A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

Movie 355 – Flash Gordon (1980)

Flash Gordon (1980) – February 18th, 2011

Somehow, and I have no clue how, I had never seen this movie before. I know, right? Bizarre! I’ve seen Barbarella a dozen times or more and somehow this just never made its way to my screen. I know there were times when people I knew were watching it, or it was on, and the universe just seems to have conspired to always make me busy at the time, or focused on watching something else already. It just strikes me as odd. I even had a friend in high school whose nickname was based on this movie (not that he chose it, but that’s how it is with nicknames). You’d think I’d have made a point of checking it out just to see what he’d been saddled with. And no. I never did. Thank goodness that’s been rectified.

I really am baffled by it. This is a movie starring Brian Blessed, with Richard O’Brien and Deep Roy in bit parts, with a soundtrack by Queen, and I’m only just now seeing it. Also, it’s got Lobot. You know, the cyborg dude with the headset in Empire Strikes Back? This time he’s got cyborg eyes instead of ears. Try to spot him! It’s just amazing. I’m still kind of stunned by it. It’s precisely the kind of sci-fi cheese I adore, full of scenery chewing and sparkly costumes and psychedelic special effects. There are lizard men! and hawk men and tree men and oh, it’s just lovely.

Coming into this movie, all I really knew was that it was going to be cheesy and Brian Blessed wore a helmet with pointy bits. That was really it. Oh, I knew character names, but how everything came together? Nope. It’s established early on that Flash Gordon is a bit of a celebrity and plays football and is hunky, and also that a villain named Ming the Merciless is bent on destroying Earth by ramming the Moon into it. Flash, a woman named Dale, and a scientist named Dr. Zarkov, who’s been predicting an alien attack on Earth, end up in a rocket and arrive at Ming’s planet, Mongo. Turns out Ming’s an all-around asshole who has a bunch of moons (sort of) where various Mongo races live in warring kingdoms. You’ve got your ice moon (Frigia), your foresty swamp moon (Arboria), etc. His daughter’s all over the men, which is fine and all, but she’s also all over her dad, which is creepy like ew. Anyhow, Flash, Dale and Dr. Zarkov are taken prisoner and then there’s a football game.

I wish I was joking. This is the point in the movie where my jaw literally dropped open and stayed that way until the scene was over. Flash Gordon seriously defeats a troop of Mongo soldiers by playing football (with a giant green and gold Fabrege egg – cause apparently unless he’s holding something approximately the size and shape of a football he can’t tackle or anything). The scene even has some cheerleading moves from Dale. Fortunately for me, since I’m not big on football, they don’t use that tactic again. The closest the movie comes to it is having Flash espouse teamwork to the two princes he ends up dealing with (Timothy Dalton as Prince Barin of Arboria and Brian Blessed as Prince Vultan of the Hawk People or something like that – they have wings and he’s Brian Blessed, who cares what they’re called). Ming takes a liking to Dale and sweeps her away to be made one of his concubines and Princess “Handsy With Daddy” Aura takes a liking to Flash and rescues him from being executed.

And here is where we get some sadly unfortunate bits. Because you know, I’m just not down with the whole unwelcome sexual contact thing. I’m especially not down with the bit where Ming’s folks try to get Dale drunk so she won’t care when he forces himself on her later. And while Flash certainly doesn’t hit the same level of sleaze as whatshisface in Beastmaster did, he’s got one moment where I wanted to slap him. Cause it’s totally a good idea to compliment your female companion for being hot after she was forced to act all sensual without her consent. Not douchey at all! But for all that? He later has some good moments, and ends up having to fend off some unwelcome advances himself, and Dale gets to kick a whole lot of ass. I’d read in the trivia that George Lucas wanted to make a Flash Gordon movie and then made Star Wars instead when he found the rights had been sold already. And really, it’s impressive how many little moments of similarity there are, but the one that stood out the most to me is Dale’s escape scene. It’s so Princess Leia. She kicks, she punches, she steals guns and uses them to shoot and smack baddies. Dale has some damsel in distress moments, but she is far from helpless, and I appreciate that in a female lead.

Really though, the movie is camp and cheese and ridiculousness and a whole lot of fun. It’s got elaborate costumes and sets. It’s got eye candy for pretty much everyone (scantily clad men and women, showing off legs-a-plenty). It’s got women kicking ass and men working together. It’s got Richard O’Brien playing a huge set of pipes with a golden snake on them. And it has a line that caused me to weep a single tear of pure joy: With Queen playing in the background, Brian Blessed hollers “WHO WANTS TO LIVE FOREVER, EH?!” What the hell more could I ask?

