Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Flash Gordon (1980)

Mike Hodges directs a big screen version of the classic comic for Dino De Laurentiis. When it came out the campy style was kind of frowned upon and the film was considered a miss...thirty years on it's a surprisingly fun romp that is oh-so-much better than any of us first thought, including me who was an early adopter: I saw it at 10 AM on the first day it was in theaters and then again on the next three days.

The plot of the film is essentially the plot of the early comic strip and first serial. Mongo is coming toward earth and Flash, Dale and Dr. Zarkov head off to see what the story is. There they meet Ming and the various inhabitants of the planet. Flash gets them to join together to fight Ming and save the earth.

It's a simple film, knowingly written by Lorenzo Semple Jr., who was a writer on the equally campy 1960's Batman TV series starring Adam West. This also walks the fine line between homage parody and camp, and makes for something that's damn fun.

No, it's not high art. It's a condensed version of a pulp comic strip but it somehow manages to get the feel right.

Watching it for the first time in five or six years on cable I was shocked at how much better it played now then when it first opened. Part of it I know is the fact that the style can be taken for what it was meant to be, a light touch, as compared to things like Alien which was released the previous year or Blade Runner which was released a few years later. Now it's okay to be light; back then our science fiction had to be serious.

Also surprising to me was how good the visuals and the music held up.

The effects, done way before CGI, is all models and swirling paint. If some of the hawkmen flying is a bit stiff it's more than compensated for by the sense that what we are seeing is all real and not mass produced computer images.

As for the music by Queen, I know many people took exception to a rock band doing the soundtrack. But damn it works. It adds moods and layers to the events that aren't in the images. How can you not get pumped hearing the drums of the hawkmen attack theme?

I love this movie. Actually I love this movie more than I did when it came out, which is saying a great deal.

See this movie. It's old school science fiction and adventure done to perfection.

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