Flash Gordon

#898: Vanguard 2

RECORD STORE TALES #898: Vanguard 2

Released to arcades in 1981, Vanguard didn’t catch my attention until it hit the Atari 2600 the following year.  While I have never played the arcade game, the Atari version was in my hands as soon as I could afford it.  Notably, the Atari game borrowed some of its music from Queen.  Vanguard was a scrolling space game, but where it differed from other games was that it changed orientation from side-to-side to up-and-down at points during the adventure.   There were a variety of adversaries, and power-ups to take advantage of.  There was even a “boss” to take out at the end, and then it all repeated over again at a higher difficulty.  We kids were in love with it, even the simplified Atari version.

Incidentally, Atari artwork and instruction manuals were excellent.  They often began with a short story — this one of the “Vanguard Expedition” into the “tunnels of Aterria” looking for a semi-mythical “City of Mystery”.  Enough to capture a kid’s imagination, especially when combined with the cool box art.

My best friend Bob and I, being the creative types, thought we could design a sequel.  We painstakingly drew every screen in pencil, one after the other.  There were 19 screens in total.  We taped them together in order with Scotch tape, so that you could lay the whole thing out on the floor if you so desired.  Each screen led into the next with attention to detail.

Bob and I had “designed” a dozen games already, drawing them on paper, but they were one or two screens at best.  Our Vanguard 2 was 19 levels!  Many heavily ripped off from Star Wars.  It was only 1983 or 1984 at the latest.  Although ours is completely unrelated to the actual Vanguard II that came out in 1984, out friends kept on telling us “You should send your ideas in to Atari”.  We were big dreamers but we had a lot of fun pouring hours of creativity into these projects.  I’m glad I still have some of them, including Vanguard 2.

I thought it would be fun to scan each screen and post the whole thing with commentary.  I tinted the old pages to give them some variety visually.  Check out the complete Vanguard 2 game!

Title page.  Our “hero ship” basically ripped off from the Colonial Viper from Battlestar Galactica.  Enemy ships show heavy Star Wars influence.

Screen 1.  Scrolling to the right.  Imagine continuous scrolling, as if all the pages were laid out on the ground.  Entering mountain!  Just like the first Vanguard, you must navigate a tunnel in your space ship.   Enemy craft, mines and drones ahead!

Screen 2.  A barrier to break through, and a choice of upper or lower tunnels to take.

Screen 3.  Upper tunnel was a trap!  Although you could possibly shoot your way through a weak spot in the cave wall.

Screen 4:  Switching out your ship for a submarine.

Screen 5:  More enemy resistance ahead, and a difficult choice of three tunnels to take.

Screen 6:  Bottom tunnel would have been the best choice.  Giant jelly fish and a 5 second force field power up ahead!

Screen 7:  Now it’s giant Octopii!  Your sub is running low on fuel, and there is a tempting fuel depot in the lower cave.

Screen 8:  The only way through these narrow caverns is to miniaturize your sub.  Then you must choose upper or lower tunnels, with the upper appearing easier.

Screen 9:  The upper tunnel has heavier resistance at a poor attack angle, plus a classic Atari-style bouncing barrier block, that you must time just right.  Success means deminiaturization and a new spaceship.

Screen 10:  Whether you take the upper or lower tunnels, you have plenty of opposition and the opportunity for a 5 second shield.  Either way — the Sarlacc pit awaits at the end of the screen.  (We would have called it something else.)

Screen 11:  Made it through the first mountain.  Passing through the energy barrier automatically “beams” you to the next screen.  (We called the mountains “Screen 1” and “Screen 2” since we envisioned it as a continuous side scroller, with only this one break in between.  Here I am calling the individual drawings “screens” as it makes more sense when you look at them individually.)

Screen 12:  Still scrolling to the right — entering volcano!  A choice of two tunnels ahead.

Screen 13:  Either way, both tunnels will lead you to a new ship, plenty of opposition, and a 7 second force field.

Screen 14:  Your new ship has dual lasers and can stand the heat of the lava lake you are about to enter!

Screen 15:  You’re heating up so don’t be long.  Upper tunnel offers some squidly opposition while the lower has plenty of enemy subs.

Screen 16:  You’re low on fuel, and a giant lizard is sitting right there by the fuel depot!

Screen 17:  Boss Level!  As in the first game, the Great Gond awaits you at the end.  He is protected by enemy ships and cruise missiles.  Once you beat Gond, we change orientation:  now the game scrolls up!  Make your escape through the cone of the volcano.

Screen 18:  Scrolling up as you try to outrace the flames of the erupting volcano beneath you, while being harassed by enemy ships and missiles!

Screen 19:  If you beat the flames, you win the game!

We could have had a hit video game on our hands!  We loved to draw and a lot of this was drawn outdoors.  I’m pleased the thing held together long enough for me to scan it.  Imagine that Queen theme playing as you win!

REVIEW: Queen – Flash Gordon (with 1991 and 2011 bonus tracks)

Flash Gordon – Original Soundtrack Music by QUEEN (Originally 1980, 1991 and 2011 Hollywood CDs)

When mom and dad rented the movie Flash Gordon, we sat and watched it as a family.  “It’s terrible,” a family friend told us.  There were only so many movies available to rent at the local store (Steve’s TV), just one small wall of VHS and Betamax.  Flash Gordon came home with us one weekend, and because we tried to make the most of our movie rentals (including the VCR, also a rental) we watched it twice.

I have not seen Flash Gordon since that childhood weekend.  It really was awful.  Maybe we hoped for more because Max Von Sydow was in it.  Neither Sydow, nor Brian Blessed, nor a young Timothy Dalton could save Flash Gordon.

