Flash Gordon Saves the Universe

When Flash Gordon was ‘again’ resurrected back  (thanks, Princess Aura for the first time) into pop culture by Seth MacFarlane in his film, Ted (2013), I was filled with bemusement and joy. Ever since that day, walking home from school and coming across the giant movie billboard, Mike Hodges’s Flash Gordon has remained doggedly on my top ten list of favorite movies.flashgordonposter.jpg


For three decades I felt alone being a fan of this movie. Mention it at film school and people would look at me as if something was fundamentally wrong with me. I remember critics panning it at the time, much to my dismay.  They were worried about cardboard characters and cardboard sets. Again, to my utter dismay.

First up, it’s a movie.

Second, it did its job as a movie.

For me, a motion picture has two functions; to inform, or to entertain, or both. How a film achieves this is a technical matter, but as far as the 1980’s Flash Gordon is concerned, it did its job and continues to do so, as evidently, my generation, (McFarlaines) remembers the film fondly enough to celebrate it. It hasn’t reached cult-status for nothing.

Stuff you all, you naysayers.

At least other critics at the time understood that Dino De Laurentiis wanted to pay homage to Alex Raymond and his creation. In this day and age, we take comic book adaptations for granted, all of a sudden everyone is now a geek or nerd. Cinemas around the world are splattered with superheroes of all colours and schools. Marvel Studios and Lucasfilm are pumping fantasy out every year with no respite in the foreseeable future. Yet these two paracosms owe a lot to Buck Rogers, Superman, and Flash Gordon.flash-gordon4612

Just as John Carter of Mars was used as a template by King Features/Alex Raymond to create their own space opera adventure comic strip, after trying unsuccessfully to buy a license to the material, so too was Flash Gordon used as a template to create Star Wars after George Lucas lucked out in trying to acquire the rights to it.

All this is part of the evolution of a genre that goes back a long way. Flash Gordon is a prestigious property with a lot of creative history, spanning the artwork and stories of Alex Raymond and others, the Buster Crabbe serials, the Steve Holland TV series and the animated TV series. The 1980’s film not only celebrates the past, it adds to it, especially the design work by Danilo Donati.

I once read an interview with Ridley Scott (who apparently once had an opportunity to remake the film).  When asked what makes a great film, his response was, story and casting.

Add music to that mix, and that I believe is the magic recipe of making decent movies. There is nothing like a kickass soundtrack to reinforce a kickass story and a kickass cast.

Flash Gordon ticks all those boxes.

It’s a David versus Goliath tale, and this kind of story never gets old. As human beings, we all feel oppressed by something, whether it be an overreaching government, or an asshole boss, or some schoolyard bully. We all dream of standing up to them. But we all fear the cost of any such action. So it’s always nice to have someone lead the way. Pathetic as it may be, we humans put up with a lot of shit from our oppressors. It just takes one person’s defiance to open the floodgates of revolution.7-ming-royal-guards

In this case, Emperor Ming the Merciless, Ruler of the Universe, is taken down by a mere Earthling from an obscure body in the SK System. How does this human from a backward planet achieve such an overthrow? By uniting all of Ming’s disgruntled subjects or ‘playthings’ and bring them to war against the god-like entity.

The screenplay by Lorenzo Semple is ambitious and delves right into the universe already established by the comic strip and serial films. Director Mike Hodges certainly FlashGordon_onesheet_teaser_USA_PhilipCastle-10-500x380had a monumental task in translating the words into film and manages it well considering the budgetary and technological restraints of the period.  If they took that same script and filmed it today, it would stand up to, or even better, the humdrum crap that is pumped out these days.

Seriously, the original script rocks. It’s got Invisible Flash, Cloned Amazon Dykes,  The plasma core Ming uses to destroy worlds, Tiger Man,  a ‘sword of fire’, a duel to the death between Prince Barin and Klytus, and did I mention Invisible Flash.

