A few years back, I (Michael) went through a big Queen phase and listened to every last album of theirs ad infinitum. This included this week’s pick, which they both made the titular theme song, the superior ending theme (“The Hero”), in my opinion, and much of the score. I finally caved and watched it last year and while it was really dumb, it was also a lot of fun and great to look at, so I wanted to bring it to the table for Aaron.
You only get one first time, and for some people, it comes later than it does for others. This particular column is about documenting the first viewing of a “classic” movie or TV show determined at the discretion of Aaron Hubbard and Michael Ornelas in alternation.
Last week Aaron chose the first season of Marvel’s Jessica Jones. This week Michael takes Aaron out from under the proverbial rock to show him Flash Gordon.
Released: December 5th, 1980
Directed by: Mike Hodges
Written by: Lorenzo Semple, Jr.
Sam J. Jones as Flash Gordon
Melody Anderson as Dale Arden
Max von Sydow as Emperor Ming the Merciless
Ornella Muti as Princess Aura
Timothy Dalton as Prince Barin
Brian Blessed as Prince Vultan
Michael Ornelas: This just reeks of the 1970s/80s, and even though I wouldn’t call it “good”, it’s still fun. And colorful. I like colorful.
Aaron Hubbard: I fell in love with the cast. Not many movies can make me think of Fiddler on the Roof (Chaim Topol) and A License to Kill (Timothy Dalton) at the same time.
An Aesthetic of Its Time
Michael: The colors, set pieces, props, and costumes in this movie are remarkable. Some are remarkably bad while others are remarkably good, and it gives this unique identity to the film. For 1980, it’s really not terrible, but it hasn’t aged well regardless. I’m most impressed by the sets, which felt like a mixture between King Midas and 50s/60s science fiction. They were big, loud, and goudy but looked like a ton of fun to film on. The costumes, on the other hand, looked like they were put together by 13 year-olds with a high budget.
Aaron: That almost feels like a discredit to 13 year-olds. But I do agree that this movie is visually interesting, and it should be. Flash Gordon was a weird comic with rich mythology and big ideas and this captured it well. Even if none of it was convincing, the ideas of what we were seeing were still striking. The army of birdmen, the alien forest, and the platform of death were all really cool visuals.
Michael: I also just really enjoyed the “sky” for lack of a better term. The color palette made that really pop for me.
Pop Culture Cornerstone
Aaron: So this movie is a “cult classic”, but the source material is anything but. Or, at least it wasn’t originally. Created in 1934 as a competitor to Buck Rogers, Flash Gordon is a seminal pulp sci-fi fixture. Alex Raymond’s comics were adapted into films, radio serials, and TV specials throughout the 1930s to the 1950’s. Raymond’s had a huge impact on everything from Superman to Star Wars. And while this film was a cheap and cheesy farce even in 1980, I was amused by just how much the plot feels at home in the 21st century blockbuster landscape.
Michael: Albeit a little harder to follow. There were so many scenes where, to me, it was unclear what or why things were happening. Maybe that’s a mixture of being tired and a short attention span, but outside of broad strokes, I’d have a hard time summarizing the full plot. To your point though, this was actually very clearly pulled from influential source material, and I feel had this movie come a few years earlier, Star Wars may risk being viewed as a “rip off” of Flash Gordon. That said, I don’t think that ever would have happened because I’m pretty sure this movie would have turned out very differently had Star Wars not come out three years prior.
Aaron: I think the tone would be more serious and that would be a bit of a letdown for me. The Adam West-era Batman style camp was really fun for this film. But it’s easy to make a throughline from Flash Gordon’s visuals to Guardians of the Galaxy and Thor: Ragnarok. There’s talk of revitalizing the property for another big budget movie and I would be fine with that.
Dumb, Fun Action
Michael: The action in this movie felt so staged, in the most enjoyable of ways. None of the actors excelled at making me buy into their combat, but I love corny fight scenes. Flash Gordon and Prince Barin’s fight atop the spiky platform was amazing in every sense of the word. That was probably my favorite scene because it was supervised by Winged Rusev (Prince Vultan), and it took place on Rusev Day, of all days! The football fight was really, really stupid though.
Aaron: The spiky platform of death gets a world of credit for originality. I can safely say I’ve never seen any fight quite like that one. I also thought the all-out war at the end was fun. What can I say, bird people attacking spaceships is cool.
Michael: Bird people, if they’re led by Bird Rusev, doing anything is cool.
…seriously guys. He looks just like Rusev. MACHKA!
Aaron: This was a fun and unique experience. I’ll probably never see it again but I’m very happy I saw it. It’s so weird yet watchable that I have to recommend it.
Michael: I loved the aesthetic and the corniness of it all, but also felt the plot was clunky, the dialogue was clunkier, and the performances, while memorable, weren’t fantastic. I still recommend the movie even if it is decidedly average at the end of the day. A kick-ass theme by Queen knocks it up one notch for me though.
Aaron: “He’ll save everyone of us!”
Michael: *Sick ass guitar riff!*
What’s your favorite corny action movie fight scene?
Aaron: This is one you requested me to pick. I hope you enjoy it.
Michael: It’s just one of those films that seemed like it was a certain genre that I hated when it came out, so teenage Michael refused to watch it. Now I hear it referenced a lot and it’s supposed to be a really great movie. I’m excited.
Aaron: I think it’s more good than great but it’s definitely fun and worth seeing. Got to get your Shakespeare somewhere.
What is your favorite “modern” retelling of a Shakespeare play?
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