1980’s Flash Gordon Has Been Saving The Universe For 40 Years!

Friends, I think we can all agree that as we near the end of 2020 that it has been less than enjoyable – in particular with the loss of many of our favorite entertainers – just a few days ago Hugh Keays-Byrne (Mad Max, The Blood of Heroes, Mad Max: Fury Road) joining that unfortunately growing list. However this year has also seen the anniversaries of a slew of classic and cult classic films – such as the 40th anniversary for the likes of Motel Hell, Alligator, Airplane!, and The Blues Brothers to name a few. Today though marks 40 years of the 1980 film adaptation of Alex Raymond’s Flash Gordon – starring Sam J. Jones, Max von Sydow, Timothy Dalton, Topol, Melody Anderson, Mariangela Melato, Peter Wyngarde, Ornella Muti, and of course the legendary Brian Blessed. My Father and I caught this film at the local movie theater 40 years ago and it became one of our all-time favorite films – thanks in no small part to that iconic soundtrack courtesy of Queen!

Video and Article Image Provided by StudiocanalUK.

I have shared numerous times in the past that listening to music in my household just wasn’t a thing – the soundtrack for Flash Gordon was an exception – picking it up at the local Walmart the day after we caught the film. In particular I would listen to both “Vultan’s Theme (Attack of the Hawkmen)” and the “Battle Theme” over and over again when my Father was out working in the yard. Flash Gordon also made me a card-carrying member of the Brian Blessed fan club at the age of eight!

“Come Vic, we will find glory!!”

At the time that we caught Flash Gordon at that fabled Razorback theater of my youth – I actually wasn’t aware of the long history of the popular comic strip character. My Father was adamant about seeing the film thanks to his love of the reissue of the serials in the ’40s – starring the fantastic Buster Crabbe – who secured the Olympic gold medal in ’32 for the 400-meter freestyle swimming event. A feat that helped him to become an actor – eventually leading him to portray not just the character of Flash Gordon but Tarzan and Buck Rogers too!

While most of the cast were signed to a multi-picture deal – Flash Gordon didn’t perform well enough at the box office to warrant sequels. Just as with a few of my other favorite films like The Thing, The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension, Electric Dreams, and Krull – it took time for the movie to find it’s audience. Thanks to cable television, VHS, Laserdisc, DVD, and Blu-ray releases over the years – Flash Gordon has become a very popular cult film.

Go Flash Go!

So here is to 40 years of 1980’s Flash Gordon… we gratefully thank you for saving and entertaining every one of us!

Video Provided by Queen Official.

Did You Watch The 1987 TV Pilot For The Spirit?

Friends, nine years after Superman made audiences believe a man could fly and two years before Michael Keaton would portray the Dark Knight in the box office juggernaut that was Batman – Sam J. Jones (Flash Gordon) donned the domino mask and brightly colored business suit attire of Will Eisner’s The Spirit in a TV pilot film. Featuring Nana Visitor (Star Trek: Deep Space Nine), Bumper Robinson (Transformers: Animated), Garry Walberg (Quincy M.E.), and Philip Baker Hall (Magnolia) to name a few – it was a fun if most assuredly cheesy attempt at bringing the iconic comic book character to the small screen in a regular series.

Video Provided by AndyStego.

My Grandfather and I caught The Spirit when it was originally broadcast on the evening of July 31st of 1987 on ABC. There was no way I was going to miss a comic book character TV movie – although I will have to admit I had only a passing knowledge of the comic book icon at the time. I could not know that eleven years later I would be able to ask Will Eisner in person what he felt about the television adaptation of his character – his response was genuine – that he wasn’t too thrilled with it. Although I should add that when I shared my memory of watching it with my Grandfather – he said that he was extremely happy to hear that the pilot generated such a positive memory.

I’ll leave the importance of Will Eisner to the comic book industry to those who are better equipped to speak on the matter. I can tell you that the TV movie for The Spirit was completed in 1986 – reading online it was meant to be broadcast in September of ’86 – but was shelved when there was a change in the staff line up after ABC was sold to Capital Cities Communications in ’85. The Spirit was aired thanks to comic book fans – as you can read in greater detail in this 2017 article by Mike Cecchini for Den of Geek – when a petition was started and signed by attendees of the San Diego Comic-Con in ’86!

Video and Article Image Provided by warnerarchive.