As for the humor and campiness, Semple is on record on saying in hindsight, he would have written Flash Gordon less humorous and more serious. Whereas I do agree about making it a little more realistic, I disagree with scrubbing the fun out of the picture. An audience wants to be emotionally stimulated, and laughter and trauma are all part of the package. here you have fun stuff, like Max Von Sydow’s lines “Klytus, are all your men on the right pills?” and Melody Anderson’s “We just got engaged,” we have football fights, and reworked wedding vows, mixed in with traumatic stuff like tree stump snake/scorpion things, melting villains, multicolored blood, bore worms, (we don’t see the bore worm’s but Ornella Muti’s face says it all, enough to scar anyone’s imagination.)Flash_Gordon_movie_04

Structurally, Flash Gordon also has a decent middle act. Nothing sucks worse that a long and involved first act, a brief middle act, and a long and protracted final act. Many films skimp out on the middle action, e.g. the protag faces one or two challenges and that’s it, home stretch. In this film, after Flash arrives at Mongo, he’s clashing with Ming’s guards, gets himself executed, is resurrected, escapes to Arboria and fights with Prince Barin, ends up at Sky City and again fights with Prince Barin, and then leads Prince Vulcan and his Hawkmen out to battle against the rocketship Ajax.  This is a great middle act.

It’s no secret Sam J Jones was hired based on his look. Dino de Laurentiis saw something in the inexperienced actor that fitted the kind of picture he wanted to make. Yes, unknowns are a punt, they do random things, George Lazenby for example. But sometimes they are simply more suitable for the role. Had Kurt R19064e77c1243871d2bf7c825562a5ef.jpgussell donned the Flash t-shirt, (he turned it down due to the script’s blandness, yet ended up camping it up anyway with Carpenter’s Big Trouble in Little China) he could have pulled off a good Flash Gordon, but I doubt he could have significantly added anything more than what Jones achieved. Maybe just a little, but we’re splitting hairs. Jones had enough physical presence, innocent charm and goofiness to win over a kid like me, who’d never seen the Buster Crabb movies.

Luckily, Jones had help from a brilliant supporting cast. Yes, I admit they carried him a lot of the time, and mostly took over.


Melody Anderson’s enthusiasm played rather well, even with her “Go, Flash, Go.” I remember at the time she had the audience cheering during the Football Fight Scene, a rare thing in cinema. Only other time I’ve experienced such a thing was during Rocky 3 and Gladiator. If an actor can achieve something near to this, they’ve won.

Max Von Sydow inhabits one of the best antagonists in cinema history, his god-like presence is as imposing as his costumes. If ever there was a ruler of the universe, who manipulates whole civilizations as ‘playthings’, it would be something close to Sydow’s Ming for sure.flash-gordon.png
Topol certainly had fun with Doctor Zarkov, delivering his lines with enough gusto to make you forget that his science was a little off.
Timothy Dalton threw down the gauntlet and challenged everyone by playing it straighter than anyone on set. After hearing ‘lying bitch’ and ‘fr
eeze, you bloody bastards’
I became this actor’s number fan.

Ornella Muti dominated the screen like no other actress I’ve ever seen. To this day, I still blush every second she’s on.

Brian Blessed wins with his bombastic performance as Prince Vulcan.

Mariangela Melato and Peter Wyngarde are effective in their roles as General Kala and Klytus.


All in all, no director could really complain about this cast.

f7392cc194001dd2d2d5495be1f2f1c5The music soundtrack produced by Queen became greater than the movie itself. If Universal made any cinema ticket sales, it was because of Queen. I’ve probably listened to this album more times than I’ve seen the movie. Although it’s an official Queen album, it should be treated like a soundtrack. What elevates Flash Gordon further than Brian May’s guitar riffs is the ‘woefully underrated’ Howard Blake orchestral arrangement. Unique and original, Blake’s music underscores many of the film’s key highlights, from Flight To Arboria to The Death of Klytus. Certainly well worth exploring for any true Flash Gordon fan.

The only aspect that brings this motion picture down are those ridiculous Lizardmen. Seriously, did they spent that much money on these costumes, that the director was obligated to use them?

