Comic Book Movies 101: Flash Gordon

After appearing on the cover of Playboy’s 1975 June edition under the name Andrew Cooper III, Sam J. Jones gets his first leading role as… ‘Flash – a-ah – saviour of the universe…Flash – a-ah – he’ll save everyone of us…Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha
Flash – a-ah – he’s a miracle…Flash – a-ah – king of the impossible!!!’ Sorry for getting a little carried away there but with a highly anticipated 80’s rendition of a renowned 1930s popular comic strip, the hero deserved a cool rock soundtrack which was awesomely provided by Queen. Way before the likes of Iron Man and the support from AC/DC and way before new adaptations of this years Thor and Captain America, Flash Gordon was our first defender of the Universe and rightly so.

Premiering as a Sunday strip back in 1934, Flash Gordon became a daily strip from May 27th 1940 up until 2003. The numerous stories, plots and characters to choose from ensured a wealth of ideas and possibilities for the comic book movie adaptation. The movie intentionally uses a camp style similar to the 1960s TV series Batman for whom Lorenzo Semple Jnr had written numerous episodes and would later write the Flash Gordon screenplay.  Fans would not be disappointed as it kept to the loyalty and sheer morality of the hero we had come to know and love. Never failing to move away from his duties as saviour of the Universe, Flash Gordon ensured a nice balance between two differing worlds; Earth and the mystical outer worlds. Similar to Thor and his involvement with both Asgard and Earth, Flash Gordon is a more in depth and aesthetically pleasing environment with a rich embodiment of neighbouring worlds and their relationship with Earth.

At the beginning of the movie we hear a voiceover of Emperor Ming the Merciless played by Max von Sydow, who vows to cause an array of natural disasters on Earth in an attempt to destroy the planet.  The close up of Ming’s hands juxtaposed with the framing of Earth as a target connote imposing and detrimental intentions of Ming. What I particularly liked about this sequence was the air of mystery behind Ming’s identity as well as establishing a formidable villain for Flash. When Ming’s “hot hail” begins, New York Jets football star Flash Gordon who’s currently vacationing at a resort in the Green Mountains) has already boarded a small plane along with travel journalist Dale Arden. When Flash and Dale along with the doctor are captured and escorted into The Emperor’s Court this is one of my favourite scenes. The dominant colour red along with the low angled shots of Ming juxtaposed with the medium long shots of Flash, Dale and the doctor wearing earthly colours with hints of red connotes a power clash. Red is a typically used to symbolise danger or passion and with the court expressing this colour it encodes Ming as a major threat to the trio. The expression on the trio’s faces juxtaposed with their earthly and minimalist use of red may symbolise they are unaware of how much danger they are in.   

After undergoing a deadly ritual on the forest moon Arboria, Flash and his rival Barin are captured and taken to Sky City. Another favourite scene is where Flash and Barin are forced to fight one another. The high angled shots over the fight are expertly framed as it exudes both heroes’ fragility at having been forced to attack one another. This juxtaposed with icy colours of white and blue along with the sudden close-ups of Flash and Barin connotes a bitter and oppositional attitude to their predicament. Even though the mise en scene exudes an aesthetically pleasing and serious mood, Sam J. Jones can be too robotic thus hindering the scene and emotions it is trying to convey. So in order to keep a straight face I would have to say this has to be one of the most serious emotional scenes of any superhero movie *cough cough*. Lets just say Flash is our defender of the Universe but with Sam J. Jones trying to instil a bit of three-dimensional superhero action there is a reason why he received the golden raspberry award for worst lead actor.   

With the moment of truth devised as a ticking clock to the earth’s destruction then what could ruin the entire ending is if Sam J. Jones could not muster enough energy to save the planet. But thankfully he does, restoring faith in our beloved comic book character and with the rock out soundtrack from Queen boosting the end credits there are no hard feelings. At times when you thought you would be swallowed within a pit of despair just remember to scream your heart out to ‘Flash – a-ah – saviour of the universe…Flash – a-ah – he’ll save everyone of us…’

Rachel Moore

Share this!