Flash Gordon (film)
Theatrical release poster by Richard Amsel
|Directed by||Mike Hodges|
|Produced by||Dino De Laurentiis|
|Screenplay by||Lorenzo Semple, Jr.|
|Story by||Michael Allin|
|Based on||Flash Gordon
by Alex Raymond
|Edited by||Malcolm Cooke|
|Distributed by||Universal Pictures|
|Box office||$27.1 million (North America)|
Flash Gordon is a 1980 British science fiction action film, based on the comic strip of the same name created by Alex Raymond. The film was directed by Mike Hodges, and produced by Dino De Laurentiis. It stars Sam J. Jones, Melody Anderson, Topol, Max von Sydow, Timothy Dalton, Brian Blessed, and Ornella Muti. The screenplay was written by Lorenzo Semple, Jr., with a story adaptation by Michael Allin. It intentionally uses a camp style similar to the 1960s TV series Batman (for which Semple had developed and written many episodes) in an attempt to appeal to fans of the original comics and serial films. Although a box office success in the UK, it performed poorly overseas. The film is notable for its soundtrack composed, performed and produced by the rock band Queen, with the orchestral sections by Howard Blake.
Emperor Ming the Merciless declares that he will first play with and then destroy the Earth using natural disasters. On Earth, New York Jets football star "Flash" Gordon boards a small plane, where he meets travel journalist Dale Arden. Mid-flight, the cockpit is hit by a meteorite and the pilots are lost. Flash takes control and manages to crash land into a greenhouse owned by Dr. Hans Zarkov. Zarkov, who believes the disasters are being caused because an unknown source is pushing the Moon towards Earth, has secretly constructed a spacecraft which he plans to use to investigate. Zarkov's assistant refuses to go, so he lures Flash and Dale aboard. The rocket launches, taking them to the planet Mongo, where they are captured by Ming's troops.
The three are brought before Ming. He orders Dale be prepared for his pleasure. Flash tries to resist, but is overpowered. Ming orders Zarkov be reprogrammed and Flash executed. Ming's daughter, Princess Aura, seduces Ming's surgeon into saving Flash, to whom she is attracted. As they escape, Flash sees Zarkov being brainwashed by Klytus, the metal-faced head of the secret police. Aura and Flash flee to Arboria, kingdom of Prince Barin, Aura's lover. En route, Aura teaches Flash to use a telepathic communicator to contact Dale. He lets her know he is alive. Dale is locked in Ming's bedchamber, but encouraged by Flash, she escapes. Klytus sends Zarkov to intercept Dale, who tells him and Klytus that Flash is alive. They then escape, as Zarkov reveals he resisted the brainwashing. They are captured by Prince Vultan's Hawkmen and taken to Sky City.
Aura and Flash arrive at Arboria. Aura asks the Prince to keep Flash safe. A distrustful Barin, in love with Aura, agrees not to kill Flash, but then forces him to perform a deadly ritual. Barin and Flash take turns sticking their hands into a hollow stump with a giant scorpion-like Wood Beast inside. When Flash has to take an extra turn, he pretends to be stung as a distraction and escapes. Barin follows, but they are both captured by the Hawkmen.
Klytus informs Ming that Flash is alive and is given authority to find out who is responsible. Aura returns and is taken prisoner and tortured by Klytus and General Kala. They force her to confess and Ming banishes her to the ice moon Frigia after his wedding. Meanwhile, Flash and Barin are taken to Sky City, where Flash and Dale are briefly reunited. Flash is forced to fight Barin to the death, but Barin joins him when Flash saves his life. Klytus arrives and Flash and Barin kill him. Knowing that this will bring retribution, Vultan orders the Hawkmen to evacuate, leaving Barin, Flash, Dale and Zarkov behind. Ming's ship arrives and he orders Barin, Zarkov and Dale to be taken aboard. Ming is impressed with Flash, and offers him lordship over Earth in exchange for loyalty, which Flash refuses. Ming gives the order to destroy Vultan's kingdom along with Flash. Flash finds a rocket cycle and escapes before Sky City is destroyed.
