The Flash (The Original Series) Blu-ray Review

4 Stars 1990’s short-lived attempt at a superhero show gets an HD upgrade.
The Flash Review

While the idea for making a weekly series of The Flash was ahead of its time, the execution of the show was very much of its time.

The Flash (1990–1991)
Released: 20 Sep 1990
Rated: TV-PG
Runtime: 2 min
Director: N/A
Genre: Action, Crime, Fantasy
Cast: John Wesley Shipp, Amanda Pays, Alex Désert
Writer(s): Danny Bilson, Paul De Meo
Plot: A police forensic scientist, Barry Allen, battles crimes as the super-fast superhero "The Flash."
IMDB rating: 7.1
MetaScore: N/A

Disc Information
Studio: Warner Brothers
Distributed By: Warner Archive
Video Resolution: 1080P/AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
Audio: English 2.0 DTS-HDMA
Subtitles: English SDH
Rating: Not Rated
Run Time: 18 Hr. 8 Min.
Package Includes: Blu-ray
Case Type: Keep case
Disc Type: BD50 (dual layer)
Region: A
Release Date: 06/25/2024
MSRP: $49.99

The Production: 3/5

Despite the overwhelming success of Tim Burton’s 1989 theatrical production of Batman, comic fans of that era had limited opportunities to see their favorite costumed heroes portrayed in live action, whether on the big or small screen. We had ever-present reruns of the Adam West Batman series, of course. For reasons that remain unclear to this day, we had Matt Salinger (the otherwise little-known son of reclusive author J.D. Salinger) in a low-rent version of Captain America. And, at least for one television season, we had John Wesley Shipp as The Flash, coming into our homes courtesy of CBS and Warner Brothers Television. Unfortunately, back in 1990, the cost of producing the kind of visual effects necessary to portray superpowers onscreen made it a much more expensive endeavor than its ratings could justify, and after 22 episodes, the plug was pulled. It was the right idea for a TV show, accurately predicting a future entertainment landscape where impossible heroics would be as plentiful in filmed media as they were in print.

While the idea for making a weekly series of The Flash was ahead of its time, the execution of the show was very much of its time. The visual aesthetic owes a heavy debt to Burton’s vision of Gotham City, and with Danny Elfman responsible for the main themes in the pilot episode (which were further embellished by composer Shirley Walker for the series proper), it certainly sounds straight out of Burton’s Batman. As with many other series of the time, it sometimes struggles finding a balance between world-building and recurring storylines and the neater, more concise episodic storytelling that network television preferred in that era. Episodes early in the season spend too much time with the Flash being pitted against rather mundane mob figures, though the show does become more interesting when it pivots more towards supervillain antagonists. None of this will matter to longtime fans holding a soft spot in their hearts for the series, but does probably limit the show’s potential to draw in a substantial new audience today. This is not a show for the ages, but it was an important stepping stone towards normalizing this particular kind of storytelling on the small screen.

In more recent years, a different iteration of The Flash graced television screens, and found room in its storytelling to pay tribute to this earlier version, even bringing back leads Shipp, Amanda Pays and Alex Desert, allowing them recognition in front of an entirely new audience. The show is also notable for Mark Hamill’s appearances as the villainous Trickster, which sees Hamill developing a performance that clearly became the template for his voiceover work as the Joker in several different animated iterations of Batman. (Hamill’s costuming and physicality also seem to have foreshadowed if not directly influenced Jim Carrey’s portrayal of the Riddler in the film Batman Forever.) Other notable guest stars include Richard Belzer, M. Emmet Walsh, David Cassidy, Jeffrey Combs, Denise Crosby, Bill Mumy, Jeri Ryan, and even Bryan Cranston in a don’t-blink-or-you’ll-miss-it small part.

Probably more appreciated today than it ever was during its original airing, The Flash isn’t a great show, but it is nonetheless beloved by those who happily tuned in week after week, happy to see a superhero on the screen.

Video: 4/5

3D Rating: NA

The Flash is presented on Blu-ray in its original television broadcast aspect ratio of 1.33:1, with a brand new 1080p upgrade (sourced mostly from 4K scans of the original camera negatives) representing a significant visual upgrade over the standard definition broadcast masters that the prior DVD edition had utilized. The season’s 22 episodes are spread across six discs. Like many shows of its era, The Flash was shot on high resolution 35mm film, but edited on standard definition videotape as a cost saving measure. (Showrunners Danny Bilson and Paul De Meo stated on a podcast several years ago that while some effects were completed on film with a combination of in-camera and optical effects, the signature fast-motion running effects were accomplished in the video realm.). As a result, while this Blu-ray is a clear and unambiguous improvement over everything that’s come prior, it is still an imperfect presentation due to the inherent limitations of the source material. Straight live action footage without visual effects, which comprise the majority of shots in each episode, look absolutely fantastic. (One could argue they might even look too fantastic, with the colorful and brightly-lit photography now so clear as to make costumes, sets and makeup more obviously staged than ever.) For the special effects that were completed on film, while they don’t look as pristine as the rest of the live action footage, they’re more or less seamless here. But it’s the video-based effects that fare the poorest; while they have been upscaled as best as possible, there are still interlacing artifacts present. On smaller and medium sized televisions at normal seating distances, it doesn’t stand out as much, but in projection and on larger televisions, it’s much more obvious, and tips off the viewer that a visual effect is about to occur. The main title sequence is by far the worst looking portion of the show, with nothing in the episodes looking as consistently poor as that.

