5 reasons 'Flash Gordon' is the most underrated cult classic film of all time
From a soundtrack by Queen to its influence on 'Star Wars,' this campy sci-fi adventure is too good to miss.
Back in 1980, only a couple years after the debut of "Star Wars" and "Superman the Movie," Universal Pictures brought to the big screen their own sci-fi adventure "Flash Gordon." The film was something of a gaudy parody – with gorgeous 1960s-style inspired sets, less-than-stellar dialogue, and an utterly bizarre plot line. Despite being a flop in the U.S., it's widely considered by geek culture as one of the greatest science fiction cult movies ever made.
And yes, it's getting a reboot. Screenwriter Mark Protosevich, who previously penned the hits "Thor" and "I Am Legend," says we should prepare ourselves for a much different return trip to the planet of Mongo. "I can't wait to get started, and if you're curious about the take? I'm not saying a word," he hinted. "All I'll say is this – it will be nothing like any version of Flash Gordon you've seen."
To get you pumped like Flash for this next adventure, here are five reasons to consider revisiting the original.
The brilliance of Dr. Hans Zarkov
Played by Chaim Topol, an Academy Award-nominated actor from Israel, Dr. Hans Zarkov is a mad scientist who forces Flash Gordon and Dale Arden to join him on a rocket into space. To get a sense of the campy acting, look no further than the video above, in which Dr. Zarkov attempts to fight the intense G-forces of the rocket launch.
One of our favorite moments, however, comes when Dr. Zarkov – despite being subjected to the evil Ming's memory wipe machine – reveals he was able to survive the brainwashing by thinking of such things as Shakespeare, the formulas of Einstein and even a song from the Beatles. Good to know in case any of us ever find ourselves on the wrong end of a Mongonian memory wipe machine.
Now 80 years old, Topol has stepped back from Hollywood. "I admit that I never went from part to part like actors usually do" the Tel Aviv-born Topol recently told an Israeli newspaper. "I have other interests, and I draw, and I am interested in charities, and I find it more fulfilling than running from one part to another."
A rocking original soundtrack from Queen
Yes, that Queen. "Flash Gordon" was the first film soundtrack the British rock band took on, recording 18 tracks. The "Flash Theme," written by guitarist Brian May, was the only single to be released. It eventually went on to reach No. 10 on the U.K. charts and No. 23 in the U.S.
"I loved it," May told Absolute Radio, recalling the recording process for the film. "I really regard it as a challenge to put the score together and make it an organic part of the move. Slightly tongue-in-cheek, but also with that sort of spirit of adventure which I grew up with as I used to go and see "Flash Gordon" at the Saturday morning movies when I was a kid."
George Lucas originally wanted to direct it
Back in the early 1970s, George Lucas and his producing partner Gary Kurtz attempted to buy the movie rights to "Flash Gordon" but were denied. According to director Francis Ford Coppola, that snub led to the eventual birth of the "Star Wars" franchise.
"He met with the people who owned it, and they didn't take him at all seriously," he said. "So he took the Flash Gordon trailers – the diagonal titles that talk about the universe at that point – and sort of combined it with a Stanley Kubrick '2001' world and created his own 'Flash Gordon.'"
It features a pre-007 Timothy Dalton
Before he was wooing Bond girls and saving the world as James Bond, British actor Timothy Dalton was Prince Barin on "Flash Gordon." In a recent interview, Dalton explained why "Flash" was a "marvelously funny" joke that took people, in particular American critics, so many years to fully understand.
"So the world laughed," he said, "but not a lot of American movie critics did! But I was Prince Barin, the sort of wooden… oh, I’m trying to think of a word. Pompous? Self-important? Arrogant? Narcissistic? Really, it was a lovely role to play!"
The incomparable Max von Sydow as Ming the Merciless
Long before he appeared as a rebel sympathizer in "Star Wars: The Force Awakens," Max von Sydow was well known for his roles in other science fiction classics, including the evil Ming the Merciless in "Flash Gordon." Sporting what many believe to be the ultimate "villain beard," the Swedish-born French actor played Ming with a malicious zeal that's a joy to watch. How can you not love a villain who, when questioned why he's enslaving Earth, responds simply with, "Why not?"
"I read Flash Gordon as a kid and I was fascinated by the cartoon," von Sydow shared during a Q&A in 2012. "I never saw the television series, not until we did the film – but I had a lot of fun doing it."
Fans of von Sydow can look forward to him appearing in yet another massive franchise when he takes on the role of the Three-Eyed Raven in Season 6 of "Game of Thrones."
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