Warner Bros. // 1980 // 462 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Chief Justice Michael Stailey // November 29th, 2010
"Lords of Light!"
In the year 1994, from outer space comes a runaway planet, hurtling between the Earth and the Moon, unleashing cosmic destruction. Man's civilization is cast in ruin. Two thousand years later, Earth is reborn...A strange new world rises from the old; a world of savagery, super-science, and sorcery. But one man bursts his bonds to fight for justice! With his companions Ookla the Mok and Princess Ariel, he pits his strength, his courage, and his fabulous Sunsword against the forces of evil. He is Thundarr the Barbarian!
From the pen of Marvel Comics' writer Steve Gerber came a series ahead of its time, in the hands of a network too quick to pull the plug when parents complained of its violent content. The perfect blend of post-apocayptic sci-fi and Jack Kirby/Frank Frazetta-inspired production design, Thundarr leapt off the screen, setting ratings records, and developing a cult following on college campuses. With this series, Joe Ruby and Ken Spears secured their place in animation history as the next Hanna-Barbera, and gave us many great memories in the process.
Thanks to Warner Archive, we now have all 21 episodes of the series on one DVD set...
* "Secret of the Black Pearl" (04 Oct 1980)
Rescuing an elderly human from a horde of rat groundlings, Thundarr, Ookla, and Ariel are tasked with delivering his precious cargo to the humans who live in the ruins of Manhattan. It seems these people have stolen a mystical black pearl from the evil wizard Gemini, who must reclaim the gem before its power is turned against him. Question: Why is a movie poster for Jaws in a 1994 NYC subway?
* "Harvest of Doom" (11 Oct 1980)
Investigating the novelty of a freight train, our heroes uncover a crew of Karoks and their cargo of death flowers (poppies) used to subvert the will of anyone who gets in the way of the mighty wizard. Since humans have no value, they are left behind as swamp food for the native serpents, while Ookla is taken prisoner to work in the fields. But with the help of a local swamp urchin (Nancy McKeon, The Facts of Life), Thundarr and Ariel may be able to survive an Incan pyramid, rescue their friend, and put an end to the death flower.
* "Mindok the Mind Menace" (18 Oct 1980)
At the ruins of the Kennedy Space Center, the forces of Mighty Mindok seek the den of the "ice people" -- 1990s NASA scientists cryogenically frozen and forgotten. Awakening the survivors, Thundarr and friends walk right into the hands of Mindok, who forces the scientists to build a new robot body for his immortal brain. Lesson: Being immortal sucks. "Firewhale!"
* "Raiders of the Abyss" (25 Oct 1980)
In what remains of South Dakota's Badlands, an abandoned ocean liner and its human squatters fend off continuous attacks by full-sized Jawas on the backs of supersized bats, only to have several of their numbers taken prisoner never to be seen again. You see, the abyss dwellers are vampires who drain the life-force from their neighbors. Lesson: It sucks to be young and virile, because everyone wants a piece of you.
* "Treasure of the Moks" (01 Nov 1980)
A band of swarthy river pirates, commandeering an old aircraft carrier, are after the legendary treasure of the Mok village. Thwarted by Thundarr and friends, Captain Corden (Joan Van Ark, Knots Landing) sends her crew to retrieve "the fire lances of the ancients" (nuclear missiles) for one final assault on the Moks. Too bad they're looking in the wrong place.
* "Attack of the Amazon Women" (08 Nov 1980)
Riding north along the coast, our heroes stumble upon an Amazonian civil war. Siding with the underdog rebels, Ariel is called upon to lead a strike force against the evil shark queen. Ambushed by her Krakken, Thundarr and Ookla are duped into leading the queen's forces back to the rebels hidden stronghold inside Mount Rushmore. Lesson of the day: Men are stupid. (An unusually dirty transfer.)
* "The Brotherhood of Night" (15 Nov 1980)
Demon dogs! Terrorizing humans living amongst the ruins of Washington DC are a gang of werewolves who turn their victims through the pack leader's magic paw. But Lord Zevon's werewolf army (get it?) may prove the least of their problems, as the wizard Inferus is their true target. With his power under the pack's control, there would be no stopping them. Thankfully, Thundarr and company are on hand to end this moonlight madness.
* "Challenge of the Wizards" (22 Nov 1980)
In order to save the lives of a human village, our heroes are forced to compete in a race through the Las Vegas desert and recover the legendary Helmet of Power. Classic '80s touches include an acid rainstorm, a buried sand buggy, and the remains of Hoover Dam. Long live the Grizzly-Snake!