And the science didn’t work for me. Even as a ten-year-old, I knew it was impossible to fly between the moons of Mongo and still have breathable air. But after almost forty years I think I’ve figured it out, even those Lizardmen.

You see, Ming is a god or a follower of the great god Dyzan, and he hase2d797de6b28994afb20d7ae8dcf88c7 the power to create a planet whose atmosphere reaches beyond its strangely deformed moons. Even the kingdoms of Mongo are populated by creatures created by Ming, for his own pleasure. That is why we have half naked green women, winged beings, and slaves with eyes inside their mouths. Ming is immortal, so he must get bored often.

As for the future of Flash Gordon, I hope whoever produces and directs a remake, that they don’t neglect what De Laurentiis, Semple, Donati, Queen, Blake and Hodges brought to Alex Raymond’s Flash Gordon universe.Screen shot 2010-12-13 at 2.22.47 AM

Hail Flash. 

The Bad Samaritan now stalking Unbound

A while ago, after finishing my novel A Hostile Takeover, I took on adapting my screenplay ‘The Bad Samaritan’ into my next book project. It turned out to be an ordeal, with convoluted plots ending up driving me insane, but in the end I had myself a completed draft. Continue reading “The Bad Samaritan now stalking Unbound”

Terminator Reterminated

terminator-feature-06272015There’s nothing more bewilderingly mind-numbing than watching a science-fiction movie franchise get butchered and killed then brought to life again, re-butchered and murdered once again. It’s sad in a way, because I really love this time-bending, robot monster, chase story. The potential, even without branching away from the hunter and the hunted plot device, is endless. Bewildered? With all this goodwill and talent, and money involved, how the hell could they get it so wrong? This is a major iconic brand. “The Terminator” is embedded in the brains of at least two or three generations of consumers. There is no shortage of creative talent nor money that prevent this story from working its magic, yet the IP owners have achieved nothing else but toss stools of shit at audiences across the globe. Sure, the movie industry wins, artists, technicians and executives got jobs, and the marketing machine scored, but tossing shit at audience’s faces was still the end result.

skynetNow the next time Skynet returns to threaten our future chances are audiences will be a little suspect before handing over money, or even waste time and bandwidth to illegally download it. Skynet will hopefully learn from past mistakes and deliver the killer blow they’ve been trying to throw since it first hatched up the plan to go back in time and kill John Conner. Continue reading “Terminator Reterminated”

The Fleming Paracosm

diamonds are forever with lazenby
Diamonds are Forever if George said yes instead of no.

As we enter a new chapter in the James Bond movie franchise, staunch fans like myself are apprehensive or intensely curious about what direction the franchise will take, and about who will be chosen to play the next 007? The naming of the actor to play the MI6 spy appears to have turned into a cultural festival that runs every decade or so, much like the naming of who will host the next Olympic Games. It’s a media tradition ever since George Lazenby famously turned his back to the franchise.

Continue reading “The Fleming Paracosm”

Panology – an A to Z study guide [Part 1]

With Dan Simmon’s Hyperion Cantos and Isaac Asimov’s Foundation series inching closer to television screens, a question resurfaces, a question I’ve been asking ever since first reading these two works of classic science fiction, both of whom have been fighting an eternal battle for the number one spot on my favorites list.

(This is the first of three posts.)


What makes these stories so great?

For me it’s the scope of these novels. It’s how the authors infuse a multitude of scientific disciplines and morph them into the plot. This little project is intended as a study guide for me to use and others if they choose, and aims to list as many topics and fields of study as possible. It’ll be an ongoing process as I probably will miss a few academic disciplines along the way. Continue reading “Panology – an A to Z study guide [Part 1]”

The Fantasy Federation of Europe

lossless-page1-800px-European_Federalist_Flag.tifIt is sad to watch a great nation bludgeon another weaker nation, a supposed ally and friend, into submission and humiliation, especially when both sides are at fault over a debt situation that has spiraled out of control. Yes, Greek voters did take the easy path since the 1970’s. I myself remember arguing against further integration back in the summer of 1991, when I visited the place. Older folk and younger kids, die-hard communists and fascists alike were all for it. I nearly got stabbed when I stated, “One day German tanks will be rolling down the streets of Athens once more…”tanks

Continue reading “The Fantasy Federation of Europe”

First Planet Candidates Discovered by Planet Hunters

It’s not every night you stumble across something on the internet that is as bizarre as being officially acknowledged for helping to find an exoplanet. I enrolled with Planet Hunter years ago (around 2011), and dabbled for fun picking out images that may indicate the presence of a planet orbiting a star. Easy stuff really.


