Flash Gordon (1980) / Fantasy-Adventure
MPAA Rated: PG for violence and sensuality (probably PG-13 by today's standards)
Running Time: 111 min.
Cast: Sam Jones, Max von Sydow, Melody Anderson, Topol, Timothy Dalton, Ornella Muti, Brian Blessed, Peter Wyngarde
Director: Mike Hodges
Screenplay: Michael Allin, Lorenzo Semple Jr.
Review published October 27, 2004
Flash Gordon is another glitzy, bloated Dino de Laurentiis (Conan the Barbarian, King Kong) big-budget production that emphasizes eye-candy first, story elements last. It's based on the popular 1930s comic strip of the same name, which itself has been adapted into many films over the years, mostly in the form of cliffhanger serials. This latest adaptation doesn't exactly deliver in the same mold, obviously trying to be another franchise in the mold of Star Wars, with its young man caught up in a war of rebellion against an evil empire headed by a dark and sinister villain. What Star Wars had that Flash Gordon lacks are characters and goals we care about, and although Flash is trying to save Earth, the events here feel so far from reality and the tone so campy, we never really feel any sense of urgency or despair for even the briefest second. Ironically, as the story goes, George Lucas had originally wanted to make this project, but when finding that someone else had secured the rights, he decided to make Star Wars instead.
As related by the movie, Flash Gordon is a big star quarterback whom along with would-be fellow airplane traveler, Dale (Melody Anderson), they discover that the sky is starting to look like a lava lamp, with molten rocks hurtling down. Their plane crashes smack dab into the laboratory of Dr. Zarkov (Topol), who is content that his suspicions as to the Earth's strange events are true -- it is an other-worldly force responsible. They all head out in on Zarkov's spaceship to investigate up close, and soon discover the sinister world of Mongo, where the evil emperor Ming the Merciless (Max von Sydow, Three Days of the Condor) rules the universe, you guessed it, without mercy. Will Flash (ahh-AHHHHH) be the savior of the universe?
Flash Gordon is a fan favorite for those into bad cinema, and I'll admit that a film this schlocky with sets and costumes this garish is quite a bit of fun to watch, even if it's just to admire just how bad it really is. Debates may rage on as to whether the creators of this film intended this to be a campy bad film, or if they earnestly tried to make something good, but regardless of the conclusion, there isn't much entertainment to be found in anything other than the inanity of it all. It should be remembered that Flash Gordon was born just when disco was at its most obnoxious, with shiny costumes, extravagant aesthetic, and flashy color schemes were all the rage, which also describes this move to a tee.
The acting is fairly wooden, with the exception of a very good villain in Max von Sydow's Ming, and they cast a former Playgirl centerfold, Sam Jones, as Flash. It doesn't help that Jones' voice was reportedly mostly dubbed by another person's voice, although it's not entirely noticeable once you get used to it. Melody Anderson also has a wholesome appeal as Dale, as she has that "girl Friday" look that was popular at the time of Flash Gordon's inception. The supporting cast isn't very stellar, although James Bond fans will be pleased to see a little more charisma in Timothy Dalton than he was able to muster as agent 007 several years later. And is that Dr. Doom as one of Ming's cronies??
Flash Gordon fits into that mold of mindless popcorn movies, feeling very much like a precursor to similar ones made today by Stephen Sommers, like The Mummy or Van Helsing. It has a cult classic soundtrack by Queen, who sing the hit title track, and it does have an intangibly appealing quality in the rich red and gold look that makes it unique. Recommended for completist fans of the comic strip, Queen, and must-see viewing for all who love overcooked schlock. Really bad, but in the fun way.
©2004 Vince Leo