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Monday, November 21, 2016

Movie Review - Flash Gordon

GORDON'S ALIVE?!

It's not often that a soundtrack for a movie does better than the movie itself. When Flash Gordon came out, I can remember going over to a friends house, because he had just bought the new soundtrack on vinyl, although I distinctly remember that the sleeve cover art was red for some reason, we sat on the stairs that lead up to his apartment and listened to all of the songs. My friend was a huge rock fan and Queen was one of his favorite bands, so when the album came out, he couldn't wait to have us come over to his place to hear, what he considered, one of the greatest albums ever.  Truthfully, it is a damn good listen.

Everyone knew the theme song, they played it consistently on the radio, hell, we still hum the intro "Flash! AAH AAH", Queen's soundtrack, is a masterpiece, the music is still awesome; layered with piano, Brian May's unmistakable guitar tone, the harmonies and snippets of dialogue from the film, it still holds up to this day. One of my favorite pieces, the song The Hero is one of those pieces of music that pulls you in emotionally and really shows the effort the band went through to make this album. This soundtrack set the bar for studios that were looking beyond just having composers write music for movies, when they could license music to fit the movie.

Flash Gordon Movie Review


Max Von Sydow's Head looks a bit off...

Flash Gordon started off life as a clone of the Buck Rogers newspaper comic strip. Created by Alex Raymond, King Features Syndicate wanted something to compete with the popular Buck Rogers comic and wanted to use John Carter Of Mars, but King Features wasn't able to obtain the rights to the novel from H.G. Wells. Instead, they turned to Alex Raymond, one of their staff artists to create a new character and story.

Flash Gordon has inspired a lot of Sci-Fi, Fantasy and Space Opera movies. Hell the biggest movie franchise, Star Wars, came about because DeLaurentiis, who owned the rights to Flash Gordon wouldn't sell Lucas, and we all know how that turned out.  After years of comics, toys, novels and serial movies, Flash Gordon, one of the most popular characters in science fiction finally got his own movie. DeLaurentiis had gone through several directors including Nicholas Roeg, who left the movie early in production, and Sergio Leone, who wouldn't sign on because the  script wasn't faithful to Raymond's creation. He settled on Mike Hodges to direct the film.

If you don't know who Mike Hodges is, he directed the original Get Carter movie that starred Michael Caine, he also directed Damien: Omen 2. The man who wrote the movie, Lorenzo Semple, Jr is best know for Papillion, Three Days Of The Condor, Never Say Never Again and a little known TV show "Batman". Lorenzo thought it would be a good idea to write the Flash Gordon movie as an homage to the 60's camp of Batman while trying to appeal to the fans of the comic strips and serial movies.

Unfortunately, Flash Gordon is neither an homage to the campy 60's tv shows it tried to mirror, nor was it very appealing to fans of the comic strips or serial movies. With Sam Jones playing the title character Flash Gordon and Max Von Sydow playing Ming The Merciless, the movie comes off as more of a bad attempt at trying to capture the Star Wars crowd, rather than trying to capture the Flash Gordon crowd.

It's almost as if Hodges and Semple took all of the ideas and mixed them together. By all of the ideas, I mean everything; there's Robin Hood, Doctor Doom, Barbarella and even a dance scene, except they play football instead of doing the bat-watusi. As bad as it is, Flash Gordon is actually a fun movie to watch. The acting is a bit stiff at times, but the actors do their best with the lines they were given. As far as giving it that old serial look - well, DeLaurentiis should be proud of this movie, because it feels like they spent almost nothing on the special effects and just reused a lot of old props that were lying around from the Sci-Fi movies from the 50's that the studio didn't want to throw away.

Even with Timothy Dalton, Max Von Sydow and Brian Blessed in the cast, they just were not able to keep this movie from sucking. If Mike Hodges and Lorenzo Semple had taken the material seriously and put in the effort of making a Star Wars "killer" instead of what we got, I believe that Flash Gordon would be talked about in the same breath as 2001, Star Trek and the aforementioned Star Wars, as well as any other action/adventure movie that has been released since then.

It's a shame. Flash Gordon deserves to be shown on the big screen again. Even with the many TV series and cartoons that have come out, there is something about this character that is itching to break through to a larger audience, but no one has been able to crack the story it seems. One would think that with all of the comics, serials, and cartoons available, all this back story and information, it would be easy to write a story that's compelling and fun and interesting. Which is not what we go with the Flash Gordon movie.

Yes, I know, it's achieved cult status, and I want you to understand that I do love this movie. I have watched it at least twice per year for the past 30 years. I love the soundtrack, I love Blessed's character and damn if Princess Aura (Ornella Muti) doesn't wear the most revealing clothing ever. I highly recommend that anyone watch it, just to get a taste for what the 80's gave us for B/C level movies. But, looking at the movie from a critics point of view, this movie is not good. So, I highly recommend it.

Rating - 2.5/10

Flash Gordon (1980)
PG | 1h 51min | Action, Adventure, Sci-Fi | 5 December 1980 (USA)
A football player and his friends travel to the planet Mongo and find themselves fighting the tyranny of Ming the Merciless to save Earth.
Director: Mike Hodges
Writers: Lorenzo Semple Jr. (screenplay), Michael Allin (adaptation)
Stars: Sam J. Jones, Melody Anderson, Max von Sydow, Timothy Dalton

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