The Ticking Clock
“Flash I love you, but we only have fourteen hours to save the Earth!” One of the most classic lines quoted from a classic ingénue. If you don’t know it… shame on you. But I will give the source anyway. This is a line from the 1980s movie version of Flash Gordon, a cult classic of pop culture. And of course it had one of my favorite actors of all time, Max Von Sydow, in the (often misconstrued) role of Ming the Merciless. (We could spend all day arguing for and against the choice of character for the personhood of Ming, but it is irrelevant to the thoughts today. And they did make a change with the 90s television series by changing him into an evil white man but I digress…). The movie also starred Sam Jones, Melody Anderson, and was directed by Mike Hodges. (not to mention a relatively unheard of actor at the time Timothy Dalton). And before I forget, Topol reprised his role of persecuted Jew as Doctor Zarkov (he played Tevia in Fiddler on the Roof).
Anyway, to the thoughts today…
I have often wondered about this bit of plot device, the idea of something or somewhere, or someone being destroyed and gone if the hero doesn’t do a certain combo of actions before time runs out. Yes, I get it, the use adds drama and tension blah blah blah…
But there is a reality to the issue to consider as well. The case in point from the 1980s movie is the idea that Ming has already begun sending death and destruction down on the Earth. The countdown itself is how long we have before the moon crashes down and makes life unbearable. BUT THERE IS DAMAGE ALREADY OCCURING. I mean seriously, are we so caught up in the hero’s moment that this doesn’t enter our minds? When they save the world at that last possible moment, what exactly are they saving? What is there to return to?
Oh sure, there are moments in time that are contingent of stopping the nasty of choice where it is an either or question. Bombs come to mind in this instance. When the countdown stops at that last possible second, sure the death of thousands and millions is averted. When the Death Star is blown up just before it can fire its planet destroying pulse, certain death is averted.
But what about the mutants on Mars before Quaid can release the waters of Mars and give the planet an atmosphere. Asphyxiation can have a lasting effect on the body and mind, even when it doesn’t kill us.
Of course, it might be the evil side of my brain that pulls out these thoughts. We want to know that the hero has saved the day. We want to know that the good guys always win and things go smooth sailing from that moment on. How else are we to get our happily ever after otherwise?
And then we have the current trend of dark reality in our fiction (maybe not all fiction but still a trend). We have found ourselves in a dark reflection of the world we feel we live in. With little hope and little belief that a difference can be made against impossible odds. Too often we come to find the ones who have sacrificed their everything for the cause of the story, in turn gain no reward for their effort. They sacrificed everything and did their good deed but they are in turn worse off for the sacrifice. (I am picturing the ending of The Hunger Games books and how Katniss ended up alone, even though Peeta still shared her corner of the world). I think I might have gone off on a strange tangent again…
Where were we?
Countdowns… Saving the world… This is one outside the realm of the mainstream I think. (I like to consider it as a true geek showing that I remember it and played it). The original Fallout had a core storyline. This isn’t uncommon in stories or games that play on story telling. There are always subplots but the main plot is what keeps you playing and on task.
The main plot of the original Fallout was the quest of the Vault Dweller. The character needed to find a replacement part for the Vault (Vault 13 if I remember correctly) so that his people could survive in their home away from the nuclear wastelands. And the plot device was in place. You had a limited amount of game days to complete the main storyline of the game.
Now the fun part of the game was after you completed the main storyline, you were still able to explore more of the game world. But that doesn’t take away from the idea that the people still in the vault must have been suffering as time ticked away. They were fundamentally changed by the process of looking at the countdown to the time of their death. Psychologically, how could they not be? But that aspect wasn’t part of the game, we only saw the world through the hero’s eyes.
Which circles us back to Flash Gordon. In the end, he kills Ming (supposedly) and stops the doomsday clock of the moon crashing into the Earth. But But But, the moon had been inching closer all that time. Its movements would have had a lasting effect on the world as we know it. And the heroes are given a ceremony for their actions instead of us seeing the deaths and destruction of the world Flash had called home.
Of course we can thank the ending of the original Star Wars for the ceremony too. Instead of the thousands dead on the original Death Star, we are witness to the hero’s welcome of those who stopped it before it could destroy their way of life. Go figure…
So after all that, I feel like I have set us up with more to consider than I might have given us any answers. Must be the way things work out at times. But that is neither here nor there. The 1980s version of Flash Gordon is one of my favorite space operas. It made no pretense that it was anything more than cheesy fun and that was what made it so endearing.
It also had one of the best soundtracks of any movie at the time. Music composed by Freddy Mercury and Queen set the tone of the movie itself. I could be wrong but I do believe this had been the first movie that Queen specifically wrote the musical score. And with that in mind, that is how I will leave you…
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