Monday, October 13, 2014

Flash Gordon

  I don't pretend to be a fan of Flash Gordon in any iteration. This movie is about the extent of my exposure to the character, honestly. Several long years ago I bought a dollar DVD that had some black and white episodes of the old serials on it. Never watched it, and the disc has been subsequently lost. I also have a Flash Gordon comic from the 60's. Never read it. It remains buried in one of my comic boxes somewhere. However, this movie, which I first saw when I was 7 years, old visiting stuffy relatives in the midwest... has always stuck in my head. Especially visually. Mainly visually. I mean, what else IS there with this movie? Flash Gordon is Star Wars with it's budget halved... and tripping on LSD. Or acid. I don't pretend to know which one would cause a trip like this, but since we've got Queen on the soundtrack I'm totally down.

  You'll know right off the bat if this drug trip is for you or not. You either dig this cheese fest, or not. I think I'm in the former category. I dig it. Make no mistake though, it truly is a guilty pleasure. I seriously don't think this movie is a good one, and sparingly can it wholeheartedly be described as fun. In a gargantuan and confusing effort to both cash in on and distance itself from the popularity and aesthetic of Star Wars, it's relentlessly silly, and overwhelmingly colorful. Yet, neither of those are necessarily flaws of the movie. The flaw is that it's scope is rather narrow and the movie drags around the middle act. We're introduced to a whole new universe... and all we ever REALLY get to see of it, is a bunch of flashy throne rooms. I'd safely say 90% of the movie takes place in the villain's... space castle thingy. His fortress, if you will.

  For a movie that teases us with a massive scale, you end up feeling claustrophobic, waiting for something to happen. The hero uses his football knowledge to overwhelm the enemy's guards in what has got to be the silliest "action" scene ever. It's groan worthy. Also, I get the campy vibe, but campy and slapstick rarely goes hand in hand. The 1960's Batman show was campy, but it was hilarious because all the characters were gravely serious 100% of the time. Flash and his comrades seem to coast through the movie on basic default expressions, only someone forgot to tell Flash that his 'intense face' really just makes him look confused and aloof. The love interest, Dale Arden has the persistently worried thing down, but the only characters who are total fun to watch are Ming (The Merciless) and Dr.Zarkov. Both are in full scenery chewing mode, and both are total scene stealers.

  It'd be fun to see Ming and Skeletor (Masters of the Universe) as opposing lawyers in some strange far out courtroom. Both of them have this intense melodrama in every single line they deliver. Langella's Skeletor wins out for me though, as does Masters' as a whole, but that's not to say Flash Gordon isn't enjoyable in it's own psychedelic way. This movie is infectiously entertaining. You almost can't believe you're enjoying it. I know I couldn't. It feels too long, odd, and melodramatic in the worst way... but when the theme music starts up... I have to resist the urge to cheer. Flash! Ah-ah! He'll save every one of us! You believe that shit when you hear it. The music is Flash. Luckily for the movie, this theme song is one of the most heroic, exciting, and catchy themes ever. Queen knows their stuff.

  By the halfway mark, if you're still watching, odds are you'll have a big dumb grin on your face as Flash rallies newfound comrades to overthrow the cartoonishly evil emperor Ming. At that point, you're all in. It's ridiculous, redundant, and melodramatic as all can be, but... there's something catchy here. It's the stuff cult classics are made of and this movie earns its place as one. With flying colors. Literally... When all is said and done, Flash could only rank as a guilty pleasure for me. I'm never sure it's time well spent when it's over, but... something about it sticks with you. Once every few years I'll watch it, which satisfies that specific urge. Beyond that, it's not something I could ever be a wholehearted fan of. As much as it pulls me in, there's just as much that puts me off.

  I don't like the actors playing Flash and Dale Arden. They have like... NO chemistry. Their romantic banter is so flat that it's painful to watch, not even hilariously flat, just... flat. I can't stand it when they share the screen together. That is until they've already been through hell.  In the end, Flash Gordon is little more than the sum of it's parts. It's full of lasers, lava lamp landscapes, shiny gold things, catchy catchphrases, and the best theme music this side of anything by John Williams. Flash starts out as an oaf, Dale starts out as a twit, and when the movie ends... Flash is now a heroic oaf, and Dale is a swooning twit. I mean, I want to be more generous. I want to say it all comes together and works wonderfully. But I'd be lying to myself most of all if I said all that. This movie is odd as hell and never quite sits right with me, but that doesn't mean it can't be enjoyable in all it's ridiculousness.

  I'll probably even buy it someday, because there's no denying it holds some retro-swashbuckling appeal to me in the same vein as Masters of the Universe and Star Wars.  I look forward to the next time I watch it. ...So long as it's a few years away.

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