Only 14 Hours To Save The Earth

Posted Monday, April 27, 2015, 7:37 AM

Faced with bringing pulp comic book hero Flash Gordon into the modern age, the creators quickly abandoned all hope of adapting it into anything sensible without losing its charm. So without hesitation they leap into corny cheese with their arms wide and all semblance of logic cut off at the pass.

I like how you decorated the place.

Once again, simulcast with JetSimian, Al, and Jamas.

The recent attempt at adapting John Carter of Mars has a lot of plot similarities to the adventures of Flash Gordon. An ordinary man finds himself in a strange alien world, filled with exotic cultures in lavish costumes, with a brutal culture and a war brewing they enlist their hero to use his unorthodox methods to aid them in their fight.

Careful, Flash, or our wires will snag!

This time Flash, Sam Jones, brings along spunky Dale Arden, Melody Anderson, when the potentially treacherous Doctor Zarkov, Topol, kidnaps them to help him fly his rocket ship to escape earth and its impending doom. It's a parade of unmotivated weirdness, over-the-top characters, in exotic environments, wearing dazzlingly glamorous outfits.

Mongo's own "Earth, Wind, and Fire" tribute act prepares.

An unexpected theme of sensuality, rather than innocent romance, pervades most of the scenes, not least of which is provided by Ornella Muti's Princess Aura, who seems to be secretly sleeping with everything with a penis, and possibly some of those without. Timothy Dalton's Prince Barin, fully capable of chewing the scenery when the role calls for it, is surprisingly restrained here amongst over-actors like Brian Blessed's Prince Vultan and Max von Sydow's spectacularly camp Ming the Merciless. Skimpy form-fitting costumes abound.

Not the Craw.

It's a cavalcade of absurdity as the plot leaps from one tame set-piece to the next with alacrity, sharp banter keeping everything fun, the iconic soundtrack from Queen bringing much 80s glam rock to keep your heart racing. It's no wonder Flash Gordon is considered a classic in its field of over-the-top fantasy sci-fi, it recognised where the balance needed to be, and it maintained that line deftly.

Can I fit any more adverbs into this post?

Not pictured: Thomas the Tank Engine

There are a few old movies that I think would benefit from a George Lucas-style Special Edition do-over, using the original elements but modern technology to upgrade the rough edges, particularly of the visual effects and the sound effects. It wouldn't take much to make those adjustments to Flash Gordon and not affect any of its inherent charm. I'd really like to see that.

If anyone is looking for a good MST3K night with your nerdy mates, you couldn't do better than with the glamorous Flash Gordon.

A new version is in the works. I suspect they'll move away from the cheese and go for gritty realism. If so, I fear it will suffer for it. Personally I'd rather adapt Dash Decent.

P.S: spot the fleeting Robbie Coltrane appearance.

Mind Over Dark Matter

Posted Wednesday, April 15, 2015, 9:00 AM

1979 had two science fiction adventures that couldn't be more different while being somewhat alike. On the one hand was Ridley Scott's Alien, a realistic, atmospheric, carefully crafted masterpiece of a haunted house story set in space. While on the other hand was Disney's The Black Hole, an overly serious, predictably plotted, overacted mess, executed at a mind-numbingly tedious momentum.

Once again, simulcast with JetSimian, Jamas Enright, and Alistair Hughes.

Stylistically very much a Disney movie, more like Star Trek The Motion Picture that also came out that year in its choices of photography and lighting, it leaps into the plot, such as it is, immediately, with no attempt for us to get to know any of the characters or their motivations. We can't even keep track of their names, let alone their personalities. Anthony Perkins, Yvette Mimieux, Ernest Borgnine, Robert Forster, every one of them phoning it in.

Wait! This black hole is blue! I demand a refund!

A science ship, the Palomino, searching for lifeforms on other planets, encounters a lost spaceship, the Cygnus, which, heavy exposition tells us, was captained by the reckless and scenery-chewing Dr Reinhardt, played by Maximilian Schell, and they immediately investigate. A lot of special effects porn follows as we slowly get the plot properly moving. The suspense is weak, the story is non-existent, the characters bland and boring as they meander around the spaceship, reciting dull gobbledegook-heavy dialogue in a monotonous drone.

Who said that?

A by-the-numbers "imprisoned by a madman" storyline is barely worth paying attention to. Not only is there no adventure, there's barely any science fiction; it wouldn't even make a decent Buck Rogers episode. The only bursts of excitement amount to barely-motivated shoot-outs and chases, and a protracted destruction sequence, but this is no Star Wars. It looks and feels 20 years out of date, like they hadn't learned anything from the movie-making revolution that was going on around them. Even the score feels like it's a temp track borrowed from other films, with inappropriately quiet music during action sequences, bombastic music telegraphing events before they happen, all its beats irrelevantly misplaced for the events happening on screen.

So how does an anti-gravity object float in a moving elevator anyway?

The robots provide the comic relief, if you can call it that, with VINCENT voiced by Roddy McDowall, and later his damaged "brother" BOB voiced by Slim Pickens. When I watched the film in the cinema as a kid, the cool dual-barrelled guns on the soldier robots were my strongest memory, and my friends and I had laser battles with our fingers folded to emulate them for weeks afterwards. Beyond that I haven't had any desire to revisit the film, until prompted to do so today.

The robots all move like a bad mime act.

I also had a comic book follow-up, that continued past the bizarre psychedelic cliffhanger ending (aka "we don't know how to end it, so lets copy 2001"), discovering what lay beyond the black hole, which was a mirror-galaxy, but millions of years in the past. It turned out to be more exciting than the film, and yet only managed one issue.

Any nostalgia you may have for The Black Hole is best kept to your childhood. There's no need to ever revisit this tedious waste of 90 minutes.