At the end of the day, this is the best possible presentation of the show given the limitations of how it was created in the first place, and fans of the series should not hesitate to upgrade their copies even with the unavoidable presence of some standard definition shots within the new HD presentations.

Audio: 4/5

The Flash on Blu-ray has one lone audio option: a lossless DTS-HD MA 2.0 presentation which is labeled on the packaging as stereo and appears to be the original broadcast mixes. While some TV shows of this era were produced with 2.0 matrixed surround mixes, there’s nothing in the packaging or in the show credits themselves to suggest that this is anything other than a two channel stereo mix, and it does indeed sound better played in stereo than with a receiver’s surround decoder engaged. The music fares best here, especially in the pilot, where Danny Elfman’s score drives the track. Shirley Walker’s weekly scores for all subsequent episodes aren’t as much a driving force in the mix, but still come across clearly and powerfully. Dialogue is generally intelligible, though it sometimes does not sound as well-recorded as the music and sound effects. It’s perfectly fine for what it is but doesn’t hold a candle to modern television sound mixing.

Optional English SDH subtitles are also included.

Special Features: 0/5

There are no special features included on this release.

Overall: 4/5

A nostalgic favorite of many comic fans who came of age around the time of Tim Burton’s Batman, this 1990-1991 television production of The Flash feels like a show of its time, but hints at possibilities for this kind of storytelling that would be more fully realized in the decades that followed. Warner Archive’s Blu-ray presentation is a major upgrade over all previous broadcast and home video versions, even with the unavoidable presence of some upscaled effects work. While the lack of special features is somewhat disappointing if not unexpected, the remastered visual presentations alone make this a worthwhile upgrade for fans of the series.

 

Josh’s fate as a physical media enthusiast was probably sealed the moment he figured out how to operate a top-loading VCR before he even knew how to walk. Since graduating with a degree in film production, he has enjoyed a career focused on the archival and distribution side of film and television. These days, Josh thinks of himself as a proud father of twins first. He would like to thank his wife for her unwavering support, and for every typo she’s ever caught.

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Desslar

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Wow, what a lucky break! I almost picked up the DVD set several times.

Now if only we could get a U.S. blu ray release for Greatest American Hero.
 

bmasters9

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Is the packaging of this 1990 Flash Blu the same as was for the DVD?
 

bmasters9

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This is in a hinged multi-disc keep case. I don’t recall what the DVD used back in its day.

The same, for the later version, which I have (the first version was in a digipak).

20240625_112241.jpg
 

dana martin

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great review Josh, and in the que to pick up , i was one of the few who watched it weekly when it came out, but this set must fly by in a FLASH ... You have the complete series runtime at 2 min. ;)
 

bmasters9

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The Blu-ray doesn’t have printing on the inside of the case insert like the DVD, but the Blu-ray discs themselves each list which episodes are on what disc and the original airdates.

The version I have also has an episode guide folio.

flashepisodeguide1.jpg
 

Scott511

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Wow, what a lucky break! I almost picked up the DVD set several times.

Now if only we could get a U.S. blu ray release for Greatest American Hero.
A real Blu-ray release for TGAH not upscales like the Japanese release. That and fixing all the errors in the various episodes probably won’t ever happen.

Glad The Flash was given the HD treatment and I placed my order today. Can’t wait to see it.
 

Desslar

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A real Blu-ray release for TGAH not upscales like the Japanese release. That and fixing all the errors in the various episodes probably won’t ever happen.
Errors? Do you mean music replacements? Probably not much hope of those being reversed.
 

jayembee

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Don't know what's meant by "fixing all the errors". As I recall, though, there was an issue with one of the discs. I don't recall whether it was a playability issue, or a mastering error, or what have you. But there was a replacement program. I'd have to check, but I'm pretty sure I kept the "bad" version after getting the replacement, and have it sitting in the slipbox.

In more recent years, a different iteration of The Flash graced television screens, and found room in its storytelling to pay tribute to this earlier version, even bringing back leads Shipp, Amanda Pays and Alex Desert, allowing them recognition in front of an entirely new audience.

