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Now, while I have previously talked about comic book movies that weren’t so well received and might benefit from another viewing, this is going to be about a film where I believe the opposite is needed. If you can read the title of this feature then you know that the movie in question is none other than the 1980 cult classic Flash Gordon. While it may have become a foothold in terms of the brand’s presence in pop-culture, there are some thoughts I have on it.
I figure that I should clarify: this is not a case where I dislike the movie, I actually like it quite a bit, but rather I hate the effect that it has had. The movie, produced by the famed Dino DeLaurentiis and directed by the less famed Mike Hodges, followed the basic structure of the comic strip – Flash Gordon and his compatriots land on the Planet Mongo where they become the targets of the tyrannical dictator Ming the Merciless. Where the two entities divide is entirely in tone.
The original comic strip, which stands as one of the best comic strips of all time, was penciled and run by the amazing Alex Raymond and had a distinctly different flavor than some might realize. While not far from the “fifties sci-fi” that it is now seen as a pillar of, the first storylines are far more in line with sword and sorcery than anything else. Mongo, while a planet, is used more like a fantasy wild land. The battles, even with some technology, are fought with medieval flair.
There are real, adventurous, and thrilling moments. It has cheesy moments, like a rather superfluous tale about an upside down cavern, but for the most part never strays that far away from any high fantasy. So, a lot of that has been pushed aside and not really remembered due to influences such as the 1980’s movie. This has been done to such an extent that the most recent Jeff Parker penned series has the tone of an early 00’s adventure comedy like Sahara, and pays mind to pay the movie it’s due.
Now, just to reiterate, it’s not that I think the movie is bad or that I dislike the movie – but there is a wealth of tone and possibilities being overlooked due to it. The film version played up the style of the overall 50’s and 60’s period – with a good amount of 70’s cheese. It is, in fact, a thoroughly entertaining ride. Not winking its eye at the audience or second guessing itself, with very much a welcoming air about the conventions it is playing into, similarly to The Spirit.
The acting from such standards as Max Von Sydow, Timothy Dalton to even the iconic Brian Blessed prove just hammy and over the top enough to work. In a way it is a precursor to such films like Stephen Sommers’ The Mummy, the type that goes all in and doesn’t look back. There is also a lot of credit where credit is due: the movie lifts a lot more from the original strips than any other adaptation would have cared to do. The most notable ones being: the fight with the red apes, the duel inside the spiked circle, and the flight-span of the Hawkmen.
Of course, these are all played with a far different hand than the original stories but it is the care and the knowledge that means all the difference there can be. You can’t provide a spin on something if you don’t know the roots of it all. If you go in blind, if you don’t put in the time and effort, then it’s all fruitless. For all my griping about the influence of this movie, there is no doubt it captures the spirit as best that it can. Unlike the 00’s TV show – which is for next time. Thoughts and comments would be appreciated below.