Monday, July 06, 2009

Flash Gordon

On the 4th of July Spike TV showed Star Wars and G4 showed Flash Gordon. What a contrast.

Flash Gordon was one of a spate of science fiction movies produced after Star Wars in the hope of attracting the same audience. There were several others including Start Trek, the Motion Picture, but Flash Gordon manages to distinguish itself in its look and feel.

Ironically, the two movies share the same background. Star Wars was meant to recapture the excitement of the serials - movies released one reel at a time over several weeks. The Star Wars movies (and the Raiders of the Lost Ark movies) each break down into three distinct chapters per movie. The capsule description at the beginning of the movies comes straight from the serials.

While the serials were one influence on George Lucas, there were several others. The serials mainly influenced the form of Star Wars, not the content.

On this other hand, Flash Gordon was essentially a remake of a serial and took all of its inspiration from them. The result is visually stunning but very campy. A good bit of the dialog is tongue-in-cheek. The special effects manage to look expensive and cheesy at the same time. They capture the look of the old serials when spaceships were hung from wires but with state of the art (1980) effects. For example, the cloud of hawk men is impressive but their tiny wings could never support them.

The musical score deserves mention. It was done by Queen not long after their classic hit Bohemian Rhapsody. I think that this and Highlander were the only two scores that they did (It is hard to tell for sure. IMDB lists every movie that used a clip from Queen which is a very long list).

The cast includes Max Von Syndow as the Emperor Ming, Topol, Timothy Dalton as Prince Barin, and Brian Blessed as the bombastic ruler of the hawkmen.

The plot is too fast-moving and superficial to describe. The movie is best enjoyed by ignoring the plot twists and holes and listening to the over-the-top dialog. Just a few examples from IMDB:

Dale Arden: Flash, Flash, I love you, but we only have fourteen hours to save the Earth!

Flash Gordon: Prince Barin! I'm not your enemy, Ming is! Let's all team up and fight him.

Zarkov: We are only interested in friendship. Why do you attack us?
The Emperor Ming: Why not?

Zogi, the High Priest: Do you, Ming the Merciless, Ruler of the Universe, take this Earthling Dale Arden, to be your Empress of the Hour?
The Emperor Ming: Of the hour, yes.
Zogi, the High Priest: Do you promise to use her as you will?
The Emperor Ming: Certainly!
Zogi, the High Priest: Not to blast her into space?
[Ming glares at Zogi]
Zogi, the High Priest: Uh, until such time as you grow weary of her.
The Emperor Ming: I do.
Dale Arden: I do NOT!

Dale Arden: I'm a New York City girl. It's a little too quiet around here for me.

Princess Aura: But my father has never kept a vow in his life!
Dale Arden: I can't help that, Aura. Keeping our word is one of the things that make us... better than you.

Prince Barin: [to Flash] Welcome back from the grave.
[to Princess Aura]
Prince Barin: I knew you were up to something, though I'll confess I hadn't thought of necrophilia?

Klytus: No one - but NO ONE - dies in the Palace without a command from the Emperor.

Doctor Hans Zarkov: Look at them! The poor wretches are just waiting for someone to lead them in revolt...!
Flash Gordon: [annoyed] Oh, are you looking at ME, Zarkov?

Kala: We're going to empty your memory as we might empty your pockets... Doctor.
Doctor Hans Zarkov: Don't empty my mind! I've spent my whole life filling it!

The Emperor Ming: Klytus! Are your men on the right pills? Maybe you should execute their trainer!

Robot: Long live Flash! You've saved your Earth. Have a nice day.
Flash Gordon: YEAH!

Prince Barin: I've changed.
Princess Aura: I've changed, too.
Zarkov: [Successfully picks the electronic door lock] A-ha! I knew it was one of the prime numbers of the Zenith series. I haven't changed.

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