FLASH GORDON (1980) and LIFE AFTER FLASH (2017) Reviews and updated with documentary review too

   

Flash Gordon is a 1980 science-fiction fantasy feature film about a football player and his friends who travel to the planet Mongo – they find themselves fighting the tyranny of Ming the Merciless to save Earth.

Directed by Mike Hodges (Get Carter) from a screenplay written by Lorenzo Semple Jr. (Never Say Never Again; King Kong, 1976; Batman: The Movie 1966) based on the comic strip created by Alex Raymond, the movie stars Sam J. Jones, Melody Anderson, Ornella Muti, Max Von Sydow, Topol, Timothy Dalton, Mariangela Melato and Brian Blessed.

The soundtrack score was composed by rock band Queen and Howard Blake.

Plot:

When energy waves pull the moon out of orbit, New York Jets quarterback Flash Gordon unwittingly finds himself heading for the planet Mongo, wherewith assistance from beautiful Dale Arden – he’ll take on Ming the Merciless and rescue humankind…

Reviews [click links to read more]:

“This is space opera, a genre invented by Edgar Rice Burroughs and Hugo Gernsback and other men of unlimited imagination harnessed to definitely limited skills. It’s fun to see it done with energy and love and without the pseudo-meaningful apparatus of the Force and Trekkie Power.” Roger Ebert

“A camp classic, the film was lavishly decorated and filmed in eye-straining colours, as if the point of the Danielo Donati’s art design was to be as over the top as possible and who cared if it was in any way convincing or not? This was fantasy, after all. Therefore everything about it was kinky or kitschy, from the alluring Princess Aura (Ornella Muti) to the all-American hero who leads the revolt.” The Spinning Image

Flash Gordon is true silliness from start to finish. Quirky, foolish, and sexy, with lavish, over-the-top costumes and an electronic soundtrack from Queen that is really the heart of the film, it’s not a cinematic masterpiece, but it may be the best bad sci-fi film ever made.” Theater Byte

“The insane sets are pretty cool and the costumes are lavish, but Hodges never finds a way to make it come alive. Hodges’ handling of the action scenes is slightly better. The scene where Flash uses his football skills against Ming’s cronies is either hilarious or awful, depending on your point of view.” The Video Vacuum

To tie-in with its 40th anniversary, Flash Gordon (1980) is being released on August 3rd 2020, in various formats as a 4K UHD remaster and including a 5-disc collector’s edition.

Flash Gordon Single-Disc Release (4K UHD, Blu-ray or DVD)

    • New Lost in Space: Nic Roeg’s Flash Gordon (also iTunes extra)
    • Audio commentary with Mike Hodges
    • Audio commentary with Brian Blessed
    • Behind the scenes of Flash Gordon
    • Stills gallery (also iTunes extra)
    • Storyboards gallery (also iTunes extra)
  • Original theatrical trailer

Flash Gordon 2-Disc Special Edition

  • Everything in the single-disc release, as well as the following special features:
  • Interview with Mike Hodges
  • Interview with comic book artist Alex Ross TBC
  • Interview with screenwriter Lorenzo Semple, Jr. TBC
  • Episode 24 of Flash Gordon (1979-1982): The Survival Game / Gremlin’s Finest Hour
  • Sam Jones’s acting start
  • Entertainment Earth on Flash Gordon merchandise
  • Bob Lindenmayer discusses deleted scenes and original endings
  • 35th Anniversary Greenroom
  • 35th Anniversary reunion featurette
  • Renato Casaro extended interview
  • Brian Blessed anecdotes
  • Melody’s musings
  • On the soundtrack (Brian May & Howard Blake)
  • Easter Eggs

Flash Gordon 5-Disc Collector’s Edition

  • Everything included on the 2-disc special edition, as well as the following bonus discs and items:
  • Bonus Blu-ray Disc of Life After Flash, the 2017 feature documentary celebrating the film and its star
  • Original soundtrack by Queen and Howard Blake
  • 32-page booklet
  • 16 page Titan mini book (The Story of Flash Gordon)
  • Reproduced booklet of the first strip of original comic books
  • Poster of original artwork
  • Four art cards of various incarnations of Flash film posters across the years
  • Sew on ‘Flash patch’