Another returnee (other than Mark Hamill) was Vito D'Ambrosio, who played the recurring Police Officer Bellows. In the 2014 Flash series, Bellows worked his way up the ladder to be Mayor of Central City.
 

Scott511

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Errors? Do you mean music replacements? Probably not much hope of those being reversed.
Not the music replacements. The episodes as seen now are riddled with errors.

The mirror pan of Katt in the suit from the pilot goes from his head halfway down his body then inexplicably jump cuts to his feet and pans up to around the halfway area where the cut took place. As originally seen on ABC the pan down goes in one move from his head to his feet.

In My Heroes Have Always Been Cowboys towards the end when Maxwell confronts the escaping Tracy Winslow originally you hear the hammers cocking back on both guns as they approach each other. That sound FX is missing now which renders the scene a little less dramatic.

It’s All Downhill From Here has music missing after the Russian shoots the gun out of Maxwell’s hand near the end of the episode. There should be music during the “where is he?” “I expect him any minute” exchange and there’s not. The act also dips to black early after Katt’s line “one people one planet” cutting off the music

The Shock Will Kill You is missing a ton of horn honking sound FX when the trio are in Maxwell’s car and the vehicle is going nuts due to Ralph’s magnetic affect on it.

The laser blasts and explosion sound fx from the beam weapon fired by Master of Flowers in Thirty Seconds Over Little Tokyo are out of sync with the picture.

Many episodes have flying FX mucked up now where we see the suit is almost black. Some of those show up in Now You See It.

I won’t even go into how the opening credits are screwed up on many episodes with wrong people being credited or the elimination of some people’s credit altogether. Notably Don Cervantes in season 2. The alternate version of Believe It or Not heard occasionally in season 2 is not on the DVDs/streaming/or current syndication and neither is the alternate version of the theme song heard only once during the opening credits of the 3rd seasons The Newlywed Game.

All of the above and more happened after Cannell remastered the series around 1999. I recorded the series on ABC, in its syndication run starting in April of 1984, recorded it again on FX starting in 1994. I have a good record to look back on to see how the series was originally broadcast.

WOW that’s a ton of rambling, my apologies for derailing this thread as it’s supposed to be about The Flash.
 

jayembee

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I now just realize that Scott was referring to The Greatest American Hero DVDs. In my reponse above, I was referring to The Flash DVD release. My bad.
 

Scott511

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I now just realize that Scott was referring to The Greatest American Hero DVDs. In my reponse above, I was referring to The Flash DVD release. My bad.
Gotcha. I thought you might have thought I was talking about The Flash. I actually should have been more clear when I commented on that yesterday.
 

Desslar

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Not the music replacements. The episodes as seen now are riddled with errors.

The mirror pan of Katt in the suit from the pilot goes from his head halfway down his body then inexplicably jump cuts to his feet and pans up to around the halfway area where the cut took place. As originally seen on ABC the pan down goes in one move from his head to his feet.

In My Heroes Have Always Been Cowboys towards the end when Maxwell confronts the escaping Tracy Winslow originally you hear the hammers cocking back on both guns as they approach each other. That sound FX is missing now which renders the scene a little less dramatic.

It’s All Downhill From Here has music missing after the Russian shoots the gun out of Maxwell’s hand near the end of the episode. There should be music during the “where is he?” “I expect him any minute” exchange and there’s not. The act also dips to black early after Katt’s line “one people one planet” cutting off the music

The Shock Will Kill You is missing a ton of horn honking sound FX when the trio are in Maxwell’s car and the vehicle is going nuts due to Ralph’s magnetic affect on it.

The laser blasts and explosion sound fx from the beam weapon fired by Master of Flowers in Thirty Seconds Over Little Tokyo are out of sync with the picture.

Many episodes have flying FX mucked up now where we see the suit is almost black. Some of those show up in Now You See It.

I won’t even go into how the opening credits are screwed up on many episodes with wrong people being credited or the elimination of some people’s credit altogether. Notably Don Cervantes in season 2. The alternate version of Believe It or Not heard occasionally in season 2 is not on the DVDs/streaming/or current syndication and neither is the alternate version of the theme song heard only once during the opening credits of the 3rd seasons The Newlywed Game.

All of the above and more happened after Cannell remastered the series around 1999. I recorded the series on ABC, in its syndication run starting in April of 1984, recorded it again on FX starting in 1994. I have a good record to look back on to see how the series was originally broadcast.

WOW that’s a ton of rambling, my apologies for derailing this thread as it’s supposed to be about The Flash.
Thanks for the detailed rundown! I agree it would be preferable to have a corrected version. Then again, I haven't seen the broadcast versions in forever so some of those errors might not jump out at me.
 
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