A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

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 | , , , , ,

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