Documentary Review: Life After Flash (2017)

Release Date: October 2nd, 2017 (London premiere)
Directed by: Lisa Downs
Written by: Lisa Downs
Music by: Toby Dunham
Cast: Sam J. Jones, Melody Anderson, Brian Blessed, Topol, Peter Wyngarde, Richard O’Brien, Deep Roy, Brian May, Peter Duncan, Howard Blake, Barry Bostwick, Martha De Laurentiis, Richard Donner, Lou Ferrigno, Rich Fulcher, Sean Gunn, Jon Heder, Stan Lee, Ross Marquand, Josh McDermitt, Jason Mewes, Mark Millar, Robert Rodriguez, Michael Rooker, Alex Ross, Patrick Warburton, various

Strict Machine, Spare Change Films, 94 Minutes

Review:

This documentary has been in my queue for a bit but I wanted to revisit Flash Gordon first before checking this out. Luckily, I recently found my DVD of the original film and was able to watch it and review it a week or so ago.

Now that the 1980 film was fresh in my mind again, as I hadn’t seen it in years, I felt like I could go into this with more familiarity, context and creative reference.

Overall, this was pretty good and it was intriguing listening to Sam J. Jones’ story about how his career sort of fizzled out and the reasons behind that. Luckily, this is a Hollywood story with a positive outcome, as the guy is now doing well and on the right track, personally and career-wise.

This spends a lot of time talking about Jones but it also delves into the film’s production, history and features interviews with many of the people who were involved in it. I especially liked seeing Brian Blessed in this, as I’ve always loved that guy.

Life After Flash also explores the fandom a bit, as it interviews super fans and collectors but also allows them to show off their cool shit and talk about their love for the film.

I dug this documentary quite a bit, as I feel like the 1980 Flash Gordon doesn’t get enough love and has sort of been forgotten by modern audiences. 

Rating: 7/10
Pairs well with: other recent documentaries about filmmaking and specific fandoms.

Film Review: Flash Gordon (1980)

Release Date: September, 1980 (Turkey)
Directed by: Mike Hodges
Written by: Lorenzo Semple Jr., Michael Allin
Based on: characters by Alex Raymond
Music by: Queen, Howard Blake
Cast: Sam J. Jones, Melody Anderson, Ornella Muti, Max von Sydow, Topol, Timothy Dalton, Mariangela Melato, Brian Blessed, Peter Wyngarde, Robbie Coltrane, Deep Roy, Kenny Baker

Starling Films, Dino De Laurentiis Company, Famous Films, 111 Minutes

Review:

“Flash, Flash, I love you, but we only have fourteen hours to save the Earth!” – Dale Arden

Far from great, this is still one of the coolest movies ever made. It’s certainly a product of its time, as it wants to exist on the same level as Star Wars but the rest of Hollywood hadn’t yet caught up to the magic that George Lucas possessed.

Regardless of that, this is still an enthralling motion picture that made the best out of all its parts, creating a one-of-a-kind, pulpy world that really felt like an update of the old school Flash Gordon serials it tried to emulate in many regards.

Also, this has more of a ’70s feel to it than ’80s. But it was technically made and shot in ’79, so there’s that.

Flash Gordon is overly fantastical and I mean that in a good way, as it’s so stylized and unique that it really stands out among a lot of the other epic science fiction space operas of its era.

The sets are incredible, as are the costumes. Sure, some things look ridiculously hokey, even for 1980, but they still work in this strange universe.

I thought that the cast was also solid, despite the lack of experience Sam J. Jones, who plays the film’s title character, had in front of the camera. He still shines and I’m surprised that this didn’t lead to bigger and better things. Although, he is overshadowed by some of the other actors, especially Max von Sydow, a legitimate veteran who seemed to be completely committed to the role of an evil, outer space madman hellbent on ruling the galaxy.

I also really dug Timothy Dalton and Brian Blessed in this. They’ve been two of my favorite British actors over the course of my life and this is actually the first thing that I saw both of them in, way back when I was a young kid that rented this movie quite a lot.

Sadly but also understandably, I think that this film is mostly remembered for its music, as superstar rock band Queen did the film’s theme, as well as some other awesome tracks. Their music in this is spectacular and it makes the film so much cooler than it would have been without their iconic tunes. But really, between these songs and the film’s stupendous style, it’s like a perfect marriage.

All in all, this is a film with some flaws and it’s probably way too hokey for modern audiences but for the time, it worked. I just wish it had as much of a cultural impact as other big budget movies from that incredible era of live-action space operas.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: other sci-fi and fantasy films of the late ’70s and early ’80s.

