Saturday, 15 October 2016

Flash Gordon (1980 film)

I missed seeing this film, produced by Dino De Laurentiis and directed by Mike Hodges, back when it was first released.  I had been due to see it at the cinema with a group of friends, but fell ill at the last moment.  Only recently did I get the opportunity to watch the picture in its entirety.

Some would contend that had the soundtrack music not been part of Queen's catalogue, it might have sunk into genuine obscurity, but I gather that it has attracted a cult following over the years. It is true that its style and elements of its storyline were influenced by Star Wars, but of course George Lucas himself was inspired by the Flash Gordon serials of the past.  The opening titles of Flash Gordon look like an attempt to invoke the comic-strip tradition, and link this film to that heritage.

The first thing to mention is that the movie is visually very appealing, and I'm not just talking about Ornella Muti and Melody Anderson.  The colours are vivid (I was almost reminded of The Wizard Of Oz), the costumes lavish and extravagant, and the special effects impressive for the most part.

The plot is fairly standard "save the Earth" fare, with Flash uniting various factions to take on Ming the Merciless and his imperial designs. There are sub-texts about the need to unite against a common foe, the futility of petty disputes and so forth, but these are kept largely in the background.

Down the years this film has gathered a reputation for its kitsch flavour, although one problem I detected was that it couldn't decide to what degree it should be taken seriously. Also, one or two scenes lack conviction and/or polish, and almost have the feel of rehearsals, with the dialogue being delivered in a half-baked manner. In a way, though, this all adds to the quirkiness of the piece.

The acting I would have to describe as a mixed bag, even allowing for the frivolous tone of the film. Sam J Jones is likeable in the lead role, if a touch wooden. The substance is added by the supporting cast, such as Timothy Dalton, Chaim Topol and Brian Blessed (in his element here!).

Scenes which stand out are the ludicrous but enjoyable and humorous "football" sequence, and the bit where Dr. Zarkov is subjected to flashbacks and attempted brainwashing.

The Mongo imagery and analogies are not especially original, with clear allusions to certain sinister things which occurred in the first half of the twentieth century, shall we say. In the interaction between Flash and Ming, I sensed vague and loose echoes of the Luke Skywalker/Darth Vader dynamic, or perhaps I was looking out too assiduously for such parallels.

Arguably this film goes on for too long, with one or two scenes which act as padding.  On the other hand, we are afforded a view of how the various warring groups come together, and this is not portrayed as straightforward, with trials of strength being endured before all parties see sense.

In the end, I quite enjoyed this movie, for all its flaws.  It has an idiosyncratic charm and identity all its own, and it is easy to see why so many people remain fond of it.

No comments:

Post a Comment