Controversy:

In 2020, UK film censors the British Board of Film Classification (BBFC) have added a warning about a racial stereotype in Flash Gordon (1980), saying the character of Ming the Merciless is “dubious, if not outright offensive”. The quango has said it now considers discriminatory depictions that are “no longer acceptable to modern audiences” when older films come up for reclassification and so will flag them up.

BBFC senior policy officer Matt Tindall spoke about the issue in a recent podcast, saying: “Flash’s arch-nemesis, Ming the Merciless, is sort of coded as an East Asian character due to his hair and make-up. But he’s played by a Swedish actor in the film, he’s played by Max von Sydow, which I don’t think is something that would happen if this were a modern production.”

He explained the reasoning: “Let’s just say that attitudes towards the acceptability of discriminatory racial stereotypes have moved on considerably since then and rightly so, of course. This is something that we have to bear in mind often when we see older films coming in for reclassification, films that might contain discriminatory depictions or stereotypes that are not acceptable to modern audiences, including films where discrimination wasn’t the work’s intent, just a reflection of the period in which it was made. And this is an issue that we’re currently planning to explore more thorough research next year.”

Furthermore, the BBFC has reclassified Flash Gordon as a ’12A’ – stricter than its original ‘A’ rating, saying that scenes of violence “that go beyond what you’d expect in the lower category”, citing “moderate bad language” and “some verbal sex references”.

Life After Flash

Life After Flash is a 2017 documentary feature directed by Lisa Downs, produced by actor Sam Jones. The impressive lineup of participants/admirers of the film who are interviewed includes director Mike Hodges, plus Jones, Melody Anderson, Brian Blessed, Deep Roy, Richard O’Brien, Topol, Peter Wyngarde, Martha DiLaurentis, Brian May (of Queen), Jason Mewes, Stan Lee, Lou Ferrigno, Patrick Warburton, Richard Donner, Michael Rooker, and Jeordie White (“Twiggy Ramirez” of Marilyn Manson’s band). Artist Alex Ross and Film Threat critic/editor Chris Gore are also prominent.

Review:

This is a retelling of the making of the 1980 Dino De Laurentiis comic-strip-come-to-life blockbuster Flash Gordon featuring interviews with cast and crew members. Foremost is actor Sam Jones, cast from relative obscurity to a `flashy’ iconic-hero role. Afterwards, however, roles dried up for Jones and he experienced personal problems and a long hiatus from show business before a comeback and appreciation from the cult of Flash Gordon fans.

Premiering as it did in 1980, when copying Star Wars was the goal of virtually every film studio of any size (and quite a few of no size as well), the odd duck out was the costly relaunch of Flash Gordon, produced by the colourful Dino Di Laurentiis.

In it, an American football hero (Sam Jones) winds up in a spaceship launched to the marauding planet Mongo, whose space dictator Ming the Merciless (Max Von Sydow) is destroying the Earth just for sadistic fun. Actually inspired by the 1930s Alex Raymond comic strip (that also led to memorable Hollywood serials and TV shows and a rude version, Flesh Gordon), the Mike Hodges space-age Flash Gordon, while ostensibly set in the `present’ day, made little effort to modernize the material to sleek LucasFilm market-driven specifics.

While grandiose in scope, its spaceships were obvious bathtub-toy-like models (big ones, of course) with sparks shooting out the back. The science is deliberately laughable. Most of the creatures, costumes and aliens are not much more than what one might have seen in The Wizard of Oz in 1939. Dialogue from screenwriter Lorenzo Semple was about as tongue-in-cheek as in his Adam West-starring version of Batman. And who would have dreamed of glam rockers Queen contributing an anthemic soundtrack electro theme?

