Movie and Film Reviews (MFR) Action,Adventure,Sci-Fi Rated for Redux: Flash Gordon (1980/2012)

Rated for Redux: Flash Gordon (1980/2012)


Over the next couple of months, in addition to my regular reviews, I will be looking at movies that are going to be or already have been remade in the next/last couple of years. I’ll give you my opinion of the film as a whole, and then let you know whether or not it should/needed to be remade as well as my reasoning. If I have any information about the redux film I will also take that into account when determining a film’s “Reduxability”. If you have any suggestions or tips I would love to hear them.

Flash Gordon is the only movie I’ve ever heard of that was made to purposely look bad. Yeah, you heard me right. Director Mike Hodges (he hasn’t really done much else) decided that his film needed to invoke the original serial so much that they went ahead and shot the entire movie in camp style. In essence it is an attempt at an A-movie pretending to be a cheesy B-movie. The result is a movie that looks like it was made in the 1950’s with 1980’s technology. More explanations will follow later.

Therefore, if you judge a movie by how it looks, you should stop reading now and go do something else. At its heart, Flash Gordon is an adventurous and enjoyable movie that, despite its glaring flaws, is watchable if you don’t take it too seriously. Although I am against movies becoming a form of escapism, this movie IS escapism at its purist. The viewer is transported away to another world where “good versus bad” is the main struggle as well as its primary thematic element; in other words that’s as deep as it gets. Flash Gordon captures the bubble-gum feel as good as any contemporary Michael Bay movie, yet its entrenchment in history and often bizarre quirks are enough to put some viewers off.

Synopsis: The ruler of planet Mongo, Ming the Merciless, is threatening to destroy mankind by colliding Earth and moon. Flash Gordon is a New York Jets quarterback, who, caught in Ming’s attack on Earth, is forced to join forces with a mad scientist named Dr. Zarkov along with a reporter named Dale Arden. Together they travel to planet Mongo in Zarkov’s rocket ship in order to save Earth. What they find is a highly advanced and oppressed world comprised of many kingdoms, all on their knees, all helpless, to the tyrannical leadership of Ming. Political scandal is brewing, as the daughter of Ming, Princess Aura, is pitting the kingdoms against each other as well as Ming himself. Upon arriving, Ming captures Dale and Zarkov as slaves, and decides to execute Flash. Luckily, princess Aura takes a liking to Flash and saves him. Now its up to Flash to unite the kingdoms together in order to overthrow Ming and save Earth as well as his new friends Zarkov and Dale. Does he have what it takes before its too late?

Acting: While there are plenty of memorable characters here, not all of them are acted well. Most irksome is the acting of lead man/former Playgirl centerfold Sam J. Jones as Flash Gordon. Arguments between Jones and the director and producers ultimately led to his character getting voiced over for the entire film. His performance is neither convincing nor memorable, and that is a shame considering all the other memorable characters/performances here. Dale Arden is played by Melody Anderson (TV’s All My Children), who does a better job than Jones, but not too much better. Redeeming the movie are the better performances of Topol (For Your Eyes Only) as Zarkov, Ornella Muti (Oscar) as Princess Aura, Peter Wynguard (TV’s original Doctor Who) as Klytus, Timothy Dalton (Licence to Kill) as Prince Barin, and Brian Blessed (Robin Hood: Prince of Theives) as Prince Vultan. Overshadowing them all is the epic performace of Max Von Sydow (Minority Report) as Ming. I would call it the highlight of the movie besides the soundtrack. (16/25)

Plot/Script: The plot starts off as straight and easy to follow as Zarkov’s rocket, but gets muddled down in side plots of revenge and loyalty towards the middle. Overall, the action is constant throughout, even if it is campy or laughably bad at parts, so it should keep you entertained. Still, the movie feels longer than it really is (only 111 minutes), probably because there really isn’t anything to bite into. I’ve never seen the original serial or read the comic on which it is based, but I get the feeling that the themes mentioned there were either no longer applicable or didn’t work with the style of this film. Indeed, the production and script of this film focuses more on the pop culture wizz-bang-wow factor rather than a movie that capitalizes on the fragile nature of life as is the lesson in other world-ending flicks. Script-wise the movie is strong. There are a few memorable lines and overall the character’s dialogues with eachother are believable even if they seem cheesy or purposely toungue-in-cheek at times. (18/25)

Direction: Director Hodges directs his movie straight to the point. There are times when he pauses to look around at the scenery or give the audience time to ponder the actions of a few characters, but really the focus is on the advanture. Hodges’ decision to make the film a camp was indeed gutsy (it cost the studio the opportunity to pursue sequels, which was what was planned initially), and I do applaud him for making something unique, at least as far as modern film making goes. Production problems were rampant, and Hodges admits that because of these problems much of the movie was improvised. Still I give him credit for getting it done, and to great avail, the film feels mostly complete as is. (20/25)

Special Effects/Music/X-Factor: Now comes the time when I am supposed to judge the special effects…and for probably the only time, it could go either way. Either you applaud the retro aspect and faithfulness to the serials or you absolutely can’t stand it. Like I said earlier, if you can’t get beyond your movie looking bad then this isn’t the movie for you in the first place. Therefore, I commend the filmmakers’ use of poor special effects because they did it on purpose to create a unique look that does not jepordize the movie as a whole. These silver-era-esq effects give the movie its X-factor, and I think make it more enjoyable (i.e. laugh at it). Speaking of enjoyable, the sound track by Queen is a riot. The opening credits set the stage for the movie perfectly, and even though the music is downright bizarre at times, it helps add to the camp factor. Likewise, if you don’t like Queen you will pobably hate it. (23/25)

The Verdict:

What Kept Me Watching: It is an enjoyable adventure with a colorful cast of characters that takes you back to a simpler time. Unique in a fun way, especially the sound track by Queen.

What Kills It: Its not for everyone. Quite possibly the opposite of “cool” as this one is camp all around. There’s nothing really substantial here, just poor acting, quirks a-pleanty, and jarring special effects.

Summary: The epiphany of so-bad-its-good!

Final Rating: (77/100) = C

What About a Remake? Although not much is known at this time, the film is set to be remade with a release date as early as late 2010 or (more likely) as late as summer 2012. Set to direct is Breck Eisner (Sahara), who after completing his current film will be working full time on the project. Eisner claims that his version will be nothing like the 1980 version, dumping the camp for realism and grit. The story should remain basically the same. 

What Could Go Right? Losing the camp could go a long way to capturing the original comic’s prestige back (look at the 1989 version of Batman) (+10%) A better lead role, an injection of real themes, and actual meaningful purpose should also make the film more palatable (+5%). No one will really be disappointed if it sucks (i.e. no huge fan base to disappoint) (+5%). 

What Could Go Wrong? Eisner doesn’t exactly have a stellar track record (-10%). Flash Gordon doesn’t exactly have a huge following, so a reliance on heavy action and special effects may take over to compensate (-5%).

Reduxability? 95% = Go for it. Full steam ahead! 

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