Flash contacts Vultan, who is hiding on Arboria and they plot an attack on Mingo City. Flash pretends to attack Mingo City alone on his rocket cycle. General Kala dispatches the war rocket Ajax to kill Flash, but the Hawkmen ambush and seize the rocket. Meanwhile, Princess Aura overpowers her guard and frees Barin and Zarkov from the execution chamber. Flash and the Hawkmen attack Mingo City in Ajax and Kala activates the defenses, as Ming and Dale's wedding begins. Mingo City's lightning field can only be penetrated by flying Ajax into it at a suicidal speed. Flash volunteers to stay at the helm to ensure success and allow the Hawkmen to invade the city.
Barin and Zarkov enter the control room to stop the lightning field, encountering Kala who refuses to deactivate it. She attempts to kill Zarkov, but Barin shoots and kills her. Without Kala they are unable to deactivate the field from that control room. Barin tells Zarkov to hold the fort while he heads to Sector Alpha. Zarkov keeps trying, but is unable to deactivate the shield.
Barin fights through Ming's guards and gets to Sector Alpha and deactivates the lightning field before Ajax hits it. Flash flies the rocket ship into the city's wedding hall and the ship's bow impales Ming. He falls off the rocket nose, seriously wounded and Flash offers to spare his life if he will stop the attack on Earth, but Ming refuses. Ming attempts to use his power ring on Flash, but his power falters and nothing happens. He then aims the ring at himself and is seemingly vaporized by its remaining power seconds before the counter to the destruction of the Earth reaches zero. A huge victory celebration ensues.
Barin and Aura become the new leaders in Ming's place. Barin names Vultan the leader of their armies. Flash, Dale, and Zarkov discuss returning to Earth. Zarkov says he doesn't know how they will get back, but they will try. Barin tells them all they're welcome to stay, but Dale says she's a New York City girl, and it's now too quiet around Mongo.
The final frame shows Ming's ring being picked up by the hand of an unseen person. Ming's laugh echoes as the credits roll. Following the credits the text "The End" is shown on the screen before a question mark (?) is appended.
Initially, producer De Laurentiis wanted Italian director Federico Fellini to direct the picture; in the late 1930s, with most American comics banned in Mussolini's Italy, the young Fellini had been approached to write some new adventures for the popular Flash Gordon character. But despite this connection, the great director refused De Laurentiis' offer.
Lorenzo Semple, Jr. wrote the script. He later recalled:
Dino wanted to make Flash Gordon humorous. At the time, I thought that was a possible way to go, but, in hindsight, I realize it was a terrible mistake. We kept fiddling around with the script, trying to decide whether to be funny or realistic. That was a catastrophic thing to do, with so much money involved... I never thought the character of Flash in the script was particularly good. But there was no pressure to make it any better. Dino had a vision of a comic-strip character treated in a comic style. That was silly, because Flash Gordon was never intended to be funny. The entire film got way out of control. 
According to a 2012 interview in Maxim, Sam J. Jones had disagreements of some sort with De Laurentiis and departed prior to post-production, which resulted in a substantial proportion of his dialogue being dubbed by a professional voice actor, whose identity is still a mystery. A sequel was proposed, but the departure of Jones effectively ended any such prospects. The airfield scene at the beginning of the film, although set in the U.S., was shot at the Broadford Airfield in Skye, Scotland.
Flash Gordon, in total, grossed well above double its $20 million budget, grossing $27,107,960 in North America, which was augmented by a very strong showing in the United Kingdom, grossing nearly £14 million (c. $22 million in 1980 dollars) there. Additionally, the film performed well in Italy, due to the two Italian actors prominent in the credits. The film found appreciation with the majority of critics, notably The New Yorker's Pauline Kael. Kael described Flash Gordon as having "some of the knowing, pleasurable giddiness of the fast-moving Bonds...The director, Mike Hodges, gets right into comic-strip sensibility and pacing". Von Sydow (Ming) received a good deal of praise for his performance, but Jones (Gordon) was nominated for a Golden Raspberry Award for Worst Actor. Before the film's run in theaters, a sequel was considered and according to Brian Blessed on the Region 2 DVD commentary for Flash Gordon – Silver Anniversary Edition, the sequel was going to be set on Mars, as a possible update of the Buster Crabbe serials.
