Flash Gordon (1980) - Flash Gordon
Find out the strangest facts about the weirdest comic adaption of the 1980s: Flash Gordon. Flash Gordon is one of those bizarre movies that lives up to it's cult status. Either you hate it with a passion or love it with a passion. It was a flop in the United States, but a hit in Europe. It was filled with beautiful visuals and sweeping costumes, but has one of the most confusing stories ever written.

It was based on the science fiction adventure comic strip originally drawn by Alex Raymond and follows the early plot of the strips. It starred newcomer Sam J. Jones as New York Jets quarterback Flash Gordon, Melody Anderson as Dale Arden, Chaim Topol as Dr. Hans Zarkov, Max von Sydow as Ming the Merciless, Timothy Dalton as Prince Barin, Brian Blessed as Prince Vultan, Peter Wyngarde as Klytus and Ornella Muti as Princess Aura.

Find out some things you probably never knew about this cult classic.

1. Producer Dino De Laurentiis really wanted Italian director Federico Fellini to direct the picture. The reason was that in the late 1930s most American comics were banned in Italy by Mussolini. A young Fellini worked on the bootleg Italian Flash Gordon comic strips. Unfortunately, the great director known refused De Laurentiis' offer. They named Princess Aura's pet "Fellini" as an homage or an insult depending on how you look at it.

2. The campy style was intentionally based on the 1960s TV series Batman. They hired Lorenzo Semple, Jr. to write the screenplay for the movie because Semple had developed and written many episodes for Batman and worked with Laurentiis on the 70s King Kong remake.

3. Semple was pressured to make Flash funny even though he says now was "a terrible mistake." He said, "Dino wanted to make Flash Gordon humorous. At the time, I thought that was a possible way to go, but, in hindsight, I realize it was a terrible mistake. We kept fiddling around with the script, trying to decide whether to be funny or realistic. That was a catastrophic thing to do, with so much money involved... I never thought the character of Flash in the script was particularly good. But there was no pressure to make it any better. Dino had a vision of a comic-strip character treated in a comic style. That was silly, because Flash Gordon was never intended to be funny. The entire film got way out of control."

4. The script was translated into Italian by a woman who Semple described as a "horrible" translator. He gives an example saying if it said, "The tall, beautiful woman walked into the room," she’d say, "Oh, what a beautiful cat." Semple complained but Laurentiis said, "I do not want to be fooled by the words; I do not want to be fooled by written words. I want to know the story."

5. The wonderfully bizarre look of the film was because of art director, Danilo Donati. He was an Academy Award winning Italian costume designer and production designer. But Semple described him as a "crazed Italian."

6. Originally George Lucas was going to make a Flash Gordon movie based on the 1930s serials, but couldn't get the rights. He actually had a meeting with King Features Syndicate which owns the rights to the comic strips and it's adaptations. But they wanted the fresh-faced director to give them 80% of the profits and to change the director. So, he decided to make his own serial style space adventure.

7. Sam J. Jones was hired to play Flash Gordon after De Laurentiis saw Jones on an episode of the old game show The Dating Game. Jones said he did the show "just to make money".

8. Originally Flash Gordon was supposed to have blond hair and blue eyes, but they abandoned the contact lens after Jones complained.

9. Because of his height, the 6-foot Sam Jones choreographed and did most of his own stunts.

10. The movie is a favorite of director Edgar Wright, and he used the film as one of the visual influences for Scott Pilgrim vs. the World.  He told Ain't It Cool News, "Dino De Laurentiis's 1980 version of 'Flash Gordon' is an absolute blast and far better than its camp classic status would suggest. Great performances throughout, from Timothy Dalton's mighty moustache to Ornelia Muti's scorching extinction level event sexuality. There's so much to enjoy here, with Lorenzo Semple Junior's hilarious and quotable script recalling his glory days writing the Batman TV series. Oh and the score? Only the best sci-fi score of all time. It's by Queen. You may have heard of them. Add to this an earlier Dino classic, 'Danger Diabolik', a pop art explosion of 60's style. This Italian comic book adaptation has been celebrated by the Beastie Boys in their 'Bodymovin' video and in Roman Coppola's film 'CQ', but it again needs saving from its status as a so-bad-it's-good curio, thanks to the snarky efforts of the MST3'K. 'Diabolik' is one of the coolest comic book films out there and an intentionally funny one to boot. Check out the cars, the fashions, the in camera effects and one of Morricone's sexiest scores. A perfect double of glorious costumes, crazy matte paintings and some of the coolest set designs. A feast for your tired eyeballs."

11.  Flash Gordon was one of the earliest big-budget feature films to use a score primarily composed and performed by a rock band: Queen. Laurentis had never heard of the band and this was his first exposure to rock music.

12. The only other movie Queen did the soundtrack for was Highlander (1986) and for that movie they wrote songs including one named "Who Wants to Live Forever." This was a reference to a line by Prince Vultan who says "Who wants to live forever?"

13. The actors playing the Hawkmen couldn't sit down because the costumes would hurt their backs. Anderson told Starlog Magazine, "They could never sit down, because when they did the wings would dig into their backs. When we had a rest period, you'd see all these guys lying on their stomachs with wings, like they were ready to take off. It was a very funny sight."

14. While filming Flash Gordon, the director Mike Hodges says he filmed some footage without star Sam J. Jones using a stunt double and voice actor. While Hodges says it was only a few lines Jones said it was "a majority of his lines". This, compounded with disagreements between him and De Laurentiis, made him quit the film prior to post-production. A substantial proportion of his post-production dialogue was dubbed by a, still unknown, professional voice actor.

15. For a scene where Dale turns into a giant spider for a dream sequence Anderson spent six hours getting painted green, wearing fake eyes and fangs with a head piece that weighed over 20 pounds. When the director came in he said, "This is wonderful! But we can't use this, it has absolutely nothing to do with the script!"

16. Legendary comic book artist Alex Ross is a huge fan of the movie and even designed a line of action figures for Entertainment Earth.

17. Sam Jones retired from acting and is now a bodyguard in Mexico.

18. William Hootkin, who plays Hans Zarkov's assistant Munson in Flash Gordon, also plays Porkins (Red 6) in Star Wars.

Semple later said, "Flash Gordon" is basically just silly — in an inspired way." It really is.

This post is part of the "Movie of the Month" hosted by The Large Association of MOVIE Blogs (The L.A.M.B.)

What do you think of Flash Gordon? If you've seen it, what's your most and least favorite part?

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Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Crazed Italian!
That's a lot of work for a spider they never used.
Can you imagine how weird the film would've been had Fellini directed? Or rather weirder.
I saw it in theaters and although cheesy as hell, I still have fond memories of it.

MedeiaSharif said...

Interesting facts. I can't remember if I saw the movie in its entirety. This makes me want to see it again.

Craig Edwards said...

I love this movie. Regardless of the strife behind the scenes - per Semple - the film as presented seems to know exactly what it is and exactly what it wants to be - and it succeeds on all counts beautifully.

Tony Laplume said...

I finally saw it a few years back. Silly fun. But hey, we got Star Wars because Lucas couldn't make his own version!


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