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.

Film Review: Highlander (1986)

Also known as: Dark Knight (working title)
Release Date: January, 1986 (France – Avoriaz Fantastic Film Festival)
Directed by: Russell Mulcahy
Written by: George Widen, Peter Bellwood, Larry Ferguson
Music by: Michael Kamen, Queen
Cast: Christopher Lambert, Roxanne Hart, Clancy Brown, Sean Connery, Jon Polito

Thorn EMI Screen Entertainment, Davis-Panzer Productions, Highlander Productions Limited, 116 Minutes, 110 Minutes (theatrical cut)

Review:

“[repeated line by Ramirez, The Kurgan and Connor MacLeod] There can be only one!”

Any movie that starts with a Fabulous Freebirds wrestling match has got to be good. As far as I know, though, this is the only movie to do that. I should also point out that Greg Gagne, Jim Brunzell and Sam Fatu were featured in that match too.

The excitement doesn’t end with the awesome opening though, as it gets right into the action, as we see the title character enter the parking garage of the arena to fight another immortal swordsman in what is one of the coolest opening sequences of this film’s era.

Also, Queen made a lot of original songs for this film’s soundtrack and they are all mostly classics, at least to ’80s film buffs and lovers of Queen.

Highlander is a unique movie. It’s also really damn cool and despite this spawning a pretty big franchise with a half dozen movies and multiple television series, none of them have been able to capture the same sort of magic that this motion picture did.

The film also has a superb villain in it, as the very tall and intimidating Clancy Brown plays The Kurgan, a mad knight who is also immortal and on the quest to be the only one left in existence. Christopher Lambert’s Connor MacLeod and Sean Connery’s Ramirez form a bond in an effort to help destroy The Kurgan, as he is the most dangerous threat to all.

Big portions of the film focus on Ramirez training MacLeod in an effort to prepare him for the oncoming storm that is The Kurgan. The whole point of all of this, though, is that these immortals are destined to fight and kill each other until there is only one left, who then wins “The Prize”.

What’s really neat about this film and all the others, is that it spans over multiple centuries, as the immortals are all very old. Lambert’s MacLeod is young by Ramirez and The Kurgan’s standards but there is something about him that the other immortals respect and fear and ultimately, I think they all understand how he is instrumental in preventing The Kurgan from winning this centuries long tournament.

Now this movie can be a bit slow, here and there, and honestly, it could’ve benefited from some fine tuning but it’s not boring and it tells a really good, intriguing story. But based off of how this ends, it should have truly been the end of the series. It didn’t need sequels and because of that, the sequels are all sort of in their own weird continuity. I stopped trying to make sense out of the Highlander franchise years ago and just view this film as the only one necessary and the complete story. That doesn’t mean that I’m not planning on revisiting and reviewing those lesser films in the future.

I just really like this movie a lot and, unfortunately, it was milked to death in future projects and the greatness of what this is was completely diluted by what became a very mediocre franchise.

Looking at this on its own, however, Highlander is a fantastic action fantasy flick that spans centuries, has a stupendous villain and an incredible mentor-type. While Lambert is the real lead, he is the weakest of the three core male characters. But it doesn’t in any way wreck the movie and he’s convincing as this badass Scottish warrior.

Rating: 7.75/10
Pairs well with: the Highlander film series and television series.