint me a bit was that Dynac X, despite having the essence of Gordon’s wife in it, still talked and behaved like a usual mindless, emotionless computer. It would have been nice if her personality had been included into it. If she talked like a human, maybe a bit like Jarvis or K.I.T.T. instead of talking like the Terminator.

    At the end of the first episode I was glad that Gordon’s wife had survived in some form, but after seeing what she ends up becoming, I feel like she really isn’t alive.

    Bits N’ Chips
    An action packed episode from the beginning. I understand that this is the fifth aired episode but the third chronologically. I am glad that my concern about Dynac-X that I raised above has been somewhat addressed here and she now at least has some personality.

    It is a bit convenient that Rick would invent the shrinking ray on the exact same day that they would need it to infiltrate the computer. But we’ve seen the same thing happen often in ThunderCats as well so I’m not going to complain about that. :biggrin

    A maggot taking over a super computer is a bit “out there”, but I suppose it is visually more interesting than just showing surges of electrical circuit. But I would have liked the maggot’s design to be a bit more “cybernetic”.

    Honestly, when I started watching the pilot episode, I found it weird, especially the hodgepodge of different characters from completely different backgrounds. It was like someone had mashed together cartoons from different eras and genres. But as I continued to watch the episode, the combo strangely seemed to work, and pretty soon I had forgotten about the characters’ differences. :)
    Mark M and LiamABC like this.
  3. LiamABC

    LiamABC Thunderian Legend

    Glad you're enjoying it. This show has been a favourite of mine for about three decades, so it's interesting to see the reaction of someone watching it for the very first time.

    Yes, we have a very diverse range of characters, possibly the most diverse range of any show from that period. Flash is the All American Hero, Mandrake the English Gentleman, you're absolutely right in that Lothar is basically Panthro by another name, I started saying a while back you could swap those two characters over and it wouldn't make any difference! The Phantom is from somewhere in Africa (back then a lot of media still portrayed Africa as if it was a single country, although this show does occasionally get more specific), although there is one episode where a previous Phantom was seen to be based in India - which makes more sense when you think of the Ten Tigers power.

    The kids are pretty good too, all of them having some skill related to that of their respective fathers, and as far as we can tell, looking passably like them too. (As for Kshin's biological parents, we'll be hearing about them in a week or two!)

    For the record, Flash, the Phantom, and Mandrake (and his sidekick Lothar) all began in comic strip adventures in the 1930s. Obviously when viewing the villains from those comics, Ming was the most powerful and best suited to being the Arch Baddie, although some other villains from the other strips made an appearance here and there. There's so much you can delve into with the mythology of these characters . . .

    Yes, Ming's song, Prince Kro-Tan, does have a very mocking tone, and yes, that's perhaps a little reminiscent of Starscream. Actually there's a few other parallels with Transformers in this show. The volcano base being the most obvious, but also the music by Robert Walsh, which is quite excellent.

    Kro-Tan only appears occasionally in the show. He appeared in one part of The Necklace Of Oros movie, and of course had his day in the spotlight in the Prince Kro-Tan movie (the one we'll be watching for ROCKS 2D so you know in advance). They could have done a lot more with the character, it's a pity we didn't see more of him. Actually, in the comic book version of this show, Kro-Tan did accompany Ming to Earth.

    As for the episodes:

    This is a very solid start. We go straight into the action. Flash's ship crashes by Mandrake's mansion and that brings them together right away, which works very well. Bringing seemingly unrelated characters together is a tricky business, but this episode handles it almost to perfection. The Phantom's recruitment could have been done a little better, however. They just seem to gloss over the bit where Flash, Mandrake and Lothar explain why they want him. Actually in the comics, they did show that process, and interestingly enough had this scene before the rescue mission to Mongo.
    The death of Flash's wife (unnamed in the episode but presumed to be Dale Arden, and indeed identified as such in the comic) is a shocker. This was a show that, while not gory by any means, did perhaps show a few more character deaths than most of its contemporaries. Certainly this one is a big shocker.
    The one thing that doesn't quite work for me is the last part, where Rick and L.J. are abducted. It's like a separate idea to what's gone before in the episode. It's as if the pilot is two shorter adventures fused together. And it's not explained why Zuffy, despite being found by Rick, became Kshin's pet rather than his. I know the probable answer is "because Kshin was the youngest" but still . . .
    One of my favourite little tricks though was Ming's opening scene - we don't get to see his face until the end, there's a definite nod to Blofeld from the Bond films there.

    Dynak X - yes, not that much of a personality, but give her a break, she's only just been created and switched on! For the most part, she doesn't have that much personality, true, but there are a couple of early episodes where she does, notably The Revenge Of Astra where she claims to be the one really flying the spaceship instead of "Glamour Boy"! As for Morkon and the Krell (Morbius and the Cryl in the comic), they only appear in this episode, they help build Monitor in the way the Berbils help build Cats' Lair and that's it. They're never seen again. Still, this is a good solid continuation of the show.