Looks like we found two exoplanets, detected by amateur astronomers using the Planet Hunters’ Zooniverse project.

The first planetary system, KIC 10905746 hosts at least one planet. KIC 10905746 b is a Super-earth planet 2.5 times larger than earth, orbiting the 13th magnitude M-type star, which is located in Cygnus constellation 500 light years away.

The second is KIC 6185331 b, an extrasolar planet, 7.9 times larger than the Earth, orbiting 15th magnitude star KIC 6185331, which is located in Lyra constellation 4784 light years.


Both exoplanets have tight fast orbits around their stars (orbits are 9.88 and 49.8 days respectively) so they’re pretty inhospitable. Hopefully, more data would reveal more planets with longer and wider orbits in these systems because now I have to include these two in a space opera if I get to writing one.

More Info:


KIC 10905746 b

KIC 6185331 b


Planet Hunters

We are very, very happy to announce that the first Planet Hunters paper has been submitted to the journal Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, or MNRAS.*

The title page of the paper shows:

If you take a close look at the affiliations, you will see that #16 is called “Planet Hunter.” That’s because this paper reports the discovery of two planet candidates discovered by our volunteers – and naturally, we included those those who were the first people to identify possible transits in the the 9 stars discussed in the paper.  We also include a link to the full list of all Planet Hunters; you can find it here.

So what does the paper actually say? As it’s the first (of hopefully many) papers, we give a brief overview of the Kepler data and the Planet Hunters interface. How did we display the data? What questions did…

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Artificial Sentience

Dell_AI_parody_8447Scientists are anxious these days about the advent of artificial intelligence. They all seem to infer that as soon as one such cyber entity awakens, it’ll deem humanity evolutionary and intellectually inferior and will plot to exterminate its creator.

JudgementdayIt’s baffling to me why science and the media paint these entities as inherently evil. Maybe it’s the unknown factor that easily frightens humans. Not that fear of the unknown has ever stopped humans from venturing into uncharted territory. Look at how science is warning civilisation about the ramifications of terra-forming our planet by dumping so much carbon into the atmosphere. No one seems to give a shit. Humanity would rather cling on to its polluting easy lifestyle and chance it with nature than heed the warnings. Sacrifice our way of life in order to curb climate change? Hell no. So it’s kind of retarded when science and media warn that AI technology will be somehow dangerous to humans. Dangerous or not people don’t care. As long as life gets easier they are prepared to chance it.

Continue reading “Artificial Sentience”

Morlock or Eloi – A choice in evolution.

The debate over climate change is one of those strange human things. In a logical or analytic sense, there really shouldn’t be such an argument. If you see danger up ahead, you would naturally take action to avoid it, right?morlock

Not so simple when dealing with humans.

Let’s take humanity out of equation. Once you do that it doesn’t matter which way the temperature goes on the Earth, or on any other planet. Planets don’t care either way. If you talk to the sun, it’s just pissed off it didn’t achieve black hole status and that it now has to wait another ten or so billion Earth years before it gets another crack at it. Continue reading “Morlock or Eloi – A choice in evolution.”

This Universe Wants To Kill You

DNA-atomic-energy-300x300Why are punters so afraid of nuclear technology? Is it the technology? Is it the nuclear? This is as puzzling to me as modern politics and economics.

It makes no sense. This fear.

We exist in a universe that is constantly creating and destroying. Life is spawned from out of all this violence, and threatened by it. Life has to combat disease, superstorms, earthquakes, meteor impacts, supernovas, gamma ray bursts and that is just the natural world. The human world is even deadlier. Continue reading “This Universe Wants To Kill You”