Tom Jolliffe on Taika Waititi’s upcoming live action Flash Gordon movie…
Sam J. Jones and Timothy Dalton are chained up in a prison and it seems like doom is certain. Dalton (as Prince Barin) turns to Earthling football hero, Flash and asks, “tell me again about this Houdini…” It’s one of many irreverent gags throughout Mike Hodges’ colourful and camp, Queen soundtrack loaded, B-movie classic, Flash Gordon. The origins go back to Alex Raymond’s comic book series which began in 1934. A heady dose of silly sci-fi. A super-villain in Ming the Merciless, who’d tsk at the incompetence of Thanos and probably evaporate him with a quite ring blast, has his sights set on universal domination. The monkey in the wrench/fly in the soup is Flash Gordon (originally a Polo player but reinvented as football star in Hodges’ version). Initially created to rival Buck Rogers, Gordon’s popularity boomed. Without Flash Gordon, there’d probably be no Star Wars.
Hodges’ film was filled with winking nods, farce, silliness and garish costumes and set dressing. It’s a film that perfectly balances a tightrope of brilliant/badness. Initially it was dismissed as something of an embarrassment, an odd throwback to 50’s B-movie ridiculousness that didn’t seem to have the sincerity or awe of Star Wars. At the same time, Sam J. Jones playing the titular lead was redubbed, adding to a feeling that it evoked cheap Italian fantasy of yesteryear. Despite what would have been a fairly lavish budget, the film looks (perhaps intentionally) cheap in places. In years gone by though, the combination of Queen’s rock opera soundtrack, the visuals and enjoyably over the top performances have made the film a cult classic. It’s adored for its cheesy foibles and unique mix of sci-fi influences.
If there’s one director that feels intrinsically similar to this adaptation, it’s probably Taika Waititi. Thor: Ragnarok had a certain, though more definitively purposeful, irreverence which brought Hodges’ film to mind. Waititi’s particular blend of humour certainly has parallels with the most iconic on screen adaptation of Gordon so far. It thus seems fitting, almost perfectly fitting, like a metaphorical glass slipper, that it is to be Waititi to reboot Flash Gordon in the 21st century. This is a match made in heaven. In an age of nostalgic retreads, comic book films consuming all in the multiplexes, it’s probably high time that Flash touched down on the big screen again.
If there is a certainty with Flash, it’s that the pulpy space opera feel, underpinned with comedy, must retain a similar sense of whimsy. The character, settings and world created through decades of comics, wouldn’t suit a Nolan/Batman reinvention for example. Of course, there has to be a certain divide from Hodges’ film. It can have a cap tipped toward it in acknowledgement and some service to fans, but it also needs to have its own identity. Unquestionably, Waititi will find the perfect balance and perhaps even inject more of a dramatic urgency in places that the original didn’t have. Waititi can dance merrily between farcical comedy, jovial silliness, and then smack you in the face with a bit of reality. A piece of heart crushing drama (see Jojo Rabbit).
Whilst stepping away from the first feature film is needed, it would be great to see some of the original cast pop up. Jones’ cameo in Ted proved a pleasing addition, and seeing him make an appearance would be great. I’d love to see Ornella Muti and Melody Anderson pop up too, whilst T Dalt is always a pleasing addition. Topol has been off radar for years but would be great to see (though unlikely at 85). If we don’t have Brian Blessed bellowing, “Gordon’s Allliiiiivvve!” then something has also gone amiss, but this would be the extent of misty eyed look backs as ultimately, the film will have it’s own path and style. Additionally, I can’t comprehend the idea that Waititi wouldn’t work in Queen’s theme song somewhere within his version. Ming ‘The Merciless’ would certainly need a less cringey 21st century update too. Additionally, the decision to switch from animation to live-action is welcome.
Whilst Waititi is on writing duties, there’s no confirmation yet on him directing, but short of handing the project off to a perfect protégé, this would be best served with him in the director’s chair. Of course Waititi has the small matter of a Star Wars film to do, whilst finishing off his latest Thor adventure Thor: Love and Thunder. He’s a busy man. When we might expect Gordon to hit theatres is a mystery, but you would hope within the next couple of years. Undoubtedly there’s a perfect connection between Gordon and Waititi. He’s made for this material, just as he’s a perfect foil for Star Wars lore and potential Roald Dahl and Time Bandits adaptations too.
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Tom Jolliffe is an award winning screenwriter and passionate cinephile. He has a number of films out on DVD/VOD around the world and several releases due out in 2021/2022, including, Renegades (Lee Majors, Danny Trejo, Michael Pare, Tiny Lister, Nick Moran, Patsy Kensit, Ian Ogilvy and Billy Murray), Crackdown, When Darkness Falls and War of The Worlds: The Attack (Vincent Regan). Find more info at the best personal site you’ll ever see…https://www.instagram.com/jolliffeproductions/