The eccentric, gaudy bauble was not the worldwide smash franchise launch that Di Laurentiis had anticipated. Indeed, the Rocky Horror-type attitude Hodges brought seemed to completely escape the producer, who expected something far more mythic and serious (for a look at how that might have transpired, see David Lynch’s ponderous 1984 adaptation for Di Laurentiis of the classic SF novel Dune). But the infectious mix of the ridiculous and retro high-adventure/fantasy did gain 1980’s Flash Gordon an enduring fandom.

Here cast members (with the major exceptions of Max Von Sydow and Timothy Dalton) reflect on the picture, and it is a feast for those who can’t stop tapping their feet whenever Queen comes out with that bass line. Among the revelations: the rococo Italian set designers on Flash Gordon had also done extensive work for Federico Fellini (hmmmm, is Flash Gordon the mysterious sci-fi property that a creatively burnt-out director just cannot start in Fellini’s ?). Brian Blessed (as always the living incarnation of the Ghost of Christmas Present) reveals that the Windsors are Flash Gordon fiends. Freddy Mercury told Brian May that singing that theme song strained his famous vocal chords to their limits. Cult-film publisher and impresario Chris Gore shows off a holy-of-holies, the rare paperback tie-in novelization.

What makes Life After Flash a bit more than just a glorified “disc extra” is that it hitches itself to the backstory of the documentary’s producer, former leading man Sam Jones. An unknown when he landed the part, Jones succumbed to fast-track Hollywood excess and ego and soon found himself unemployable after the Flash Gordon notoriety dissipated. But, as a good ex-Marine, he re-invented himself as a bodyguard and security specialist… Yes, you could have actually hire Flash Gordon to be the muscle for your business/small country (a former movie action-hero being a real-life action hero would be a great TV premise if Lee Major’s hadn’t done it with The Fall Guy).

A dubious Christian religious message slips into the narrative, as Jones apparently read the evangelical book ‘The Purpose Driven Life’ to help him through the rough patches and made him a solid family man. Thus Jones was happy and grateful to join other bigger-than-life celebrities (Lou Ferrigno, Stan Lee etc.) selling autographs on the nostalgia-convention circuit. And Jones gets something of a reward for his sufferings in Hollywood Calvary when comedy maestro Seth McFarlane pulls him out of retirement for a showy supporting role in the comedy Ted (about an adult man and his rude, filth-talking teddy bear – doubtful evangelical content there, and I wouldn’t look to Flesh Gordon for salvation either).

It’s a nice affirmation overall for those with affection for the movie, a strange one-off epic that brought the Tim Burton aesthete to science-fiction in a world that wasn’t quite ready. And it is worth noting – lest one think Sam Jones plotted this all out as a vanity job – that the same filmmakers initiated a series of “Life After…” documentaries that would follow the fortunes of performers who toplined well-remembered screen epics. Life After the Navigator (as in Flight of the Navigator), and Life After Atreyu (The Neverending Story) soon followed.

Charles Cassady Jr., MOVIES and MANIA

Cast and characters:

Sam J. Jones … Flash Gordon
Melody Anderson … Dale Arden
Max von Sydow … Emperor Ming (as Max Von Sydow)
Topol … Doctor Hans Zarkov
Ornella Muti … Princess Aura
Timothy Dalton … Prince Barin
Brian Blessed … Prince Vultan
Peter Wyngarde … Klytus
Mariangela Melato … Kala
John Osborne … Arborian Priest
Richard O’Brien … Fico
John Hallam … Luro
Philip Stone … Zogi, the High Priest
Suzanne Danielle … Serving Girl
William Hootkins … Munson

Technical details:

111 minutes
Technicolor
Aspect ratio: 2.35: 1
Audio: 70 mm 6-Track (70 mm prints)| Dolby Stereo (35 mm prints)

Related:

BUCK ROGERS IN THE 25TH CENTURY (1979) Reviews and overview

Trailer: