Saturday, May 28, 2011

Flash Gordon (1980)

He may be king of the impossible, but Flash Gordon can't save himself in his goofy return to the big screen in 1980.


Scientist Hans Zarkov (Topol) was booted from NASA with his warnings of Earth's destruction by an alien force. Emperor of Mongo, Ming the Merciless (Max von Sydow), decides to destroy the planet for his amusement. Zarkov literally kidnaps Flash Gordon (Sam Jones) and Dale Arden (Melody Anderson) to join him in his efforts to stop the ruler of outer space from using typhoons, tornadoes and hot hail (?) to wipe out Earth.

Buster Crabbe was no great thespian as Gordon in the original serials from the 1930s (including Space Soldiers and Flash Gordon's Trip to Mars), but even he had better chops than poor Sam Jones. His acting resume was pretty brief before being signed on to appear in this film by Mike Hodges. At least Melody Anderson, who appears as Dale Arden, had some television work with both Logan's Run and Battlestar Galactica before Flash Gordon.


But there's zero chemistry between these two. They meet and fall in love within minutes, while the Earth is being destroyed. A lot of their banter feels awfully forced.

The script is a second major problem with this re-imagining of this long-time science-fiction character. Would this be a serious take on Flash Gordon or a campy, winking version of what older movie-goers would have remembered from the Great Depression?

Lorenzo Semple looked like a good choice to pen the script. He was a script consultant with the Batman television series between 1966 and 1968. Hey, Semple also penned the screenplay for Robert Redford's Three Days of the Condor. Funny or serious, he could have dipped into either creative well.


Too bad this version opts for a wink-wink version of Gordon with many of Semple's jokes quickly being sucked, deservedly, into a vast black hole never to be seen again. Yes, there's a few sharp cracks in the film's nearly two-hour running time. When Zarkov and Prince Barin (Timothy Dalton) are in chains facing execution, the latter requests, "Tell me more about this man, Houdini." When Zarkov's mind is being cleared by Ming's henchmen and an image of Adolf Hitler is seen on a screen, Klytus (Peter Wyngarde) suggests, "Now, he showed promise." That's dark humour, but it works here.

There's no tension in the action scenes either. Each chapter in the serials ended with a real cliff-hanger with Gordon apparently killed, only to return the next week after yet again finding a way of escaping death. Here, Ming's palace guards pose absolutely no menace. Instead, showdowns with Ming's goons are played for yucks that just aren't there. And, hey, couldn't there be at least one showdown between Flash and a giant monster?

It's neat to see Dalton in an action film a few years before he replaced Roger Moore as James Bond in The Living Daylights and Licence to Kill. Ornella Muti is sultry as Ming's daughter, Princess Aura, a good-looking woman with a long-line of male 'friends.'

Flash Gordon features a soundtrack from British rock group, Queen. The film features two tracks with lyrics sung by the late Freddie Mercury, Flash's Theme and The Hero. Dialogue from the film is liberally included with a soundtrack that offers more fun than the film itself.

RATING: 4/10

FUN FACTS: Timothy Dalton voiced the character of Mr. Pricklepants in Toy Story 3 and Brian Blessed (Prince Vultan) spoke for Boss Nass in The Phantom Menace. Topol starred in Fiddler on the Roof. Lorenzo Semple also wrote the script for the 1976 remake of King Kong. Maybe that should have been a warning.

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