As this current series of posts would indicate, I am a fan of the character Flash Gordon, and this affection stems from the Dino De Laurentiis film from 1980. However, as much as I love the film, I am intrigued by what it may have been if other hands had been guiding the production. Following is an excerpt from the book S-F 2 by Richard Meyers, published by Citadel Press – 1984.
Plausibility was also in short supply during Flash Gordon. Having done over King Kong, producer Dino De Laurentiis turned his sights on the character who had inspired George Lucas in the first place. While the young filmmaker hadn’t the money to secure the rights to the comic-book hero created in 1934 by Alex Raymond, the Italian entrepreneur did.
Although his presentations sometimes leave a lot to be desired, the producer’s original vision can rarely be faulted. At first, he gave the project to screenwriter Michael Allin and director Nicholas Roeg, whose Walkabout, Don’t Look Now, and The Man Who Fell to Earth were all stunning visual achievements. With them in control, the new version of the old hero was bound to be as challenging as it was dazzling.
In retrospect, it wasn’t surprising that pre-production stalled with creative differences between director and producer. Soon Roeg and Allin were out and a more pedestrian concept was offered. Michael Hodges was the new director with King Kong scripter Lorenzo Semple Jr., doing the writing honors. What De Laurentiis seemed to be looking for was not an update, but a big budget remake of the 1930s serials starring Buster Crabbe. This way, the crew didn’t have to strive for realistic effects – everything could be high-class camp.
The mind truly boggles at what Nick Roeg would have come up with. I must admit it’s been quite a while since I have watched his films (I went through a phase in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s – but I think a lot of that was to do with a youthful infatuation with Theresa Russell), but when I think back, the thing that I recall is the dream-like quality of Roeg’s films. Even the misfires like Eureka and Track 29 had this ethereal quality that made them downright watchable – but admittedly not for everyone.
The other thing that Meyers alerted me to, was that Dayle Hadden was originally cast as Dayle Arden, but later replaced because it was deemed that she was too similar in looks to Ornella Muti who played Princess Aura. Hadden was a top model in the 1970s, but her film career didn’t really take off – most of her work appears to have been done in Europe. For me (and this is really sad), I know her best for her small role as Pearl Prophet in Albert Pyun’s Cyborg, starring Jean Claude Van Damme (America readers may know the film as Master’s of the Universe 2: Cyborg). In Cyborg, she was ‘the Cyborg’, and the Muscles from Brussels was some kind of futuristic sheriff called a ‘Slinger’. As for Hadden as Dale Arden – I can’t really see it, particularly in the almost cartoon-style romp the film ended up being. Can you picture any other actress other than Melody Anderson mouthing the words ‘Go Flash, Go!’ I think not.
I already proclaim that Flash Gordon is one of the greatest films ever made. But I appear to be in a small minority who appreciate the film for what it is. But under the guidance of Nicholas Roeg what would have Flash Gordon been? Maybe something more akin to Jean-Luc Goddard’s Alphaville. Alphaville mined a very fertile pop culture character in Lemmy Caution – and a series of films. Goddard twisted that about into something new. What would have Roeg done? Would it have been one of the greatest films of all time?