Directed by Michael Schultz (Car Wash, The Last Dragon) in 16 days, the teleplay was courtesy of Steven E. de Souza – probably best known for penning the scripts for the likes of Commando, The Running Man, and the first two films in the Die Hard series. So the TV movie definitely had more than a few scenes of the Spirit trading blows with the various thugs and henchman that crossed his path… as well as becoming barechested quite a bit in the one hour and fourteen minute running time.

At the moment you can watch The Spirit on the DC Universe app – although as I understand it you will be able to check it out on HBO Max next year after January 21st. It really is a fun movie – it might not completely stick the landing – but after watching the film you can’t help but wonder where the series would have gone if it had been picked up. While I am not attempting to be negative I will admit that I feel the 1987 TV Pilot for The Spirit is a far better version of the character than the big budget 2008 picture starring Gabriel Macht, Scarlett Johansson, Samuel L. Jackson, Eva Mendes, and Sarah Paulson.

Video Provided by Lionsgate Movies.

Life After “Life After Flash”

Life After Flash - Sam J Jones

There’s nothing quite like a good pop culture documentary, and it’s surprising that 1980’s cult classic Flash Gordon has never gotten one – until now.

But now we have one, and it’s a really good one…and a very personal one at that. As the title implies, while Life After Flash is indeed about Flash Gordon, the movie shares the spotlight with its star, Sam J. Jones, an actor whose career and personal life have known a few peaks and more than their share of valleys.

Jones’ troubled upbringing is shown as the very thing that acting allowed him to escape, and Flash Gordon is highlighted as what should have been a career-launcher if not for a variety of self-inflicted wounds along the way. We also follow Jones through a travelogue of the years he spent as a bodyguard. (He’s a good deal more buff in real life than he was as Flash, so it’s really not hard to imagine him being an imposing figure.) Seth MacFarlane personally asking Jones to reprise the role of Flash in Ted and Ted 2 is presented as Jones’ vindication here, though I’d argue that the vindication that actually matters is the sheer number of people lining up for autographs or photos at the conventions covered by the documentary cameras.

Sam J. Jones working the convention circuit like the pro he is. Courtesy Amp Productions

Life After Flash isn’t just about Jones’ life after Flash, however. Melody Anderson and, in interviews conducted before they passed away recently, Max Von Sydow and Peter Wyngarde each describe the late Dino de Laurentiis’ very unusual (and, perhaps, unusually intuitive) process of casting Flash Gordon. Also on hand are such stars as Topol, BRIAN BLESSED, whose delivery surely merits all caps if anything does, and Richard O’Brien. Timothy Dalton is conspicuous by his absence, but his co-stars speak admiringly of how seriously he took the part of Prince Barin.

BRIAN BLESSED telling us Gordon is STILL ALIVE! Courtesy Amp Productions

If that array of stars isn’t impressive enough, there are also many appearances by stars of other sci-fi and fantasy franchises, some of whom have worked with Jones and others who know him only from the convention circuit – and they raise an important question that’s interesting to hear from so many actors: is typecasting really a thing anymore? Because if it is, Jones has turned it to his advantage, committing himself to not letting down a legion of fans who show up to see him. And if you can judge a man by the quality of his admirers, Jones has a legion of high-profile fans who speak both in his defense and in defense of Flash Gordon here, including Chris Gore, Robert Rodriguez, Jason Mewes, Mark Millar, Ray Park, Sean Gunn, Ian Beattie, Alex Ross, Richard Donner, and no less than the late, great Stan Lee.

The late, great Peter Wyngarde, blowing our minds by revealing that there was going to be a sequel, and Klytus was going to be all over it. Courtesy Amp Productions

Along the way, there’s a delightful detour into the making of the film’s legendary music, with both Howard Shore (who composed the orchestral score) and Queen’s Brian May talking about their respective duties in creating the sound of Flash Gordon – a sound that has, perhaps more than anything that was visible on screen, defined and perpetuated Flash Gordon‘s place in movie history (though May recalls that de Laurentiis wasn’t sold on Queen’s contributions until opening night). May even talks about the extremely rushed process of filming the official music video, while Shore remembers working himself to the point of exhaustion and finally walking away from big-ticket Hollywood productions. Film music is such an overlooked and yet vital part of any production, it’s nice for the movie’s two composers to get their due.

