Blu-ray Review: FLASH GORDON
At the end of the seventies Science Fiction was hot property once again in Hollywood following the commercial successes of Star Wars, Alien and Superman: The Movie. Italian uber-producer Dino De Laurentiis, back then responsible for some of Hollywoods most expensive flops and still recovering from the critical and commercial disaster of his 1976 remake of King Kong, was desperately searching for a hit. He had owned the rights to Alex Raymond and Don Moores 30's comic book strip Flash Gordon for many years but was unsure of how best to tackle an adaptation. Year after year would pass as he tore his hair out trying to figure a way to make 1930s Saturday morning serials work in a decade that had reveled in it's cold violence and gritty motion-pictures. When Californian film geek George Lucas, then responsible for THX 118 and American Graffiti approached De Laurentiis about capturing the rights during a development struggle on an adaptation - the producer turned him down. De Laurentiis knew HE wanted to make a Flash Gordon movie someday but just didn't yet know what it would be, and he had no interest in selling the rights to a young upstarter. Lucas, a little wounded by the snub, decided to write his own original screenplay influenced by the cliffhanging serials of the thirties. The result was The Adventures of Luke Starkiller, later renamed Star Wars (1977) and it spawned a multi-billion dollar franchise. De Laurentiis' jaw dropped to the floor. And yet, he now finally knew how to make a Flash Gordon movie work. In 1979, De Laurentiis set to work developing Flash Gordon as big budget sci-fi epic to rival Lucas effort. Hiring Lorenzo Semple Jr. to write the screenplay, a writer on the popular Batman TV series starring Adam West during the sixties thus ensuring the project would be instantly injected with high camp. This was intentional - Batman was a popular show, and Star Wars had hit a pop culture wave among kids like no-other movie before. With a screenplay in place, De Laurentiis then needed a director to bring the vision to life. Originally pursuing fellow Italian Federico Fellini to fill the role the producer worked his way through a massive list of sci-fi directors including Nicholas Roeg, who had directed David Bowie as The Man Who Fell To Earth but most turned down the project based on it's kiddie screenplay. Eventually, his eighth choice, Mike Hodges, whose CV included the classic Brit gangster flick Get Carter, was convinced that the project was worthy of his time. Together Hodges and De Laurentiis assembled an eclectic cast of big international names including Max Von Sydow, Topol, Brian Blessed, Peter Wyngarde and Timothy Dalton. For the title role they chose an unknown, Sam J Jones, beating off competition from Kurt Russell (who had also lost out on the Han Solo role) and Arnold Schwarzenegger who De Laurentiis thought better suited Conan the Barbarian, his next epic. Despite the talent involved the film failed to make an impression either critically or commercially. However with the introduction of home video during the early eighties the film found a wider audience and with the continued popularity of the rock band Queen, who scored the entire film, Flash Gordon began to benefit from a cult following. With numerous releases on video, DVD and now this month its debut in HD on Blu-ray, the film seems to continue to gain adoration from new and existing fans - 30 years after it's initial release. The films basic plot sees Flash, an American football star and Dale Arden (Melody Anderson) a journalist skyjacked aboard Dr Zarkovs spaceship following a series of freak weather conditions on Earth. Zarkov traces the source of the weather disruption to the planet of Mongo where Ming the Merciless is planning to destroy Earth. Flash attempts to bring together opposing forces, the tree people led by Prince Barin and Prince Vultan with his army of hawk-men to help overthrow Ming and return Mongo to the people and save Earth in the process. If you ask people what they remember most about the film they will usually mention one of three things. The music, in particular the theme song by Queen, Brian Blesseds over the top but brilliant performance as hawk-man Prince Vultan and his oft imitated line Gordons alive, and finally ex-Blue Peter presenter Peter Duncan failing to beat a deadly tree in a variation of Russian roulette involving putting his hand into various holes in a tree trunk knowing that there is a poisonous creature inside one of the holes. The sets and costumes deserve special mention, eschewing the cold, used look of many science fiction films of the time. Oscar winning designer and Fellini collaborator Danilo Donatis vision for the film is one of bright, elaborate sets full of vibrant colour and grand art deco design. Costumes are camp and outrageous in keeping with the overall style and range from the sublime to the ridiculous from Flashs iconic t-shirt to S&M leathers and PVC. The film is highly enjoyable and despite some dodgy special effects it has not dated too badly. Flash Gordon does not take itself too seriously and I think that is one of the reasons it has remained so popular. Everyone involved seems to be having a great time, particularly the actors best known for more serious roles. Here they are able to lose themselves in their characters, hamming it up without parody or losing that sense of fun. The film is ridiculous but it never pretends to be anything else.