Flesh Gordon

Skip the movie and listen to the commentary
Michael Benveniste, Howard Ziehm
Jason Williams, Cindy Hopkins, Joseph Hudgins, William Dennis Hunt
The Setup: 
A sexed-up homage to the classic sci-fi serials.

Hey, I like good, sleazy fun, so I thought I couldn’t go wrong with renting Flesh Gordon, which I have heard about for years without really knowing much about [except that it was obviously very ribald]. The movie itself is mildly amusing, but what’s really wonderful abut this disc is the commentary track, which is TEN TIMES more interesting than the movie itself. I’m going to talk about the movie itself first, but don’t leave without scrolling down to read about the commentary track, because you may want to listen to it even if you’re not interested in the movie.

The Movie
We open with a LONG title about how this is a tribute to the adventure serials of the 20s and 30s… we find out on the commentary that this was added to avoid a lawsuit, because they were unaware that their writer had taken an episode from Flash Gordon and reproduced it nearly exactly. Anyway, so it seems that the good citizens of Earth are suddenly bombarded by the sex ray, which makes them crazed to have sex with the first person they see [and I wonder: what would David Cronenberg make of this?]. This is a big problem, so Flesh Gordon, who soon meets Dale Ardor, are going to travel to the planet Porno to find out what’s going on. They meet Flesh’s pal Flexi Jerkoff [one of those jokes that, the more you think about it, the more absurd and funny it gets], who has a spaceship that oddly recalls the shape of a penis, and they take off. By now you will have noticed the radical differences in quality and apparent budget from scene to scene. For example, later in the film we have some very nice, nearly-academy award nominated stop-motion animation, and yet when Flesh and co. are on the plane at the beginning, it’s quite clear that the walls are made of stapled-on packing material.

So Flesh and pals travel through the moronosphere to the planet Porno, where they crash land. Meanwhile, the evil Emperor Wang has noticed their presence, and sent out guards, who obsequiously refer to him as “Your Protuberance,” “Your Sickness,” and “Degenerate One.” The guards go after our trio who are having their own problems with the Penisauruses, which are giant stop-motion animated uncut penises with horns and one vertically-blinking eye. This affords viewers the sight of the comely Dale being rubbed all over by a dickhead the size of a hippo. They escape, and are soon awarded the power pasties by someone or other [I didn’t follow], which will give them the decisive edge.

Meanwhile, there is a QUITE nice shot of a giant swan spaceship soaring out of a cloudbank over a moon—it’s actually good—and then next to these “constellations” made out of white chalk drawings of various nude people. Meanwhile, Emperor Wang is entertained by a cheer in his honor: “Without him the planet Porno would be ever so forlorno.”

Soon Flesh has to do battle with this bug-beast thing, which is some very good stop-motion animation, very well integrated with the live action. Soon our heroes meet Prince Precious, who dresses like Robin Hood and has a hunkering for Flesh. When Flesh asks Precious how he can repay him for saving them, Precious gives Flesh a knowing look—and a few seconds later we see Precious blowing Flesh. You know, if only most straight guys were so cool.

Anyway, so it goes on, even going so far as to include an intermission and cliffhanger as tribute to the original series. Later our heroes are menaced by giant robots with spinning drills where their dicks would normally be, and finally Dale [whose bush is the size of Nebraska, by the way] is taken by this giant monster to the top of a tower, in an unlikely tribute to King Kong. Things go on and soon they end.

This movie is clearly part of the mix that resulted in the Austin Powers movies, and it has a similar effect as so many of the jokes are so juvenile and moronic that eventually they become kind of funny. I was especially laughing at the guards saying things like “Right away, degenerate one” to Emperor Wang. The problem is that NO ONE in the movie is attractive, so although there’s lots of randiness and softcore excitement going on, there was no one I was really interested in.

It was fine, I was glad I saw it, but you could really watch 20 minutes of it and get the whole idea, and not miss much by skipping the rest.

The Commentary
I popped in the commentary while I was assembling some furniture, really just wanting to know WHAT the director could possibly have to say about this piece of work. What I got was a totally fascinating tale of low-budget grindhouse filmmaking in all its glory. The producers made porn films, and that was all. But at this time, some porn films were getting shown in legitimate theaters, so they decided to make a porn film that had more to it than sex, and hired various people and got started. One of the interesting aspects of the whole story is that the producers have no idea what the screenwriter or special effects people are doing while they all work separately. These were people with absolutely no experience in making a film, suddenly trying to do it. They face associates baldly trying to cheat them, police harassment, a few rounds through the judicial system… it’s an incredible story. For a while the director is followed by the police until they locate the set, then the police confiscate the film, and then the director has to prove in court that the film is NOT pornographic, which helped determine why this movie came out as a softcore comedy “tribute” to the old serials, instead of a real porn film as was originally intended.

Remember how I said that some of the special effects are very good? Well, turns out that a then-unknown Dennis Muren, who would later become the lead man at ILM and win academy awards for Star Wars, E.T., Terminator 2, Jurassic Park, you name it, worked on this film [and had such a bad experience he didn’t want his name on it]. Since there were only two other films that year that HAD special effects, this one was almost nominated for an Oscar—but the Academy decided not to have the category that year instead of even considering this film.

Two other tidbits: the ho-hum voice of the giant monster at the end is that of Craig T. Nelson, who was out of work at the time, and the band that played at the film’s premiere was a then-unknown Oingo Boingo.

The film itself I worth seeing, at least for a quick fast-forward, but if you’re interested in the behind-the-scenes of low-budget and porn filmmaking, but the commentary here is one of the most interesting stories of low-budget filmmaking you’ll ever hear.

Should you watch it: 

Can't hurt. But if you're interested in behind-the-scenes tales of low-budget filmmaking, listen to the commentary.