The film received overall positive reviews, holding an 81% approval rating at the film review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes, based on 37 reviews. The film is ranked No. 88 on the Rotten Tomatoes Journey Through Sci-Fi List (100 Best-Reviewed Sci-Fi Movies).
Reviewing the film for The Encyclopedia of Fantasy, John Grant stated the film was "Rather heavy-handed in its attempts at Parody" and that it used "stark garishness to compensate for appalling spfx"; he concluded that Flash Gordon "is a gaudy cliché whose charm should not be underestimated". John Clute gave Flash Gordon a mixed review, saying "the special effects are great" and praising the action sequences. However Clute expressed dislike for Flash Gordon's humourous, self-aware tone, adding the actors "are all just playing, and we know it". Peter Nicholls in The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction gave a negative verdict on Flash Gordon: "Apart from the fetishistic costumes...there is little of interest in this tongue-in-cheek, lurid fantasy, which tries to make a Comic-strip virtue of wooden acting."
Flash Gordon has since become a cult classic with fans of science fiction and fantasy. It is a favorite of director Edgar Wright, who used the film as one of the visual influences for Scott Pilgrim vs. the World. Acclaimed comic book artist Alex Ross names the film as his favorite film of all time. He painted the cover of the film's 2007 "Saviour of the Universe Edition" DVD release, and starred in a featurette to talk extensively about his affection for the film. In Seth MacFarlane's 2012 comedy Ted, the characters of Ted (MacFarlane) and John (Mark Wahlberg) are fans of the film, and it is referenced several times throughout the film. Jones (playing himself) also appears in the film during a manic party sequence and in the film's conclusion. He will also appear in the sequel, Ted 2. Horror punk musician Wednesday 13 based the song "Hail Ming" on his 2013 album The Dixie Dead on the film.
Blessed's performance as Prince Vultan lodged the veteran stage and screen actor into the UK collective consciousness for the utterance of a single line – "Gordon's alive?!" – which, more than 30 years later, remains the most repeated, reused, and recycled quotation from both the film and Blessed's career.
The Dynamite Entertainment comic Flash Gordon:Zeitgeist drew on several elements of the 1980 film, including the reappearance of the villain Klytus (who does not appear in the original comic strips). In this adaptation, Klytus again serves as Ming's main henchman. The 2014 Dynamite Flash Gordon comic also contained several allusions to the film, including having Vultan speak the line "Gordon's alive?!".
The film's soundtrack was composed and performed by the rock band Queen. Flash Gordon was one of the earliest high-budget feature films to use a score primarily composed and performed by a rock band. An orchestral score was also composed by Howard Blake, and Blake's pieces from the film have been released on CD, alongside his score from Amityville 3-D.
The film was originally released in North America via Universal Studios. Universal has retained the domestic theatrical and home video rights, while the international rights passed on through different distributors, eventually landing with StudioCanal. However, the film's UK distributor, Thorn EMI, controlled U.S TV rights. Although StudioCanal now holds those rights due to ownership of the EMI film library, they licensed them to MGM for U.S syndication, which explains why MGM's logo appears on current television airings.
A comic book adaptation, written by Bruce Jones and illustrated by classic Flash Gordon artist Al Williamson (himself not a fan of the movie due to its overall campy nature, numerous script changes and resulting alterations to his artwork), was released by Western Publishing to coincide with the film's release. It was serialized in three issues of the Flash Gordon comic book (#31–33) and released in a single large format softcover and hardcover editions.