* "Valley of the Man-Apes" (29 Nov 1980)
In the depths of Monument Valley, an army of diaper-wearing anthropomorphic baboons work feverishly to re-assemble The Mighty One, an ancient ape warrior (better known as King Kong). Thundarr, Ookla, and Ariel must survive the hazards of a movie backlot, a fire breathing dragon, and Kong himself in order to save a neighboring village of little people.
* "Stalker from the Stars" (06 Dec 1980)
Seeking shelter from a winter storm in an amusement park refuge, our heroes and the villagers are attacked by insectoid vampire who fell from the stars. Storing his victims as cocooned snacks, Ariel manages to escape her webbed prison and lead Thundarr to the villain's ship before he can leave Earth's atmosphere. A War of the Worlds reference proves the creature's ultimate undoing.
* "Portal into Time" (13 Dec 1980)
In defending a human enclave and The Alamo from a band of horned lizards in laser-mounted jeeps, our heroes learn of a local wizard who possesses a time traveling "Moon Dial." Using the device to retrieve burned out circuit for the humans' security device, our heroes are sheltered by a local girl who helps them overcome the hazards of life on old Earth (think Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home).
* "Battle of the Barbarians" (20 Dec 1980)
The evil wizard Kublai and his robot warriors attack San Francisco's Chinatown in search of the Yangtze Sceptre, the only weapon that can defeat him. Driven off by Thundarr and friends, the local humans enlist our heroes help to locate the legendary scepter before Kublai and his new ally, Zokar the Barbarian, an iron clawed hot head determined to prove he's the mightiest Barbarian of them all.
* "Den of the Sleeping Demon" (27 Dec 1980)
Deep with the Grand Canyon, the wannabe wizard Judag seeks to fulfill the prophecy of awakening the legendary Sleeping Demon to attain untold power. As Thundarr, Ariel, and Ookla attempt to head Judag off at the pass, they run afoul of two teenage adventures (think Wonder Twins with a giant pet turkey vulture instead of a space monkey) dead set on joining the hunt. Wacky hijinks ensue, including a playground beatdown of tiger mutants.
* "Wizard Wars" (12 Sep 1981)
The evil wizard head Skullis is turning entire human villages into mindless zombie slaves to defeat his nemesis, the wizard Octagon, and only Thundarr and friends can stop his evil plans. But to do so, they must survive the Desert of Demons, populated by vicious little people, magical creatures, robot warriors, and more.
* "Fortress of Fear" (19 Sep 1981)
It's derivative fest, as the wizard Argoth (Cobra Commander + Baron Zemo + Darth Vader) and his Metaloids (Daleks + Cybermen) capture our heroes, with the intent of making Ariel his bride and the boys his slaves. From there we replay Dino DeLaurentis' Flash Gordon, with Thundarr leading the oppressed masses in revolt against their lord and master, and rescuing Ariel from the beast with a thousand eyes.
* "Island of the Body Snatchers" (26 Sep 1981)
Our heroes respond to a distress arrow launched from a troubled ship in "The Mystery Zone" (Bermuda Triangle?), only to shanghaied by the evil sorceress Circe (Janet Waldo, The Jetsons) intent on using Ariel's body to replace her own decaying form. In and around her island stronghold -- Great Britain's parliament building, Big Ben, Tower of London, Madame Tussaud's -- the battle wages, as Circe/Ariel attempts to escape her eternal imprisonment. Strange pixelation in this transfer.
* "City of Evil" (03 Oct 1981)
Defeated at the hands of Thundarr, the evil wizard Sirrott stumbles upon an experimental research lab and crystal pyramid housing the shrunken City of Thieves. Together Sirrott and city ruler Voltak hatch a plot to reclaim the gauntlet of power and resize the city, in exchange for sharing rulership of the entire world. Blatant rip-off of Superman's Bottle City of Kandor.
* "Last Train to Doomsday" (10 Oct 1981)
Janus the mummy wizard and his hawkmen attack Tai's (Nancy McKeon) supply train (from "Harvest of Doom"), only to come face-to-face with Thundar, Ookla, and Ariel. Now our heroes must eliminate the threat to keep the train running. The only problem is Janus is actually an old enemy (from "Secret of the Black Pearl") revived and seeking revenge against our heroes. Best moment: Ariel and Ookla are trapped by an evil car wash.
* "Master of the Stolen Sunsword" (17 Oct 1981)
A Beverly Hills nega-storm forces our heroic trio to seek shelter and into the path of the wizard Yando's attack on a local caravan. But a blast of scarlet lightning takes down Thundarr and weakens his sunsword. To return its power, they must seek reach the Pool of Power (inside Griffith Observatory), but an ambush by mutant insects puts the sword in Yando's evil hand. Can Thundarr reclaim its mastery before the villagers fall prey to the wizard's deadly magic?
