Thursday, December 2, 2010

30 Years of Flash Gordon


All together now...GORDON'S ALIVE!

Yep, this Sunday, December 5, marks the 30th anniversary of one of the campiest (if not THE campiest) sci-fi spectacles ever to reach the big screen. So let's hop into a rocket and look back at Flash Gordon in all of its disco-era glory.

I first saw it probably around 1984 when it my parents finally got HBO. At the time I was completely unfamiliar with the character of Flash Gordon-the local newspapers didn't carry the comic strip (even though they did have The Phantom, go figure) and the Buster Crabbe serials were not being ran on TV at least around where I lived. So my first introduction to the world of Mongo was Sam Jones-fully dubbed-as Flash, Max Von Sydow's gleefully evil Ming, the kitschy spaceships and Queen belting out the title theme. At the time I was unaware of the film's reputation-a critical and commericial disappointment-and just sat there I'm sure slack jawed at what I had just seen. Of course as I got older and discovered both Alex Raymond's work and the Crabbe serials, I began to see why so many despised this version. It had taken a serious piece of 1930s sci-fi pulp and turned into a Vegas stage act. It was the Batman television series run riot.

Looking at the film now I have to admit it is a definite guilty pleasure but it does have its strengths. The supporting cast is rich-from Von Sydow to a pre-Bond Timothy Dalton channeling Errol Flynn as Prince Barin to Brian Blessed's Vultan, probably the film's best performance to the sexy Ornella Muti as Princess Aura-all of them give it their all. The effects, while laughable I'm sure for even 1980, at least stick close to the design of the comic strips. And the last 30 minutes-the Hawkmen attack and Flash becoming the ultimate wedding crasher-is a rousing finale. I admit it does have its problems and just flat out silliness-the fact that Flash comes out of the swamp of Aboria both spotless and with perfect hair is laughable, the character of Zarkov-played by Topol-borders on ludicrous in this version, the Darth Vader inspired Klytus, the bizarre Wizard of Oz references and two rather flat leads in Jones and Melody Anderson, even though both try with what they're given.

So is Flash Gordon an over the top romp? Yes it is- a glorious one, the type they just don't make anymore. I guess you can give credit to director Mike Hodges (even if he has admitted it virtually destroyed his career) and producer Dino De Laurentiis (may he rest in peace) for having the guts to make such an outrageous epic. Here's to you Flash, the one savior of the universe who never fails!

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