February 18, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , | Leave a comment

Flash Gordon (1980)

February 18, 2011

Flash Gordon (1980)

Oh the glorious eighties cheese! Dino De Laurentiis take me away. This movie is what you get when you combine the psychedelia of Barbarella, the camp of the old Batman television show, the characters of the Flash Gordon comic strip and serial, and spice it all up with a dash of Brian Blessed and Queen. Pure distilled joy. It’s not a good movie, I freely admit, but it is a wonderful encapsulation of the manufactured excess of the eighties.

I have to wonder what kind of movie these people thought they were making. On the one hand it is a big budget homage to the classic serial and comic strip it is based on. You can see a clear inspiration carried over from the comic strip into the movie in the bright Sunday-paper primary color palette. The space craft look strikingly like those of the serial in design. The characters are almost archetypal they’re so ingrained on the psyche of the 20th and 21st centuries. There’s Dale Arden, Flash’s girlfriend from Earth, ever the damsel in distress. There’s Princess Aura, the heartless conniving daughter of Emperor Ming who can’t resist Flash’s charm. There’s the brilliant Doctor Zarkov who brings Flash and Dale to Mongo. There’s the cold-hearted emperor Ming the Merciless. And of course there’s Flash himself, the lovable lug. About the only liberty the movie takes is that it makes Flash into a famous football star back on Earth. The DVD features the first episode of the 1930s Buster Crabbe Flash Gordon, and it’s fun to see just how faithful to the spirit of those old shorts this movie is.

On the other hand, this movie is just so campy. Maybe it’s the De Laurentiis influence with all the women posing in glittering bikinis. Maybe it’s the ludicrous fight scene in Ming’s throne room where Flash uses his football movies to overcome a phalanx of guards. Maybe it’s Queen’s thrilling, catchy, and oh so literal theme song which plays over the entire climactic battle. (Flash! Ahhhahhh! He’ll save every one of us!) Undoubtedly it is the grinning, hammy, over-done performance of Brian Blessed as Vultan, the prince of the hawk men. There are some slow bits in the middle of this film, but once it gets going and allows itself to be every bit as silly as it could want to be I can’t help grinning from ear to ear.

Oh, and there are so many familiar faces. Brian Blessed of course, but also Timothy Dalton (the first James Bond I saw in the theater would you believe) and Topol (with narry a fiddle in sight) and Richard O’Brien (complete with his hunched RiffRaff walk.) The screen is simply brimming with camp movie legends all vying for attention. Heck, when Ornella Muti first shos up on screen she’s got the inimitable Deep Roy on a leash following her around.

The other star of this movie is the production design. The costumes are inspired. I already mentioned the rich color palette, but there’s a fantastic and stylised look to this film. The different groups of storm troopers for example, from the skull faced inquisitorial troops to the pig men to the imperil guards. There are all the different races conquered by Ming who populate his throne room, each with their own different theme costume. It’s like the gangs from The Warriors attending a model UN – but with a bigger budget. The sets are cavernous and complex, not at all what you would expect from Flash Gordon which I associate with sparse plywood sets. The mad, joyous, insane gaudiness of it all just adds to the movie’s charm.

As we watched this Amanda (with her uncanny ability to recognise actors instantly) spotted the actor who portrayed Lobot, Lando’s cyborg henchman from The Empire Strikes Back, which made me realize just how much this movie shares with that one. It’s not just that they came out in the same year – they have many striking similarities: cloud cities, a swamp planet, a masked henchman of the emperor who is interrupted while meditating/sleeping. There’s one scene where Flash slides down a chute in the hawk-man city which was strikingly reminiscent of Luke sliding down the tubes after leaping to his doom to avoid Darth Vader. Perhaps it is inevitable that the two movies would share so much in common since the Star Wars films were so heavily based on the Flash Gordon serial which also inspired this movie. But come on! This movie even has Porkins in it!

I note in the trivia on IMDB that Kurt Russell was considered for the role of Flash Gordon and turned it down. This raises in my mind one important question: Why does our collection not include Big Trouble in Little China? It would make such a natural follow-up to this movie.

February 18, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , , | Leave a comment