Cultwatch! Flash Gordon

Welcome back to the second installment of Gabbing Geek’s Cultwatch! feature.  Last time around, Jimmy was largely baffled by The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension while Tom was happy to revisit an old favorite.  Will that trend continue with another movie that Tom has seen before but is brand new to Jimmy?

Let’s find out as we look into Flash Gordon.

Flash Gordon

tomk:  So, besides the Queen soundtrack, what if anything did you know about Flash Gordon before you watched the movie, Jimmy?

jimmy:  …not much.

tomk:  Well, I know a little.

Much of my knowledge comes from an old cartoon that used to run on Saturday mornings, The New Adventures of Flash Gordon. It was serialized and showed Flash, girlfriend Dale Arden, and scientist friend Dr. Zarkov journey to Mongo to fight against the forces of Ming the Merciless. Flash’s great idea was to get the warring factions of Mongo to team up to defeat Ming because while they were weak individually, as one they could defeat anyone, and his prime allies were Thun, King of the Lion Men; Prince Barrin; and Prince Vultan of the Hawkmen. And yes, Barrin eventually won over Ming’s daughter. The whole thing was based on an old newspaper comic strip and movie serial.

jimmy:  I’m familiar with the last sentence, but anything else I would have had no idea about.

tomk:  

Now, George Lucas’ original concept for Star Wars was to make a Flash Gordon movie, but he couldn’t get the movie rights and opted to change his story into the Star Wars we all know and presumably love.

As it is, Star Wars was so successful that producer Dino De Laurentiis opted to make Flash Gordon himself. He did have the rights, and the plan was to produce another trilogy like Star Wars.

Flash Gordon was…not that successful.

jimmy:  It definitely feels like Star Wars at times. Too bad it was made years before Star Wars and never had the technology and effects to make it as good.

tomk:  Should I ask how you felt about this 1980 sci fi movie?

jimmy:  It was more enjoyable than Buckaroo Banzai and looks like Citizen Kane next to Krull.

tomk:  Well…the screenplay was by one Lorenzo Semple Jr. He did a lot of work in a lot of genres, but the idea was to make Flash Gordon campy, so I should probably mention he played a strong role in the creation of a certain Adam West TV series…

jimmy:  I’m not a big Batman ‘66 fan, so maybe avoid that…

tomk:  Well, he also wrote some great 70s political thrillers.

jimmy:  Such as?

tomk:  The Parallax View and Three Days of the Condor. Plus Steve McQueen’s Papillon.

I’ve seen the last one of those. Good movie.

jimmy:  I’ve heard, but haven’t seen it.

tomk:  OK, so, what, if anything did you like about Flash Gordon?

Besides probably this:

jimmy:  Heh. I did like that. And Ornella Muti. And Sydow. And Destro.

tomk:  Not Brian Blessed as Vultan? That guy clearly just had fun on set the whole time while he chewed the scenery with that giant mouth of his. I’ve seen that guy do Shakespeare. He’s a good actor just screwing around with a script that was probably bad on purpose.

jimmy:  Yeah, he was great. Dalton was good too.

Not a good actor…Sam Jones.

tomk:  Sam Jones doesn’t do much acting these days. Apparently, he started a security company, and he’s actually good at that sort of thing, but he couldn’t keep his name public so he could actually get work and be taken seriously.

jimmy:  He had the look of a sci-if hero, unlike that weasley Skywalker kid. But man, he cannot deliver a line.

tomk:  That joke is made in the movie Ted, and the characters are supposed to be big fans of this movie.

Every time Jones appears in that movie, if my wife was watching, I had to assure her that yes, Flash Gordon was a real movie.

And it wasn’t a secret that Seth MacFarlane was a fan of Flash Gordon.

jimmy:  Lol

The Hawkmen work so much better in animation…

tomk:  I strongly suspect they weren’t supposed to look good.

I mean, the special effects probably existed to make them look better than that.

jimmy:  Perhaps. It was made after Star Wars and Alien and at the same time as Empire. So, it could be done.

That’s how I felt about a lot of it actually. I get they wanted to make it campy, but it just felt like they needed a bigger budget.

tomk:  Can you make something campy with a big budget? Isn’t the bad effects part of the camp?

jimmy:  Perhaps you’re right.

tomk:  Look, I just dig the hell out of this movie, maybe moreso than I do Buckaroo Banzai. I got the special edition DVD with the Alex Ross painted cover when it came out and everything.

For what it’s worth, Jimmy, it’s not that I disagree with anything you’ve said. I just enjoy the hell out of this movie despite all that.

jimmy:  I liked this better as well. I’d probably never watch it again, but I can see the appeal as a cult classic.

tomk:  At this rate, we’ll get to a cult movie you actually like in another three or four entries.

jimmy:  I liked this one, but not like you by the sounds of it. I could enjoy it for what it was. Whereas with Banzai I spent more time wondering WTF?

tomk:  OK, well, consider for a moment you said you liked both Dalton and Blessed. Those two guys arguably played this in completely opposite ways. Dalton almost plays it straight. Blessed…well, he looks pleased as punch to bonk a guy in the head during the football fight. Plus, Blessed has my favorite line in the movie. When reminded there’s a section to Ming’s law forcing a fight to the death, he says, “What a damn nuisance.”

jimmy:  I’d be curious how people like Dalton and Sydow look back on this film.

tomk:  I was hoping when it was announced Sydow was going to be in Force Awakens that it was going to be the long lost Flash Gordon follow-up too.

jimmy:  And if this was made today, people would lose their minds over Sydow’s casting, correct?

tomk:  Why? This is the guy who put his voice as Vigo the Carpathean in Ghostbusters II and played a villain in Strange Brew. He’s got a lot of silly stuff on his resume.

jimmy:  I meant because I’m sure Ming was meant to be Asian. Or maybe I’m wrong.

tomk:  Oh, I see. Yes, there is that. He is a Fu Manchu type in appearance in old stories.