The music men: Howard Shore (left) and Brian May (right). Courtesy Amp Productions

Jones’ co-stars also share the spotlight – we get to see the artwork Melody Anderson has been doing, and we follow Topol to Israel, where he played a part in trying to make hospital stays a bit more colorful and less stressful for children. We also get a glimpse into some world-class prop collections owned by fans who had to have a piece of Flash Gordon for themselves.

And in the end, that’s what Life After Flash is about – a movie whose fans have kept it alive, and a movie whose star is glad they did. It’s highly recommended if you, too, are one of those fans.

These 1980 Television Ads For Flash Gordon Are Amazing!

Flash Gordon - 1980 Television Ads

Friends, a couple of days ago I had the opportunity to chat with Earl Green into the early hours of the morning – talking about video games and television shows that we wished were readily available. At one point the subject turned to Peter Wyngarde’s starring role in the series Department S which originally was aired back in ’69 – in addition to his follow up show entitled Jason King that debuted in ’71. While I do know of those series, I am afraid I’ve not had the pleasure of seeing them for myself – I know Wyngarde best for his role as the scheming General Klytus in the 1980 film adaptation of Flash Gordon. Which is when Earl asked if I had seen Life After Flash, the unflinching 2017 documentary that catches up with Sam J. Jones – to see where his career and life has led him after appearing in one of the greatest cult classic films of all time.

Video Provided by Cleopatra Entertainment.

If you count yourself a fan of 1980’s Flash Gordon, I cannot stress how much you should check out the documentary – I believe it is on both Tubi and Amazon Prime streaming services at the moment. Jones along with his Family and Friends do not hold anything back – throw in interviews with Peter Wyngarde, Brian May, Melody Anderson, Richard O’Brien, Martha De Laurentiss, and of course Brian Blessed to name a few and you have pure magic.

There is a moment in Life After Flash where they discuss the rather novel approach to the television advertisements – treating them a little like the 1936 serials starring Buster Crabbe. Giving viewers highlights from the movie with heavy narration and ending it all in a sort of cliffhanger – which I think is amazing and I cannot recall the format ever being used again.

Video Provided by robatsea2009.

I have only been able to find two of the Television ads online – surely they must have had a third commercial featuring Brian Blessed as Prince Vultan, right? At the very least with the second offering we get Timothy Dalton’s fantastic Prince Barin and his forest moon of Arboria – including that disgusting creature that traps Flash as he attempts to escape.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8Teq8nMBVME
Video and Article Image Provided by Sean Mc.

In closing this article, since we began by talking about the late and great Peter Wyngarde – enjoy this intro to Department S, which includes that memorable theme by Edwin Astley.

Video Provided by 11db11.

Walmart’s Famous Visitors Commercial For The Super Bowl Is Excellent!

Famous Visitors Commercial - Bill and Ted - Walmart - 2020

Friends, one of the benefits at working at the Vault is basically being employed in a museum for pop culture – another of the highlights is getting to work with friends like Rockford Jay. Just a few minutes ago he burst into the office and asked to use my laptop – he pulled up this Famous Visitors commercial for Walmart, an extended cut that will be shown during this year’s Super Bowl. Right off the bat I found a grin spreading across the face at seeing the likes of not just some familiar space ships from film and television but a few famous visitors too.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qZqD-gSbUGY
Video and Article Images Provided by Walmart’s YouTube Channel.

Of course it isn’t like this is the first time that Walmart has dipped their toe into the vast pool of nostalgia that is pop culture – you might remember just last year the excellent commercial featuring some iconic film vehicles. I personally feel though with this Famous Visitors commercial that they chose some rather surprising franchises to represent in the ad. With a new Bill & Ted film on the way I can see them including a cameo by Alex Winter and thanks to the popularity of the LEGO films – you can see them adding Benny and Wyldstyle. However choosing a Spinner from 1982’s Blade Runner or the delightful Martians of 1996’s Mars Attacks! drew a small gasp from me.

Ack-Ack-Ack.

Of my favorite moment from Walmart’s Famous Visitors commercial – it has to be the inclusion of Sam J. Jones, getting to once again reprise his character of Flash Gordon from that 1980 cult classic. And it appears that not only is the Hawkman rocket cycle still in operation but Flash has managed to bring along a few friends from their home in Sky City. Too bad Walmart wasn’t able to get the legendary… and hopefully immortal… Brian Blessed to have some fun as Prince Vultan, right?

DIIIIIIVE!