Sunday, December 06, 2015

Nostalgia Theater: Flash Gordon -- 35 Years of the Savior of the Universe

Believe it or not, yesterday marked thirty-five years to the day that the inexplicably-beloved flop Flash Gordon was first released to theaters. For those of you who've never had the pleasure, the Mike Hodges-directed, Dino De Laurentiis-produced movie is an adaptation of a newspaper comic strip created by Alex Raymond in the 1930s, about an Earth-man who winds upon the distant planet Mongo, and must defeat its vile overlord Ming the Merciless. The film starred actor Sam J. Jones (with his voice dubbed by some unknown actor) as the title character, with Max Von Sydow as Ming (it also featured a pre-James Bond Timothy Dalton in a supporting role).

While Flash Gordon was fully intended to ride a wave of post-Star Wars goodwill to box office nirvana, the self-aware script by Lorenzo Semple (he of the 1960s Batman TV series) and the dime-store special effects looked down at the subject matter exactly when audiences wanted this stuff taken seriously. This is made doubly ironic by the fact that it was the original Alex Raymond Flash Gordon comics (and the movie serials they inspired) that were one of the key things that set George Lucas on the path to what eventually became his Galaxy Far, Far Away. And so, produced for a budget of $20 million, Flash Gordon topped out at a mere $27 mil.

With a return like that, it's easy to see why no franchise materialized for poor Flash, and the character has pretty much remained in the also-ran bin ever since (De Laurentiis would go on to produce the mega-flop Dune a few years later). Nonetheless, Flash Gordon has retained a rather fervent cult following (Family Guy creator Seth MacFarlane is such a fan he includes Jones in both of his Ted movies). I'd argue that the cult following is entirely disproportionate to any actual quality in the movie itself, but nonetheless, it's somehow remained on the pop culture radar even this many years later. I firmly believe that at least one reason for this is the impossibly catchy theme song by Queen. Here, watch:

One Year Ago in Nostalgia Theater: G.I. Joe Action Stars Cereal

Two Years Ago in Nostalgia Theater: Demolition Man Action Figures

Three Years Ago in Nostalgia Theater: Before Smallville -- Superboy's Flight Through Syndication

Four Years Ago in Nostalgia Theater: Animated Apes Edition

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