Writing A Classic: Screenwriter Lorenzo Semple, Jr.
First Episode of the Flash Gordon 1936 Serial
“Alex Raymond’s famous comic strip blasts to life in the action-packed sci-fi adventure ‘Flash Gordon.’ When energy waves pull the moon out of orbit, New York Jets quarterback Flash Gordon (Sam J. Jones) unwittingly finds himself heading for the planet Mongo, where–with assistance from beautiful Dale Arden (Melody Anderson)–he’ll take on Ming the Merciless (Max von Sydow) and rescue humankind. Featuring spectacular thrills, out-of-this-world special effects and unforgettable music by Queen, ‘Flash Gordon’ is an exciting live-action adaptation of one of the most popular characters of all time!”
“Flash Gordon” is rated PG.
For me, the movie is even more notable because it was the first place I took notice of Queen. From the opening drumbeats of the movie, you’re hooked by their score. We were singing, “Flash! Ahhh Ahhh!” for years after seeing it. But as I got older, I began to appreciate even more and more of the soundtrack. From the Hawk Men’s attack on ‘War Rocket Ajax’ to the hilarious wedding march, Queen delivers again and again. In the bonus features Alex Ross calls this a ‘rock opera,’ and he’s really right. Queen is as much a costar in the movie as any of the stars on the screen.
The cast in this movie is just a lot of fun. Max von Sydow is, essentially, in yellowface as Ming the Merciless. He’s a perfect villain and so ridiculously evil. His wedding vows to not blow Dale into space… until such time as he deems necessary… perfectly capture how over the top he is. Then you have a memorable performance by Brian Blessed as Prince Vultan. He’s loud, brash, and jolly as the warrior birdman. It’s a fun role. Then you have Timothy Dalton as Prince Barin. He’s the straight man in all this, playing the role with all seriousness. It’s a memorable role for him, too.
The film looks quite stunning on Blu-ray. The picture is crystal clear. That hurts some of the cheesy blue screen effects moments, but the sharp picture really makes you appreciate the production design, costumes, and matte paintings. They’re really stunning. I don’t think “Flash Gordon” even looked this good when it was in theaters in 1980.
If you like sci-fi, Queen, or campy movies, then the “Flash Gordon” Blu-ray is a required addition to your collection.
Unfortunately, this Blu-ray is lacking a lot in the bonus features department. You get a featurette with Alex Ross saying how much he loves “Flash Gordon.” While that might sound pretty weak, he actually gives pretty good insight into the film. I was impressed with what he had to say. Screenwriter Lorenzo Semple, Jr. also talks about the making of the movie and has some hilarious, and scary, insight into how Dino De Laurentiis had the movie made. It’s quite shocking how he had Semple consult the publisher of Penthouse for story ideas, how the production designer ignored the script, and how the translator who wrote it in Italian for the producer didn’t know the difference between the name ‘cat’ and ‘dog.’ I just wish they had more retrospectives on the making of the movie. The Blu-ray also has the first “Flash Gordon” serial from 1936 included on it. Featuring iguanas with horns glued to them, cheesy wrestling fights with nearly naked bald guys, and other cheese, it’s well worth checking out.