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