The Savior of the Universe: Flash Gordon (1980, directed by Mike Hodges)


Flash GordonLife on the planet Mongo is not easy.  Aided by Darth Vader wannabe Klytus (Peter Wyngarde) and the sadistic General Kala (Mariangela Melato), the evil Emperor Ming (Max Von Sydow) rules with an iron fist.  All of the citizens are heavily taxed and kept in a state of perpetual war in order to keep them from joining together and rebelling.  Those who attempt to defy Ming are executed.

There are many different races living on both Mongo and its moons. The Arborians, also known as the tree people, live in a jungle and are ruled by Prince Barin (Timothy Dalton).  Until Ming overthrew his father, Barin was the rightful heir to the throne of Mongo.  Barin is also one of the many lovers of Aura (Ornella Muti), Ming’s rebellious daughter.

Barin distrusts the Hawkmen, a group of winged barbarians.  Led by the boisterous Prince Vultan (the one and only Brian Blessed), the Hawkmen live in a palace that floats above Mongo.  Both Vultan and Barin share a desire to overthrow Ming but neither one of them can set aside their own dislike and distrust of each other.

Ming grows bored easily but Klytus has found him a new play thing, an obscure planet in the S-K system.  “The inhabitants,” Klytus says, “refer to it as the planet Earth.”

It all leads to this:

You may have been too busy listening to Queen’s theme song to notice (and I don’t blame you if you were) but I have always found it strange that, even though Ming had never heard of Earth before Klytus brought it to his attention, he still had a button labeled “Earthquake.”  Whenever I watch Flash Gordon, I wonder if I am the only one who has noticed this.

With Ming plaguing Earth with tornadoes, hurriances, and “hot hail,” it is up to three Earthlings to travel to Mongo  and defeat him.  Dr. Zarkov (Topol) is an eccentric scientist who was forced out of NASA because of his belief in Mongo.  Dale Arden (Melody Anderson) is a reporter.  And, finally, Flash Gordon (Sam J. Jones) is a professional athlete.  Because this movie is a fantasy, Flash Gordon is a superstar quarterback for the New York Jets.

The character of Flash Gordon was first introduced in a 1934 comic strip and was played by Buster Crabbe in several classic serials.  Among Flash’s many young fans was a future filmmaker named George Lucas, who would later cite Flash’s adventures as being a major inspiration for the Star Wars saga.  After the unprecedented success of Star Wars: A New Hope, it only made sense that someone would try to make a Flash Gordon film.

That someone was producer Dino De Laurentiis.  (Before writing the script for Star Wars, Lucas attempted to buy the rights for Flash Gordon from De Laurentiis.)  To write the script that would bring Flash into the 80s, De Laurentiis hired Lorenzo Semple, Jr.  Semple was best known for helping to create the 1960s version of Batman and he brought a similarly campy perspective to the character and story of Flash Gordon.  As a result, the film ended up with scenes like this one, where Flash interrupts one of Ming’s ceremonies with an impromptu football scrimmage:

It also led to Brian Blessed’s entire performance as Prince Vultan, which is especially famous for the way that Blessed delivered one line:

(That also makes for a great ringtone.)

Sam J. Jones and Melody Anderson often seem to be stranded by Semple’s script but Max Von Sydow, Topol, Brian Blessed, Peter Wyngarde, and Ornella Muti all get into the swing of things.  Seen today, Flash Gordon is entertaining but too intentionally campy for its own good.  On the positive side, the images still pop off the screen and the soundtrack sounds as great as ever.  When you listen to Queen’s theme song, you have no doubt that “he’ll save every one of us.”

As Flash Gordon himself put it after he saved the universe: “YEAAAAH!”

Yeah

Star Trek Beyond Looks Much Faster and More Furious


Star Trek Beyond

J.J. Abrams reinvigorated the Star Trek film franchise when he did a sort of sort-reboot in 2009. It brought the franchise into the consciousness of a younger demographic who didn’t grow up as fans of the franchise both in film and the many tv series. The film was a success and Paramount made sure to strike while it was still hot and greenlit a sequel that looked to build on the strong foundation set-up by J.J. Abrams.

2013 saw that sequel come out and to say that it underwhelmed and burned much of the goodwill created with the 2009 film would be an understatement. Star Trek Into Darkness (a title derided the moment it was announced) literally took the “darkness” part of the title and ramped it up to 11. There wasn’t any of the fun and adventurous nature of the first film. It didn’t help that screenwriter’s Robert Orci’s 9/11 Truther ideology seeped into the film’s plot.

When it was announced that Robert Orci would end up directing the third film after J.J. Abrams went to go direct the latest Star Wars film, the outcry was loud and clear. Orci was a bad choice and just keeping him on would just sink a film franchise already teetering on the brink of becoming irrelevant in a blockbuster environment where superhero universes and the original blockbuster universe reigned supreme.

So, it was with some relief and cautious optimism when Paramount dumped Orci and went with Justin Lin (hot off the massive success of Fast & Furious 6) and rewrites by Simon Pegg. The franchise was going to get the fun back into the series and everyone was invited. Even the chosen title, Star Trek Beyond, spoke to a creative team who saw a chance to bring back the franchise from just being part of a fandom but for those who wouldn’t know a dilithium crystal from a Sith Lord.

The first teaser shows the fun part of what Justin Lin and Simon Pegg have been talking about. Now, will the next trailer show a much more dramatic side to the events fans are hoping will balance all the fun.

Star Trek Beyond looks to land on July 22, 2016.