Friday, August 16, 2019

Dispatch War Rocket Ajax to Time Warp Drive-In's FUTURECOOL

Posted By on Fri, Aug 16, 2019 at 8:52 AM

click to enlarge Welcome to Mongo, Earth man.
  • Welcome to Mongo, Earth man.

This month's Time Warp Drive-In is devoted to 80s space opera. The term comes, believe it or not, from Westerns. In particular, elaborately staged Westerns in the middle of the 20th century came to be known derisively as "horse operas," and the term kind of migrated over to movies like This Island Earth. The post Star Wars period of 1977-1984, where studios were greenlighting big-budget sci-fi left and right, no matter how poorly conceived, was the golden age of space opera, and there was none more operatically staged than Flash Gordon.

George Lucas had wanted to license Alex Raymond's comic strip character from the 1930s, Flash Gordon, for his followup to American Graffiti. But Italian mogul Dino De Laurentiis wouldn't sell, so Lucas ended up creating Star Wars instead. De Laurentiis, who didn't get to be a rich and famous movie producer by ignoring cultural trends or letting good taste get in his way, decided it was time to exploit the intellectual property he had been sitting on and make a Flash Gordon movie of his own.

After a false start with director Nicholas Roeg, and a hard pass from Fredrico Fellini, of all people, he hired Mike Hoges to direct. Playgirl model Sam Jones was cast as Flash, but by far the best casting decision in the whole project was Max Von Sydow as Ming the Merciless. In the comic and the classic Saturday matinee serials, the ruler of Mongo has an icky, yellow, peril vibe. Von Sydow, who got his start with Ingrid Bergman in Wild Strawberries and The Seventh Seal, transcends that to makes Ming both truly alien and kinda charming, in a sadistic space tyrant kind of way.

With Star Wars, Lucas set out to create a visually believable space opera. Flash Gordon attempts to emulate its source material — which is to say, comics of the 1930s and 40s. You might think the whole thing look irredeemably cheesy, and you'd be right, but you have to admit they achieved what they set out to do.

But admit it, we're all just in it for the Queen soundtrack, which is absolute perfection. Let's roll that theme song.

Speaking of classically trained actors going over the top, the second film of the evening is Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. Widely regarded as the best big-screen Trek, it cements Khan Noonien Singh as Captain James T. Kirk's arch enemy.

So many things passed from this classic into the larger culture. "Kobayashi Maru" became geek slang for a no-win situation, and the "Genesis Wave" sequence, a Lucasfilm masterpiece of early CGI, was recently referenced in Dark Phoenix. But Ricardo Montalbán steals the show from William Shatner, and the folks at Paramount who made this 1982 trailer, knew it.

The final film of the evening is Masters of the Universe, which stars Dolph Lundgrin as toy superhero He-Man in what is probably his finest role, and Academy Award nominee Frank Langella as Skeletor in what is definitely not his finest role. Is it so bad it's good? You be the judge.

Time Warp starts at dusk at the Malco Summer Drive-In on Saturday, August 17. 

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