In 1980, the Flash Gordon movie by Dino De Laurentiis was released. It is a joyous, campy movie that is a visual delight. In a better universe, we would be anticipating the 14 movie in the franchise while some fans cling to a little known 70’s movie called “Star Wars”.
Back then, movie companies would make book adaptations of their movies. Before VCR’s and cable, this might be the only way you got to enjoy a movie once it left theaters. A lot of those books were written by established writers who polished and in some cases, even perfected the original screenplay. I still find the Alien novel by Alan Dean Foster to be superior to the movie.
The Flash Gordon novelization is a weird duck. Written by Arthur Byron Cover, (a pseudonym if I ever saw one), this book has the hallmarks of having been written with no supervision at all. Arthur spends the first 50 pages of a 220 page book writing background histories for Flash and Zarkov. Zarkov is wonderfully weird but Flash has been reinvented as a sort of Zen athlete who is beginning to suspect that sports is not the most fulfilling career one can pursue. Flash is a paladin of virtue, an amateur pilot, and very smart on his own. This is not the idiot jock from the movie.
Ming and his minions get explored as well. Ming’s primary trait is boredom; he has mastered the universe and has no one to challenge him. He engages in extraordinary cruelty in attempts to see if they amuse him. His libido is barely active, which is why he acts when pretty Earthling, Dale Arden excites him. I’m not saying Ming is sympathetic, but his evil has a motive as he desperately fights his cosmic indifference.
The other addition to the original screenplay is sex. There are no sex scenes, but man, we get a good long look into what everyone is into. Dale’s last boyfriend was a swinger, Zarkov’s 2nd wife and the sex they had is the strongest memory he has, Ming and his daughter are DEFINITELY doing it, and Barin loves Aura, but knows their marriage has to be open. It is not what I expected from a major movie studio novelization.
With the kink and the backstories, is a lot of comedy and social satire. The movie was funny, but the book takes it to the next level. Ming and Klytus have a discussion on earth morality that is scathing. Actually, anytime the humans discuss government, morality or sex with the people of Mongo is hilarious.
All in all, this was written by someone who loves the original Flash Gordon source material, and takes frequent opportunities to both praise it and mock it. The book is more adult than I was expecting but the humor is also more political. The book isn’t easy to find but it is worth the search.