The film was released in 1981 on VHS, Betamax and MCA DiscoVision, and re-released in 1998 on both Laserdisc and Region 1 DVD via Universal. It was released in Region 2 in 2001 (Japan) and again in 2005 (UK/Europe); with the 2005 release including commentary by Brian Blessed winning the "Commentary of the Year" award from Hotdog Magazine for his humor and enthusiasm. On 7 August 2007, Universal Studios Home Entertainment released a "Saviour of the Universe Edition" DVD in North America to coincide with The Sci Fi Channel's new television series. This special edition does not include the cast and crew interviews of the Region 2 release.
In November 2007, Sam J. Jones and Melody Anderson together created a new commentary track for the StudioCanal DVD edition of the film. Flash Gordon was released on Blu-ray on 15 June 2010.
- Nominated: Saturn Award for Best Costume Design|Best Costumes Design
- Nominated: Saturn Award for Best Original Film Music|Best Original Film Music
- Nominated: Saturn Award for Best Art Design|Best Art Design
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- "Flash Gordon". Variety. Retrieved 2012-06-11.
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- McKenzie, Steven (10 September 2013). "Flash Gordon: Actor Sam J Jones on the Skye connection". BBC News. BBC. Retrieved 11 September 2013.
- Steve Swires, "Lorenzo Semple, Jr. The screenwriter Fans Love to Hate – Part 2" Starlog #75, October 1983 P.45-47,54 reprinted in www.the007dossier.com accessed 28 May 2014
- Leftley, Nick (11 December 2012). "Flash Gordon Speaks!". Maxim. Retrieved 2014-02-06.
- "Sequel Baiting Endings That Didn't Work". Empire. Retrieved 2012-06-11.
- Pauline Kael, Taking It All In. New York : Holt, Rinehart, and Winston, 1984. ISBN 0030693624.
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- John Grant, "Flash Gordon Movies" in The Encyclopedia of Fantasy, 1997. Retrieved 18 April 2015.
- John Clute,Science Fiction : The Illustrated Encyclopedia. New York : Dorling Kindersley. ISBN 0789401851 (p.282).
- Peter Nicholls, "Flash Gordon". in The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction, 9 April 2015. Retrieved 19 April 2015.
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- "Curtis Stigers on Twitter: "On the set of Ted 2. My chair is the one that says Don't Sit Here You're Not A Movie Star.". Retrieved 23 September 2014.
- "Brian Blessed" at the BBC's H2G2. Retrieved 2 January 2009.
- "Gordon's Alive! Flash returns to cinema screens", 21 May 2008 report for Dreamwatch's Total Sci-Fi website. Retrieved 2 January 2009.
- The singular phrase was much-used to refer to British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, including Glen John Feechan's Accounting blog; Blessed himself on Have I Got News For You Series 35, episode 3 (broadcast on BBC1, 2 May 2008); Steven Poole reviewing Gordon Brown: Speeches 1997–2006 for the Guardian newspaper, etc.
- "Flash Gordon: Zeitgeist" Review. IGN.com. 30 November 2011. Retrieved 10 April 2011.
- Flash Gordon #6. Dynamite Entertainment. Mt. Laurel, NJ, October 2014.
- "Mark Schultz: Celebrating Al Williamson's Flash Gordon". Newsarama.com. Retrieved 2012-07-05.
- "Flash Gordon". AtariAge. Retrieved 2014-09-30.
- "Flash Gordon – Atari 2600". Classic Game Room. 23 November 2012. Retrieved 2014-09-30.
- "Flash Gordon Commentary Featuring Sam Jones and Melody Anderson Just Released". Sci-Fi Storm. 25 November 2007. Retrieved 2008-03-24.
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- "Flash Gordon (Blu-ray)". DVD Talk. Retrieved 2010-12-07.
- "Golden Raspberry Nominations 1980". Razzies.com. Retrieved 2011-11-08.
- Kit, Borys (22 April 2014). "'Flash Gordon' Movie in the Works at Fox (Exclusive)". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved 24 April 2014.
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