Flash Gordon (especially the 1936 feature film)

J-Sun

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I wrote this post for the "What was the last movie you saw" thread, but ended up babbling more than is usual for that thread. So I then went searching for Flash Gordon threads to append it to, but they were long dead or specifically devoted to other incarnations or long-ago prospective reincarnations, so I decided to just start fresh. So, for what it's worth (some synopsis, but nothing spoilery):

The last movie I saw sucked, being 1953's Phantom from Space. I liked that the humans eventually took the perspective that the alien might not be evil which, in this case, turned out to be correct, but the movie had nothing else going for it.

On the other hand, the movie I saw before that was the condensed version of the first Flash Gordon serial, billed as Rocket Ship in my version, both from 1936. We start with "The earth is doomed, Professor!" and then have to parachute out of a crashing plane and by then Our Hero already has his Girl. They immediately have a gun pointed at them by a (not so) Mad Professor and Flash has the Can Do! attitude as the three dash off to another planet to Save the Earth. Flash gets in a fight with a guy but they then immediately become Best Friends. The sometimes Evil (and sometimes not) Princess fights with Flash's Girl and her own Evil Emperor dad over Flash. Many Giant Monsters are vanquished. Everything occurs at approximately the speed of light and never lets up till the very Satisfying End. This is the Good Stuff and I loved it. :)

The special effects were odd - wobbly Plan 9ish spaceships and something like an actual stage light pretending to be a melting ray combined with some remarkably nifty little lizards made to look big with a composite shot of our little people seen beyond the Big Reptiles which looked a lot better than a lot of Hitchcock composites. But it was very easy to get into the spirit of things.

I don't often see many connections between Burroughs and Star Wars, but it's like Flash Gordon stands equidistant (conceptually; not quite temporally) between the two - I can see all kinds of connections from Burroughs to Flash and Flash to Star Wars. And, had I been a kid in 1936, I think Flash would have been at least as cool as Star Wars.

And, boys and girls, this is why remakes are usually a bad idea, m'kay? I think everyone probably knows the general concept of Flash Gordon but some of us had to have the 1980 Queen version be the most direct contact with the mythos and it takes us forever to get closer to the source and that's just wrong. Of course, the serials/movies are just "remakes" of the comics, but that's at least jumping to a different medium. It would be possible to remake it as something "more modern" but I don't think it's likely it could be remade "better".

Would people in the know recommend the full serial? And the sequels (1938, 1940)? On the one hand, I'd love to see more but, on the other, I'd hate for the breakneck pace to be slowed or for the effect to be otherwise diluted.
 

Dave

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I can see all kinds of connections from Burroughs to Flash and Flash to Star Wars. And, had I been a kid in 1936, I think Flash would have been at least as cool as Star Wars.
When I first saw Star Wars I also immediately saw the similarities - just from the locations alone - rocky planet, ice planet, forest planet, cloud city. When I mentioned them here, people were actually surprised, but I had the advantage of watching these serials as child when they were shown in he mornings during the school holidays on BBC TV. Now kids TV is just stupid American cartoons and idiot presenters with sock puppets getting wet or hurt.

My father did see these serials at the cinema in the 1940s. According to him though, the audience of children were more interested in throwing oranges around than watching anything. So, cinema audiences haven't changed either if you look at my post on one recent experience.

One thing I always hated (which you don't realise when the episodes are not shown back to back, and which would be edited out in your version) is how they changed the cliffhanger. At the end of one episode Flash might have jumped out of a spaceship and fell over a cliff, but at the start of the next one he grabs hold of something that was never there. Or he is mortally wounded, but next week it is just a scratch. All serials are like that though, you need to get the audience to return.
 

Rodders

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I remember seeing these during the school holidays when i was a child and being entertained by them. Didn't George Lucas state that he wanted Star Wars to have that Flash Gordon episodic feel?

For me though, the 1980s Flash Gordon was the definative one. A lot of people really don't like it, but i think that it's a classic. It's a shame that the recent effort didn't take off.
 

AE35Unit

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The only movie i've seen is the 1980 film with the fabulous Brian Blessed! I used to enjoy the old B/W TV shows when I was a kid but never knew there other movies!
 

J-Sun

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One thing I always hated (which you don't realise when the episodes are not shown back to back, and which would be edited out in your version) is how they changed the cliffhanger. At the end of one episode Flash might have jumped out of a spaceship and fell over a cliff, but at the start of the next one he grabs hold of something that was never there. Or he is mortally wounded, but next week it is just a scratch. All serials are like that though, you need to get the audience to return.

Ah, that's interesting. I knew about the cliffhangers in general and can accept that, indeed, they had to get the audience back, but that's just playing with the net down - changing it like that. You do a cliffhanger like The Empire Strikes Back to Return of the Jedi - you don't make it so the carbon freezing never happened - you simply free him. :) Thanks for that information.

