I remember seeing Flash Gordon all the time on HBO when I was a kid, because they must’ve paid an ungodly sum for the rights and were determined to get it’s moneys worth, even if that meant cramming what I knew even then was a terrible movie down subscribers throats.
Still, despite being ever-present in my youth, I easily haven’t seen it in 25 years or more, and it might’ve been another 25 before the urge struck me to see it again if the movie Ted hadn’t made me long to rediscover it. Well, maybe not long, but curious. After all, even though I didn’t like it as a kid I’m also aware that age and maturity and shifting perspective changes peoples attitudes of and there was always the possibility that coming to it relatively fresh after all these years, with no real memory of it beyond it being terrible, might find it improved. Like a fine wine.
And in a sense, the movie did improve, but not in the way you’d expect.
For some movies, improvement comes from a critical reassessment, that maybe some films were just too daring or risqué or ahead of their time to really be appreciated. Citizen Kane might be a lousy example, but it’s a fairly obvious one. So is Touch of Evil. In other words, these are films that, aided by the passage of time and changing of tastes and community standards, see their esteem rising every year.
But other movies improve by virtue of their faults, that eventually they morph from being bad to so-bad-it’s-good and they become lauded for their campiness. In other words, they get better because instead of being derided as failures of straight ahead sci-fi, or drama, or whatever , they are appreciated for their many failures. And taken as comedy. See, Manos, the Hands of Fate. Or The Room. Or Rocky Horror. Or lots of other films.
Anyway, 33 years later, Flash Gordon has clearly joined the pantheon of films that are so bad their good and deservedly so. After all, it was directed by Mike Hodges, a guy who, at that point, was not known for doing big-budget-sci-fi productions, and it shows. Sure, he had Get Carter behind him, and Croupier in front of him, but neither of those are hardly in the same league as Flash Gordon. And it was produced by Dino Dilaurentiis, a guy who used to have good taste and produce good films – especially by Felini – but had long since given that up. And then it was top-lined by Sam J. Jones, a guy who couldn’t act his way out of a paper bag, and Max Von Sydow, a fabulous actor who clearly took to the spirit of the production and chewed every bit of scenery he could. Finally, the special effects. What can you say about them except they are ‘special’ in only the most liberal reading of the word.
Under normal circumstances Flash Gordon would have simply failed and faded away, but somehow, through the right combination of ineptitude and dumb luck, it became so ludicrous and terrible it actually entertains.