Vids I Dig 193: Toy Galaxy: The History of ‘Defenders of the Earth’: A Barely Remembered Superhero Team-Up

From Toy Galaxy’s YouTube description: Among the deluge of pop culture properties in 1986 was the barely remembered Defenders of the Earth, bringing together Mandrake the Magician, The Phantom and Flash Gordon to battle Ming the Merciless.

Comic Review: Defenders of the Earth

Published: January, 1987 – July, 1987
Written by: Stan Lee, Michael Higgins
Art by: Alex Saviuk
Based on: Flash Gordon by Alex Raymond, The Phantom & Mandrake the Magician by Lee Falk

Star Comics, Marvel Comics, 110 Pages

Review:

I don’t know how many people remember Defenders of the Earth. It was kind of big in the ’80s, as it spawned this comic series, an animated television show, a toyline and other product tie-ins.

For those that don’t know, it was a team that was formed of three old school pulp heroes that were originally published in comic strips by King Features Syndicate. They would go on to be really popular and even had serials produced back in the days when serials were still a thing.

The team consists of Flash Gordon, The Phantom and Mandrake the Magician, as well as their kids and some other allies. The Defenders are unified in their battle against famous Flash Gordon foe, Ming the Merciless.

This comic series was published by Star Comics, which was a short-lived imprint of the much larger Marvel Comics. With that, they were able to get the great Stan Lee to write the first issue of the comic. Michael Higgins would take over for issues two through four with Alex Saviuk providing the art for all four issues.

The story sees Ming do something horrible to Flash Gordon’s wife, which inspires these heroes to come together in an effort to defeat Ming and his desire to conquer Earth.

Defenders of the Earth was an entertaining read, especially that Stan Lee issue. It had a lot of energy and it got you excited for what could have come but sadly, the series ended at issue four, even though it promised a fifth. It doesn’t quite end on a cliffhanger but it ends unfinished, which kind of sucks.

I didn’t remember much about this series but the comic has made me nostalgic for the television show, which I haven’t seen since about 1987. I may go back and give it a watch in the very near future.

Rating: 7/10
Pairs well with: other ’80s comic book tie-ins to toylines and animated series.

Film Serial Review: Flash Gordon (1936)

Release Date: April 6th, 1936 (first chapter)
Directed by: Frederick Stephani, Ray Taylor (uncredited)
Written by: Basil Dickey, Ella O’Neill, George H. Plympton, Frederick Stephani
Based on: Flash Gordon comic strip by Alex Raymond
Music by: Clifford Vaughan
Cast: Buster Crabbe, Jean Rogers, Charles B. Middleton, Priscilla Lawson, Frank Shannon

Universal Pictures, 245 Minutes total (13 chapters)

Review:

Flash Gordon is a character that has lived on in American culture for decades. This 1936 serial by Universal Pictures is the first time that the famous comic strip hero was presented in a live-action format. Needless to say, it was a hugely popular serial for Universal and spawned a franchise that still has life all these years later.

The serial stars Buster Crabbe, who is the only actor to play the top three syndicated comic strip heroes of the 1930s: Tarzan (Tarzan the Fearless), Buck Rogers (Buck Rogers) and Flash Gordon (Flash GordonFlash Gordon’s Trip to Mars and Flash Gordon Conquers the Universe).

Having dark hair, Crabbe had to bleach his hair blonde to play Flash Gordon, which he was very self-conscious about. He’d actually wear a hat whenever he wasn’t filming.

Co-star Jean Rogers, who played Dale Arden, also went blonde even though her character was a brunette. This was supposedly done to capitalize on the popularity of “platinum blonde” Jean Harlow, another actress.

Charles B. Middleton played the infamous villain Ming the Merciless. This was also where Ming got the look of a Fu Manchu type character.

There was a claim that Flash Gordon had a budget of over a million dollars, which was absurd for the time. Supposedly, the real budget was $350,000 and Universal Pictures recycled a lot of their elements and props from other films. Most notably the use of the watchtower sets from 1931’s Frankenstein, a statue from 1932’s The Mummy, lab equipment from 1935’s The Bride of Frankenstein and other sci-fi and horror classics. The serial also recycles musical scores from The Bride of FrankensteinThe Invisible Man and other productions.

From a style standpoint, it should be obvious that this had a similar vibe to the classic Universal Monsters franchise of films.

Overall, Flash Gordon is fairly exciting with decent cliffhangers and twists. It has better acting than most serials and the action is top notch for this style of production.

The serial ended up being Universal’s second highest grossing release of 1936, behind the film Three Smart Girls. Some people were critical of the “revealing” costumes of the woman characters and future Flash Gordon serials had to dress women more modestly.

This is one of my favorite serials and my favorite of the Flash Gordon series. Crabbe would play Gordon two more times.

Rating: 7.75/10