Didn't George Lucas state that he wanted Star Wars to have that Flash Gordon episodic feel?

I can't remember if he specifically referred to Flash Gordon but, yeah, he did want to reinvent the old serials, of which Flash Gordon was one. It's a shame he didn't keep to that concept in a sense but he seemed to start taking himself much more seriously when he realized it was his calling card to Eternity.

For me though, the 1980s Flash Gordon was the definative one. A lot of people really don't like it, but i think that it's a classic. It's a shame that the recent effort didn't take off.

I'd have to watch it again to be fair, but I'm one of those people - I didn't like it at all when I first saw it. Still, I think I see what fans are saying and it's possible I just didn't watch it in the right spirit. I'm not familiar with the recent effort - is that the Cable Channel Formerly Known As Sci-Fi's series?

The only movie i've seen is the 1980 film with the fabulous Brian Blessed! I used to enjoy the old B/W TV shows when I was a kid but never knew there other movies!

Another '80 version fan! Yep, there's at least the three 36-40 serials/movies, the '80 film, and half a dozen TV series (yours from the 50s and the rest from around the '80 movie and on), aside from the original comic strip and some magazines and books.
 

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Now here's a question. Where did Flash Gordon originate? Was it a story in a pulp magazine or just something that someone in Tv came up with?
 

blacknorth

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The original Flash Gordon serials used to run on Saturday mornings on BBC2 back in the very early 80's, courtesy of the 1980 film which had revived interest in the character. I was transfixed, not by the storylines, but by the production design which appeared genuinely out of this world - sort of like, hey, the asteroids are marching on Washington too.

The serials were issued on pre-cert VHS on a cheapo label, all edited down to feature length versions. When I watched them as a student they seemed lacking the original spark - not sure whether that was due to me being older or bad editing of the stories. The cliffhangers were often missing from the VHS issues - I can't decide whether that was a good thing or not as, though I always found them infuriating, they were an essential part of the whole experience - will Flash survive certain death?

Later I found the mish-mash of science and fantasy fascinating, kept wondering why anyone would fly by rocket into a space so obviously populated from a different genre. I think that remains my abiding impression, wish I'd kept my old tapes to confirm it.
 

j d worthington

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Now here's a question. Where did Flash Gordon originate? Was it a story in a pulp magazine or just something that someone in Tv came up with?

It was based on a comic strip from 1934, which was in turn a response to an earlier sff comic strip, Buck Rogers -- and that, of course, began with the two stories by Philip Nowlan, "Armageddon 2419 A.D." and "The Airlords of Han"... and, if you're interested, the two were published together under the title of the first, in the 1960s....

So it predates TV -- or at least, wide use of commercial TV -- by several years....
 

ktabic

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Another '80 version fan!

Ah, you can put me down as another '80s version fan. It is the best version. Looking just like the old version but in full colour ;)

I also got to watch it in an English lesson.

It also has some of the best lines ever! :)

Flash! Flash! I love you! But we only have 18 hours to save the world! (this one is because of comments made in the English lesson)

Are your men on the right pills?

Perhaps you should execute their trainer?
 

AE35Unit

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It was based on a comic strip from 1934, which was in turn a response to an earlier sff comic strip, Buck Rogers -- and that, of course, began with the two stories by Philip Nowlan, "Armageddon 2419 A.D." and "The Airlords of Han"... and, if you're interested, the two were published together under the title of the first, in the 1960s....

So it predates TV -- or at least, wide use of commercial TV -- by several years....

Christ JD you know your SF!
 

clovis-man

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Would people in the know recommend the full serial? And the sequels (1938, 1940)? On the one hand, I'd love to see more but, on the other, I'd hate for the breakneck pace to be slowed or for the effect to be otherwise diluted.

Take the plunge. It's the ultimate in Kitsch, but fun anyway. And you can indulge yourself easily without parting with an arm or a leg (Can't vouch for the quality of the transfer on this set. I have an older one which seems to be out of print):

Amazon.com: Flash Gordon: Box Set (Space Soldiers/Flash Gordon's Trip To Mars/Flash Gordon Conquers The Universe) (3DVD): Buster Crabbe, Jean Rogers, Charles Middleton, Frank Shannon, Beatrice Roberts, Donald Kerr, Richard Alexander, C. Montague Shaw

At the time the serials were created, it was remarkably high budget, although the special effects are laughably primitive. But Buster Crabbe really threw himself into the part and it's fun to watch.