* "Trial by Terror" (24 Oct 1981)
Deep in Atlanta, accused criminal Thorak faces death by geyser -- that is until his friend Thundarr and company arrive. Turns out the local wizard has set up Thorak to take the fall for his own thieving ways. With time running out, Thundarr and Ookla must expose the conspiracy before the execution is carried out. The police here are pig mutants and the sheriff sounds like Boss Hogg (The Dukes of Hazzard). Subtle guys, real subtle.
* "Prophecy of Peril" (31 Oct 1981)
While battling the wizard Vashtar (Michael Ansara, Buck Rogers in the 25th Century), the secret of his undoing is unveiled in a prophecy. The unique powers of three women -- a 1980s supermodel turned angel, a mummified Mayan priestess, and a recluse Barbarian (Joan Van Ark) -- must be united in strength against this seemingly indestructible foe. Girl power!
I don't recommend consuming these episodes in mass quantities; too much of a good thing can cause brain rot. Thundarr was introduced back in the day when the networks only bought 13 episodes a season for Saturday mornings and reran the hell out of them. Besides, most of us kids had our weekends filled with activities, so we never caught every episode to begin with. And prior to the mass adoption of the VCR, if we missed an episode, we'd be lucky to catch it in a second or third run.
The great thing about Thundarr is that it didn't pander to the 8-year-old mentality. It was derivative as hell, borrowing liberally from fantasy/sci-fi comic books and movies, but was no less entertaining. One can make a strong argument for the Star Wars influence, in that Thundarr is a synergy of Luke's nobility and Han's impulsive cockiness, Ookla is Chewbacca, Ariel is Leia, and the Sunsword...well, let's just say there's one scene lifted directly from Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope in which Thundarr battles small metal balls that shoot lasers.
One of the best things about revisiting this series 30 years later is watching all the disconnects come bubbling up to the surface. What exactly is a runaway planet? What bonds did Thundarr have to break to become the barbarian he is today? How does Ariel never get cold wearing only a leotard and go-go boots? How is it the Moks can understand English but not speak it? I love how the Moon that split in half back in 1994 continues to knit itself back together two thousand years later. The geography of the series is mind-numbing. I realize global catastrophe can wreak havoc on a planet's topography and eco-system, but every climate is now overrun by palm trees, and Great Britain is now adjacent to the Bermuda Triangle; don't even try to figure it out. But we do eventually get an explanation for the Sunsword and why it only works for one person ("Master of the Stolen Sunsword"), so there is that. Although, I would like to hear about the genetic link between Thundarr and He-Man.
A few more general observations. Nearly every episode in Season One uses the same footage of our trio and their horses jumping over various objects. Season Two saw more interesting camera angles and locations, more intense and detailed action sequences, and less rotoscoping. Plus, the stories often drop us right into the middle of the action, rather than stumbling upon it. The show possesses an excellent musical score by composer and band leader Dean Elliott, who also did the music for all the CBS Dr. Seuss specials.
With regards to the vocal performances, this was a Grade-A cast. The late Bob Ridgley, voice of Thundarr, was a character actor whose resume is loaded with film and television credits from Blazing Saddles and Bonanza, to Boogie Nights and Dexter's Laboratory. Nellie Bellflower, the voice of Ariel, is now an Academy Award nominated producer of such films as Finding Neverland and Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day. And Henry Corden, best known as the second voice of Fred Flintstone, does Ookla and many of the evil wizards (who all sound exactly the same).
Presented in its original 1.33:1 full frame format, the quality of the transfer varies from episode to episode. It's never unwatchable, but you will see varying degrees of dirt, grain, pixelation, and the occasional run of a scratched negative. The Dolby 2.0 mono track is perfectly sufficient for the show, with enough balance to keep it from sounding tinny. Let's face it, Warner Archive will never be known for its quality control, but we do get to own many beloved series in their entirety, which is something I wasn't sure we'd ever see happen. Oh, and as for bonus features, there are none. There isn't even a true menu system, just episode title cards to select from.
Not guilty. If Adult Swim existed back in the '80s or '90s, Thundarr may have had more lives than Family Guy.
"Ariel! Ookla! Ride!!!!"
Review content copyright © 2010 Michael Stailey; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono (English)
Running Time: 462 Minutes
Release Year: 1980
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Warner Archive
* DVD Verdict audio interview with creators Joe Ruby and Ken Spears