Monday, January 9, 2017

King of The Impossible, or Thoughts on Flash Gordon

alternate title:  He’ll Save Everyone of Us, or Thoughts on Flash Gordon
 Besides having one of the greatest themesongs of the 80’s, Flash Gordon (1980) is a visual feast, a gorgeous and ridiculously sublime space opera and sentimental classic.  Based on the 1934 comic strip by Alex Raymond and technically a remake of the iconic Buster Crabbe film serials from around the same time, the opening credit montage honors the source material but also inspires the entire production design from costumes, art deco set design and retro spaceships. 
Those original comic strips also inspired the plot and spirit of the film; this is a lighthearted adventure, and it’s fun, an element sadly missing from the modern sci-fi action film.  Anachronistic even for the 80s, Flash Gordon is actually more reminiscent of the Wizard of Oz (1939) than Star Wars (1977) and only the shiny spandex costumes betray the decade it was produced in.
Sam J. Jones is Flash Gordon, quarterback for the New York Jets, (originally a polo player), and presumably a graduate of the James T. Kirk school of fighting.  But there’s something inherently comforting with old-school haymakers, Flash doesn’t need your fancy martial arts, he’s on the side of good, and good always comes out on top, at least in these kind of movies, and that retro naïveté and optimism is one of the reasons this movie is so refreshing.
Melody Anderson is Dale Arden, professional love interest for Flash, while Italian actress Ornelia Muti portrays Princess Aura, who is engaged to Timothy Dalton as Prince Baron of Arboria (the Robin Hood planet) but immediately falls for Flash, because why wouldn’t she?  I mean, look at him: he even has a T-shirt with the movie’s logo.
Flash Gordon in retrospect does seem like a WWII metaphor, what with Ming’s neo-fascist uniforms and Flash the all-American hero saving Mongo by uniting all the moons against Ming.  The special effects are barely updated but again, remain true to the spirit of the original serial.
Cinematic legend Max Von Sydow from The Seventh Seal (1957), appears as Ming the Merciless, one of those Fu Manchu stereotypes that can be taken as racist and offensive in these more sensitive times, but that doesn’t diminish his broad and hammy performance where he’s clearly enjoying himself, and that enthusiasm contributes to the overall tone and texture of the film.  And personally speaking, as an Asian American I’d rather be stereotyped as an evil power mad dictator with a harem than say, a computer nerd with a comical name or a karate expert.  Sure he’s a baddie, but he’s a cool baddie, and that should count for something.
Also starring Topol from FIddler on the Roof (1971) as Dr. Hans Zarkov and Brian Blessed from I, Claudius (1976) and Richard “Fresh Horses!” IV in The Black Adder (1983) as Prince Vultan of the Hawkmen.  Look out for Richard O’Brien, you know, Riff “and Flash Gordon was there in silver underwear” Raff from The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975) and Kenny Baker as one of Ming’s court dwarves.  Additionally, William Hootkins, Porkins Red 6 from A New Hope (1977), Major Eaton in Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981) is Zarkov’s assistant Munson and there’s a very young Robbie Coltrane rocking a very 80’s mullet at the airport.  If that name sounds familiar it’s because you know him as Hagrid in that movie about wizards with glasses.
George Lucas couldn’t secure the rights to this series, so he wrote Star Wars instead; it’s the primary reason A New Hope begins with Episode IV in the crawl, he was trying to capture the feeling of those serials of his childhood.  Cloud City is a direct reference, and once you start looking, you see the influence everywhere.  But remember, even though this movie was made 3 years after A New Hope, both Lucas and director Mike Hodges of the original Get Carter (1971) were taking their inspiration from the same source, the Alex Raymond comics and the Depression era serials.
Sam J. Jones went on to guest star in iconic 80’s shows like The A-Team, Riptide and Hunter, and had a fantastic cameo inTed (2012).  Freddie Mercury would sadly pass away 11 years later but would sing one last great movie theme with Highlander (1986, there can be only one). 

my first novel?  thanks for asking:)  it’s a the first book in a 4-volume supernatural martial arts series chock full of killer kung-fu witches, haunted carnivals, punk rock assassins, and a 24-hour diner with the best pie in town…
read for free on kindle unlimited or buy the paperback, available at fine bookstores everywhere (amazon).