When the Flash Gordon remake was announced to the world, fans of the serials and original comic-books sank in dismay at some of the people behind it, namely producer Dino de Laurentiis and screenwriter Lorenzo Semple Jr. De Laurentiis and Lorenzo Semple Jr had previous collaborated on the disastrous remake of King Kong (1976), which subjected the original King Kong (1933) to a horrendously campy spin. Furthermore, Lorenzo Semple Jr had worked as script editor on the Batman (1966-8) tv series, which likewise camped up a comic-book fan favourite.
Surprisingly enough, the camp approach is one that works well for Flash Gordon most of the time. The tone of the film closely resembles a couple of delightful films that Dino de Laurentiis made back in the 1960s in his native Italy Danger: Diabolik (1967) and Barbarella (1968), both of which were also adapted from comic-books. The film here takes the quaintly thirties-styled Art Deco palaces and rocketships of Alex Raymonds original comic-strip and goes completely wild with them. Danilo Donatis sets and costumes jump off the screen and assault the eyeball with their brilliant scarlets, oranges, blues and yellows sometimes all at once. The film is filled with delightfully playful visuals hourglasses that run upwards and aliens that bleed bright blue blood, even Mings dispatch impaled on the needle-tip of a rocketship that crashes into his throne room. Everything is underlined by a wonderfully catchy score from Queen, the kings of camp rock.
There are times when the camp becomes silly like Flashs impromptu gridiron game and the marriage ceremony with lines like Do you promise to take this woman as your bride? Not to blast her out of an airlock? Or at least not until you tire of her? The films major liability is Sam Jones, cast when Dino de Laurentiiss grandmother spotted him as a contestant on the tv gameshow The Dating Game (1965-86). Jones fails to project any of Buster Crabbes sharp-witted leadership qualities or ingenuity, making this Flash a dumb, muscle-headed jock. Dale Arden is equally flat, given a banal, insipid airing by model Melody Anderson. The films casting joy is Max Von Sydow, who steals the film with a delightfully tongue-in-cheek performance as Ming when asked why he wishes to destroy the Earth, his reply is merely a grand shrug Why not? Brian Blessed, one of the great over-actors in the English film industry, is, as might be expected, boisterously loud, but tackles proceedings with an enthusiasm that one wishes would have worn off on Sam Jones. The film also features Timothy Dalton, dashingly handsome as Prince Barin, and the edibly luscious Ornella Muti oozing seductiveness as Princess Aura.
The effects work is generally good, although there is some unconvincing matte work with the floating kingdoms. However, there is at least one unforgettable shot that wonderful moment the camera pulls back into wide-angle during the Imperial cruiser pursuit of Flashs rocket bike through a red cloud, to reveal hundreds of Hawkmen all waiting on the other side.
The original Flash Gordon serials are: Flash Gordon (1936), Flash Gordons Trip to Mars (1938) and Flash Gordon Conquers the Universe (1940). All three are regarded as some of the finest entries in the usually creatively impoverished genre of the serial. The character of Flash was revived in a brief-lived live-action tv series Flash Gordon (1954) starring Steve Holland, which is poorly regarded by fans. At the same time as this film, Dino de Laurentiis in conjunction with Filmation also sponsored a little-seen animated tv series Flash Gordon/The New Adventures of Flash Gordon (1979), which lasted for sixteen episodes. There was a subsequent animated series Flash Gordon (1996), which recast the central characters as teenagers. The poorly regarded Flash Gordon (2007-8) was a live-action remake for television starring Eric Johnson. During the 00s, director Stephen Sommers was purported to be considering a big-budget live-action remake, which was then announced under Breck Eisner for 2012. Flesh Gordon (1972) was a X-rated parody and let to a sequel with Flesh Gordon Meets the Cosmic Cheerleaders (1991). This version of Flash Gordon was also substantially referenced in Ted (2012) with several scene recreations and Sam Jones making a spoof appearance as himself.
British director Mike Hodgess other genre films are the Michael Crichton adaptation The Terminal Man (1974), the script for Damien: Omen II (1978) (which he was originally set to direct before being fired), the genre parody Morons from Outer Space (1985), the superb and underrated clairvoyance thriller Black Rainbow (1989), while he also co-wrote The Breakthrough/The Lifeforce Experiment (1994). For television, Hodges has also made The Healer (1992) about a faith healer and Murder By Numbers (2004), a documentary about the screen portrayal of serial killers. Hodges is probably best known as director of the original Get Carter (1971). Intriguingly, the original director for Flash Gordon was to have been Nicolas Roeg, the arty director of the likes of Dont Look Now (1973), The Man Who Fell to Earth (1976) and The Witches (1990). A Nicolas Roeg production of Flash Gordon would have been absolutely fascinating.