It came to be a surprise on my part that this film hadn’t been reviewed on the site before now. Well, it’s time to rectify this little error.
Title: Flash Gordon
Cast, Crew and Other Notes
Directed by Mike Hodges
Written by Lorenzo Semple Jr.
Adapted from the comic strip by Alex Raymond
Sam J. Jones as Flash Gordon
Melody Anderson as Dale Arden
Topol as Dr. Hans Zarkov
Max Von Sydow as Ming the Merciless
Ornella Muti as Princess Aura
Peter Wyngarde as Klytus
Meriangela Melato as Kala
Brian Blessed as Prince Voltan
Timothy Dalton as Prince Barin
Richard O’Brian as Fico
Music by Queen
After alien conqueror Ming the Merciless unleashes bizarre weather conditions, meteor storms, and so forth onto the Earth, slightly mad scientist Dr. Hans Zarkov ropes stranded reporter Dale Arden and football star Flash Gordon into his rocketship in an attempt to stop this horrible attack.
First thing first – the music. It’s Queen, and it’s a classic, with the theme song having had tribute versions performed by everyone from various Death Metal bands to Tenacious D.
Second, while the film is campier than the original serial, there are some bits which it just does better than the original serials. Ming is more of a menace then he is in the serial (whereas in the serial Buster Crabbe manhandles Ming within a few minutes of meeting him). It feels like as much as the Star Wars series took inspiration from Flash Gordon and other Saturday matinee serials (the Emperor owes a lot to Ming the Merciless, and what is the Death Star if not a giant space-borne Death Ray), this take on Flash Gordon takes cues from Star Wars.
Also, while the acting can get rather hammy, there are times when being a Large Ham can make a film better, particularly with the right actors. It almost goes without saying that Brian Blessed, Max von Sydow, and Timothy Dalton are the right actors for this much ham.
There are times where the only thing that makes me think I’m watching a story from Metal Hurlant, poorly translated and published in Heavy Metal, and then toned down and adapted into a film – in particular Princess Aura attempting to visit her attentions onto Flash, Princess Aura getting whipped by Kala, not to mention all the whipping in the fight between Flash and Barin the darkly comic banners at Ming’s wedding, the fact that Ming’s guards make Imperial Stormtroopers look like MENSA candidates, etc.
One last little thing – they like their paint tank effects a bit too much. As an example, in a scene between Flash and Ming, which is just dialog, and has the two characters alone, Ming punctuates a line of dialog by kicking a goblet over the edge of a hole in the room which leads to a swirling void, before continuing – a comma or a hyphen, not a period (to continue the analogy). Where the hole goes was already established pretty well in an earlier fight between Flash and Barin, which took place in the same room. So, the audience already knows where that hole goes. However, instead of letting the dialog continue to flow, they interrupt the dialog by showing the goblet hurtling into the void, which we already knew it was doing, before going back to Ming finishing his line. There are similar editing beats in the film which also seem odd to me.
Originality: Despite the satirical and more sexual elements of the film, it’s a decent adaptation and update to the 80s of the original story – Flash is a football player instead of a polo player, the flight Flash is on is a chartered plane instead of a more conventional flight. 4 out of 6.
Effects: While the effects slip into psychedelia into several occasions, the effects are still decent, and provide nods to the original serial, while living up to the high standards set by Star Wars – particularly with the space-ships in the film. 5 out of 6.
Story: The story still holds up pretty well, and aside from a few hiccups due to editing flows smoothly. 4 out of 6.
Acting: This is a mixed bag. While we get some excellent, though hammy performances by Topol, Von Sydow, Dalton, and Blessed, we get some truly awful performances as well. Due to an argument between Sam Jones and the director, Jones dialog was overdubbed by an uncredited actor, and the overall performance was enough to get a Jones a Golden Raspberry award. Muti’s performance as Aura, from a dialog-delivery standpoint leaves much to be desired, and I might almost say that the actress was cast solely for her ability to look really sexy. For that matter, most of the dialog seems to fit the “You can write it but you can’t say it” school of dialog, with lines like “Flash, I love you but we only have 14 hours to save the Earth” looking okay on paper, but sounding terrible in context. 3 out of 6.
Production: The effects look excellent, the art deco design of everything on Mongo looks fantastic, especially Ming’s rocket-ships, and the music… oh, the music… there’s a reason why the theme song is considered Crowning Music of Awesome. 6 out of 6.
Emotional Response: Well, I really couldn’t stop giggling while watching the film, and I should mention that no mind-altering substances were consumed in the course of viewing the film. 5 out of 6.
Overall: This film is not flawless by any means. However, it was immensely enjoyable to watch unironically (since the film’s satirical elements brought their own irony). 4 out of 6.
In Total, Flash Gordon (1980) gets 31 out of 42.