For more info and some great stills, here is a site which I have mentioned before on other threads, I'm pretty sure:

Flash Gordon
 

J-Sun

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Thanks for those links, clovis-man! Very interesting. :)

AE35Unit: You can read The Airlords of Han if you want, though it's unfortunately the sequel and they don't seem to have the original. I have Armageddon 2419 A.D., which is a slightly modified combo of both stories and I highly recommend it, too - it's a blast. And, while not the pinnacle of great literature, I was surprised at how good (or not bad) it was in a stylistic sense, really.
 

Foxbat

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I love old serials and (among many others) have all three Flash Gordon serials. Others worthy of note are Undersea Kingdom (with Crash Corrigan) and the Batman serials. For a more modern, tongue-in-cheek look at serials, you could try Monarch Of The Moon.

There are literally hundreds of serials out there (many on DVD) ranging from gangsters to SF and actors like John Wayne and Lon Chaney jnr. cut their teeth in this medium.

Check out The Fighting Devil Dogs for The Lightning (allegedly the inspiration for Darth Vader).

Here's a site I visit regularly The Serial Squadron Academy of Cliffhanger Arts & Sciences

:)
 

j d worthington

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Christ JD you know your SF!

Ummmmm... well, thanks for the compliment (honestly, thank you!) but I'm afraid I often feel quite overwhelmed by many, many others here on the boards when it comes to sf... especially the more recent stuff.

However I did grow up reading sf (my first two books were a collection of Poe's tales and Asimov's I, Robot, which I read at age 6 -- Bradbury and Co. followed shortly thereafter), and have always had a love of the field, and a great affection for even the wonkier corners of it (even when the critic in me howls at what has been done). Pre-Campbellian sf is often somewhat cumbersome and klutzy, but it does have its charm (and, occasionally, you'd have a writer who just had a very good talent, and made something rather special along the way). I also used to have a rather large-ish collection of the Buck Rogers strip, introduced by Bradbury, as well as a periodical reprinting of many of the comic strips of the late 1800s through the 1940s (Superman, The Katzenjammer Kids, Terry and the Pirates, Alley-Oop, Li'l Abner, The Little King, Dick Tracy, etc....), so I was exposed to a lot of that sort of thing.... I also had the ACE book mentioned (Armageddon 2419 A.D.), and enjoyed it immensely when I read it back then....

And I'll add my vote to those who advise (in C-M's words) to "take the plunge". This ain't high art we're talkin', but it is often quite a good deal of fun, and a great way to completely escape into another time. For those who enjoy a good ride, with plenty of corn as well as some gold now and again, I'd highly recommend it as worth your time....
 

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Thanks for those links, clovis-man! Very interesting. :)

AE35Unit: You can read The Airlords of Han if you want, though it's unfortunately the sequel and they don't seem to have the original. I have Armageddon 2419 A.D., which is a slightly modified combo of both stories and I highly recommend it, too - it's a blast. And, while not the pinnacle of great literature, I was surprised at how good (or not bad) it was in a stylistic sense, really.

Ah i need to sort out my Nintendo DS so it can read ebooks. I can't sit at a computer and read for long.
 

Dave

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I like the 1980 film, but only for Queen and Brian Blessed. I found it a little too camp and a send-up of the original. There were some great lines, and possibly that was the only way to update it - to laugh together along with the materiel, rather than at the material itself.

They also used to show the 'Buck Rogers' serial on TV too, and I think they might have shown 'Undersea Kingdom', but this is certainly an almost forgotten genre. It was once a staple diet of the cinema. It seems a shame that while most people are familiar with 'Laurel and Hardy', 'Harold Lloyd', 'Buster Keaton' and 'Charles Chaplin', they have never heard of 'Crash Corrigan', 'Dick Tracy', 'Fu Manchu' and 'Zorro'.

List of film serials by studio - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
 

J-Sun

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It seems a shame that while most people are familiar with 'Laurel and Hardy', 'Harold Lloyd', 'Buster Keaton' and 'Charles Chaplin', they have never heard of 'Crash Corrigan', 'Dick Tracy', 'Fu Manchu' and 'Zorro'.

List of film serials by studio - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

More interesting links. Thanks! I knew there were a lot of serials but maybe not quite so many or that they were generally available. As far as those great comedians, I've coincidentally recently re-familiarized myself with a little Laurel and Hardy and have seen Buster Keaton for the first time, I think. Keaton's a genius. Have to add the Marx Brothers and even the Stooges and probably many more to that "famous early comics" list. But I agree that it seems unfair and it does present a pretty one-sided view.

And I'll add my vote to those who advise (in C-M's words) to "take the plunge".

Yep, that seems to be the consensus. I think I will. :)

I can't sit at a computer and read for long.

Yeah, I know the feeling. I did re-read The Time Machine from PG, even though I have the book, so I can do it, and the Nowlan is short, but I have a hard time with extended computer reading, too.
 

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