    I place this episode as no3 in continuity order, although really I think that the real episode 3 doesn't exist and this would have been episode 4. There's some developments that were never formalised (the building of the Space Station and the discovery of where Ming's base was for instance), but this is the best thing we have to a proper 3rd episode in continuity terms, so that's where I always put it. (Everyone I've introduced or reintroduced to this show, I've shown them this episode as no3 and they've never believed me when I said it was aired 5th!)
    Anyhow, this episode is one of the best for action. Every character (apart from Kshin) gets his or her moment to shine, and while I regard it as an ensemble episode, there's some major emotional goings-on for Rick (a bit like the first episode had for Flash). On the other hand it's one of the worst for explanations. Why does Ming take his flying throne room to this atoll to power up the maggot, if the maggot is going to be entering Dynak X in Paris? How does smashing that crystal give Ming access to all those weapons codes? How come the guns stopped working on Flash's ship when they didn't take even one hit (other than the canopy one)? So much about it doesn't make sense. But I can suspend my disbelief because the action and characters are so well done.
    Wilycub and Mark M like this.
  4. Mark M

    Mark M Thunderian Legend

    I really enjoyed the first two episodes and liked the quick introduction to the characters, no messing about. So much better than some other 80's cartoons.
    The was all the characters are so different, interesting and likeable is very well done...unlike Silverhawks lol.
    Bits N' Chips I love and it is one of my absolute favourite episodes from the series and one I fondly remember that was recorded on the same tape as the Thundercats Berbils episode so both episodes got watched a lot. My favourite scenes would be Flash and Phantom in the sword ship, the chase with the maggot and Flash and Phantom destroying Ming's base.

    Curiously enough I found out Stan Lee wrote the lyrics to the theme song.:cool::D
    Wilycub did you finish the Transformers episodes yet. ;)
    Wilycub likes this.
  5. Wilycub

    Wilycub Staff Writer and Artist Staff

    I forgot some things in my initial post:

    The animation is very impressive for an 80s cartoon. It is very smooth and the characters also maintain their correct structure and proportions throughout. :thumbsup

    A question for Liam: When you first mentioned the series to me almost a month ago, I tried to acquaint myself with the premise by reading about it on the net. That is when I came across some site which mentioned that there was actually an unaired pilot that was supposed to come before “Escape from Mongo”. Is this true?

    Sadly no. :( I just couldn't make time to watch the last episodes of Transformers for our ROCKS discussion. But hopefully I'll be able to watch them when I start watching the entire show. :)
    LiamABC likes this.
  6. LiamABC

    LiamABC Thunderian Legend

    I don't know about an unaired pilot, but they could be thinking of the episode "Root Of Evil", which has vastly different animation to the rest of the series - Ming has a different outfit and ice-blue skin, the ice robots have a different design, Lothar has more tribal clothes, L.J.'s jacket is white (and his voice is deeper), and Jedda has a purple outfit and long dark hair (actually they changed her hair to black after about 17-18 episodes). Also Dynak X has a different face in this, and a bit of personality.

    Mark and I have discussed this episode a few times in the past and we believe this was the first episode animated, and they changed the character designs after this.

    Well, you can still post a comment on the thread when you do watch them!
    Last edited: Oct 29, 2016
  7. Wilycub

    Wilycub Staff Writer and Artist Staff

    I don't think they were talking about "Root of Evil" as that one aired. Here are some places/sites where it is mentioned:

    On IMDB ( the first episode listed is the "Unaired Pilot", labelled as S01E00. The site also goes on to mention: "The short pilot film was never aired, and was shown only to programming executives to sell the Defenders cartoon".

    On "Forces of Geek", this article ( titled "Pilot Error: The TV shows you never knew existed", also mentions the unaired pilot: "There are also “proof of concept” pilots. These are quick and dirty versions (usually under 15 minutes) to simply show the network what the show will be like. Animation utilized this quite a bit with shows such as The Real Ghostbusters and Defenders of the Earth even including these on their DVD releases as a gift to fans. These test pilots often are vastly different than what the regular pilot will be like from music to style to character designs and even voices."

    So it is probably not a true pilot storywise, but rather a promo type segment.
  8. LiamABC

    LiamABC Thunderian Legend

    Interesting, it said this unaired pilot was on the DVD - it must be talking about the region 1 DVD, because there are no bonus features at all on the region 2 DVDs.

    I am aware that the original plan for the show had Rick and Jedda switched, Jedda was going to be Flash's daughter, and Rick was going to be Kit Walker, son of the Phantom (whose name is also Kit Walker).

    I think you're right, it's probably not a pilot in story terms, but simply to give the network an idea of the show. I'm aware of similar things happening over here, pilot episodes made that were never meant to be aired as a bona fide part of the series. My DVD box set of Drop The Dead Donkey (a topical sitcom from the 1990s) includes such a pilot, and I'm aware of a similar thing happening with Knightmare (a kids' game show from 1987-1994, and a legitimate candidate for the title "Best Kids Show Of All Time").

    I've just had a look on youtube, and it yielded this alternate take on the opening credits

    It says opening and closing credits, but the closing credits look the same as I remember them. (Some episodes use a different bit of music but that's all.)

    These opening credits confirm our guess that "Root Of Evil" was the first episode made. All the actual episode clips used in this version of the title sequence come from that episode. You'll notice quite a few differences to the look of the characters.
    shortfuse and Mark M like this.
  9. Mark M

    Mark M Thunderian Legend

    I used to have the Region 1 DVD boxset. I can't recall looking through the special features. I do remember the discs being double sided.
    According to multiple reviews on Amazon the special features listed on the DVD are not included. Including a Flash Gordon episode and the series bible PDF. So maybe the unaired pilot is also a mistake?

    If the unaired pilot actually exists I would guess it consisted of the intro and credits in that video and some of the Root of Evil episode.

    I recall seeing a pilot for G.I. Joe Resolute in 2008, but the series in 2009 did not feature any of the animation shown. It was definitely gave a good look and feel for what the series would be like.
    LiamABC likes this.
  10. LiamABC

    LiamABC Thunderian Legend

    I was reminded of the opening episodes here when we watched Return Of The Jedi the other week. The Ewok trap catches Luke, Han, Chewie etc in much the same way as the Bandar trap springs on Flash, Mandrake and Lothar - apart from the slight difference in the traps' nature. The Ewok trap is for food, hence the bait that Chewie takes, while the Bandar trap is to guard against intruders, as shown by Mandrake's accidentally tripping the rope.

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