Flash Gordon, New York Jets

Queen also could not save the movie, though their soundtrack is certainly one of the best things to come of it.  (Another is the movie Ted, basically a love letter to the original Flash Gordon).   All four Queen members wrote music for the film, and recorded it as a band.  Brian May wrote the lion’s share of material, though Freddie Mercury was responsible for “Vultan’s Theme”, later ripped off for an Atari video game called Vanguard.  I wonder if Freddie ever saw a dime from that?  I knew Freddie’s song from the video game by heart, long before I ever heard the album by Queen!

The soundtrack gave us one Queen hit single, “Flash’s Theme” written by May.  The 2011 double CD has a single version, and a live cut from Montreal in ’81 (also on Queen Rock Montreal), as bonuses to the album track.  “Flash’s Theme” is sparse but catchy, featuring movie dialogue that makes it seem like the film should be much better.  Queen’s bombast was ideal for this.  When Roger Taylor sings the highest notes in the chorus, it’s sheer musical delight.

The album plays like a soundtrack, with lots of atmospheric keyboard instrumentals and movie dialogue.  Because of its ambient nature, you might not at first recognise some tracks as Queen.  Some is similar to the ambient work that closed their last album, Made in Heaven.  The music is far more grand than its onscreen imagery.

One of the most memorable instrumentals is “Football Fight”, a Mercury synth workout.  Perhaps sometimes we forget what a great keyboardist Mercury was, simply because he was such an amazing vocalist.  “Football Fight” is super fun, and you can also get it in a piano-based demo version on the 2011 CD.  Check out a Queen-tastic version of Wagner’s famous “Wedding March” performed by May on guitar.  Finally there is the rock track “The Hero”, a riffy song with full vocals by Freddie.  It reprises some prior themes from the soundtrack, such as “Vultan’s”.  Queen is augmented by an orchestra on “The Hero”, which is as grand as you would expect.  Like “Flash”, you can also get “The Hero” on disc two in live form, in Montreal 1981.

A long forgotten bonus track for this album was released on the 1991 Hollywood Records CD.  A remix by somebody called “Mista Lawnge” starts off well enough, with a grinding beat synched to May’s guitar.  It goes downhill when somebody starts rapping, “Flash, one time!  Flash, two times!”  Note to all remixers:  Never, ever add random rappers to rock songs.  Don’t.

Rest assured, no matter which version of Flash Gordon you pick up, there are some definite musts on the album.  Much of it will only appeal to fans of soundtracks.  If that sounds like you, take a ride with Flash to planet Mongo and get down with some Queen.  Skip the movie!

4/5 stars

MOVIE REVIEW: Ted (2012 blu-ray)

“Death to Ming!” – Sam Jones

TED FRONTTED (Universal, 2012, directed by Seth MacFarlane)

I don’t often go out to the store to buy a movie on the first day of release anymore, but I did for Ted.  I grabbed it at the local Best Buy and immediately popped it in, since I missed its theatrical run.  I’m a Seth MacFarlane fan, see?  I like Family Guy and recently American Dad too.  If you don’t like those shows, chances are, you probably won’t like Ted either.  May as well stop reading now.

Still with me?  Good.  Because this is a fuckin’ funny movie!  Once you get past the concept of the walking talking driving tweeting teddy bear who loves coke and prostitutes.

Patrick Stewart narrarates our intro, as we meet John Bennett, a little Star Wars loving boy who gets a teddy bear for Christmas.  He doesn’t have many friends, so one night he wishes that Teddy was alive.  Connect the dots from here.

Ted becomes a world famous superstar phenomenon (Johnny Carson show and all), only to crash and burn hard by the 1990’s.  Now today, he sits on John’s couch drinking beer, smoking pot, watching Flash Gordon; the 1980 bomb that starred Sam J. Jones as the titular Flash.  And once again, the lush strains of “Flash”, by Queen, fills the room.  This is all fine and dandy until Mila Kunis (insert hot girlfriend way too good for immature boyfriend here) says enough is enough.  If Marky Mark and Mila are to stay together, Ted’s gotta move out and get his own place.

Their lives pretty much go down hill from there.  Ted gets a job at the local grocer and starts banging a checkout girl on top of the lettuce.  But John just can’t separate himself from his best bud, especially when Sam J. Jones himself turns up to party with the boys.   Can John achieve the balance between friendship and domestic bliss that eludes him?

Throw in an evil, creepy stalker played perfectly by Giovanni Ribisi, and cameos by Norah Jones and Ted Danson as themselves, and you have a movie.

I’m not going to sit here and lie to you by saying that this is substantially different from any other bro-mances you’ve seen out there.  There’s the girl who’s fed up, the jerky male romantic rival, and the two dudes, one of whom wants to get his life together while the other seemingly holds him back.  If you’ve watched Paul Rudd, Jason Segel, or Seth Rogen films, you know where I’m going.

What makes Ted so much better than any of those movies (which I already like anyway) is MacFarlane himself.  Yes, Ted does sound like Peter Griffin (even acknowledged in the film) but that voice just works for this bear!  Ted is easily one of the sickest, yet lovable characters in cinema history.  A horny drug using teddy bear has never been depicted on film before, as far as I know.  Of course, Ted needs Johnny as much as Johnny needs Ted.  They are a movie pair, and they can never be happy apart.

The blu-ray gives you the “unrated” (boobs) and theatrical versions.  There’s a DVD, a digital copy, all that extra crap that I never use.  Deleted scenes, gag reels, commentary, all that good stuff.   Still, there’s no point buying a movie unless you plan on watching it more than once.  I’ve watched Ted five times so far, and I still love it.

I guess I have a thing for f-bomb dropping teddy bears that sound like Peter Griffin.  What does that make me?  Ahh, who cares.

4.5/5 stars