The SyFy Channel did a (really bad) Flash Gordon TV show in 2007, and this was their Ming:

jimmy:  Umm…what the what?

tomk:  It was not a good series. The Hawkmen, for example, were called the Dactyls and were just big, shirtless guys who glided with special capes.

And Sam Jones did a guest appearance in one episode.

jimmy:  Sounds awful.

tomk:  It was.

jimmy:  Well, based on the 30 second cartoon intro I saw, this film seems to at least be fairly faithful to the source material.

tomk:  It largely is, except Flash’s first ally in the old stories is a guy named Thun and Ming kills that guy in the big throne room scene before even looking at Flash.

jimmy:  When he died, did he eyes and tongue bulge out?

tomk:  Thun? Nah. He tried to stab Ming, but Ming froze him and killed him with own sword. And his blood was blue.

jimmy:  Oh. That eyes and tongue bulged out Destro death was the greatest.

tomk:  And Evil Woman General Type turned into water. I think she was the Mirror Universe Wicked Witch of the West.

jimmy:  No worse than Dr. Beardashian avoiding mind control by thinking of Beethoven.

tomk:  Dr Hans Zarkov is a pioneer in extra-terrestrial biology research!

jimmy:  How quickly they forget that he essentially kidnapped the two of them at the beginning.

tomk:  Aw, he had the best of intentions. He only wanted one and it was all part of an elaborate plan to save the Earth.

1) Go into space
2) ???
3) Achieve peace
4) Have a nice day.

jimmy:  lol

The road to Arboria is paved with good intentions.

tomk:  At least the Swamp Merry Men have roads…

jimmy:  Speaking of swamps…oh, that segue is terrible…they never blew the budget on the Lizard Men.

tomk:  Those guys who mostly hang out in the background?

jimmy:  Yeah. Not that anything really had the budget blown on them, but they were particularly cheap.

tomk:  Not everything can be a lightning shield or hot hail, Jimmy.

jimmy:  Hot hail. Heh.

tomk:  Yeah, that one was weird.

jimmy:  Hot hail. What’s next? Dogs and cats living together? McDonald’s serving all day breakfast?

tomk:  We could argue whether or not the guy in the golden mask was Destro or Dr. Doom, but that would be silly.

jimmy:  Heh. I never thought of Doom but you’re right. I was thinking Destro the whole way.

tomk:  You were probably on that because Doom seemed to have a thing for Aura, and that reminded you of the Baroness.

jimmy:  I missed that, but you’re right!

tomk:  To be fair, just about everyone had a thing for Aura. You seem to have a thing for Aura.

jimmy:  

Maybe.

tomk:  At least you didn’t have a thing for the poisonous super-scorpion in Barrin’s treestump.

jimmy:  What a test of manhood…total flukiness!

tomk:  Well, Mongo isn’t a planet for wimps.

jimmy:  Was that scorpion like a lethal Sorting Hat? Which hole you picked in the stump was totally random and there was no strategy for survival.

tomk:  More or less. Fate said if you were destined to be a man in that kingdom and only real courage would risk it.

jimmy:  So what if you refused to participate?

tomk:  You are not a man.

And considering how many women we saw on Mongo outside Mingo City, no wonder Vultan and Barron were so irritable.

jimmy:  Haha. Well, the new Mongons have to come from somewhere…

tomk:  Ming had plenty of women in the capital.

jimmy:  And plenty of drugged Kool-Aid.

tomk:  Yeah, as if Ming wasn’t bad enough…

jimmy:  Well, that’s what the Kool-Aid is for.

tomk:  Lousy drink mix of high sugar content…

jimmy:  Well, we are bordering on getting silly. Did you have anything specific you wanted to get in? This seems to be a favorite of yours, I’m assuming you saw it previously?

tomk:  Many times.

You know, it’s not what most sane people would call a good movie. The special effects are cheesy. The lead actor can’t act. The script is super silly. But dammit, it’s a really fun movie I’ve been wanting to talk about at Gabbing Geek for a long time. Thanks for coming along on this one, Jimmy.

jimmy:  No problem. We’re awesome.

What did you think of the music? There didn’t really seem to be much that Queen did besides that thumping baseline most of the time.

tomk:  That was enough!

jimmy:  Ha. It’s a great song.

tomk:  I had the soundtrack. They did more, but the opening song is good enough.

jimmy:  There is other stuff, I just expected a parade of songs, but there seemed to be very little else.

tomk:  Flash….he save every one of us…

jimmy:  Shall we grade?

tomk:  Sure. Unless you have a final thought? Dale does almost rescue herself at one point. Not bad for a travel agent.

jimmy:  Haha, yeah. She’s flipping around, shooting and kung-fu-ing guards left and right.

tomk:  Jenny would love…that one scene.

jimmy:  I guess we’ll never know…

tomk:  Truly.

Grading time? Seems like you mostly enjoyed this one. At least you weren’t baffled.

jimmy:  True. I give it 7 “Hawkmen in desperate need of pants” out of 10.

tomk:  They only winged that one guy.

9 out of 10 Moments When You Wonder If The Current Quarterback For The New York Jets Could Save The Earth From Hot Hail.

jimmy:  lol, that is awesome

tomk:  Yes. We should continue the awesome. And I have just the movie in mind.

jimmy:  And that would be?

tomk:  How about Army of Darkness?

jimmy:

tomk:  That sounds like a big yes.

jimmy:  You had me at Army of Darkness.

NEXT TIME:  Hail to the King, baby!  It’s Army of Darkness.

tomk74

Defender of the faith, contributing writer, debonair man-about-town.

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