You’d have to be born in the more innocent pre-Internet age to truly be able to appreciate Flash Gordon, which still remains one of the most fun comic character films translated to the big screen.
Some fans have attempted to justify their love of the film by calling it a cheesy guilty pleasure, but that’s not necessary. This is a throwback 80s action movie where none of the filmmakers were trying to win an Oscar or use some convoluted analogy to describe the human condition.
Sure, there’s a place for those kinds of sci-fi films, but not in a Flash Gordon galaxy spanning adventure and the movie is all the better from the filmmakers embracing everything that makes the character work without making it overly serious.
Flash Gordon (Sam Jones) and Dale Arden (Melody Anderson) get hijacked by the eccentric/crazy Dr. Zarkov (Topol), into going to the planet Mongo to stop the evil warlord Ming the Merciless (Max von Sydow) from destroying Earth.
Putting down the rose-colored nostalgia glasses for just a moment the plot may be a bit oversimplified and the effects look outright bargain basement compared to that other all-time classic 1980 science fiction epic, but there’s a lot of charm throughout.
Whether it’s the boisterous ham-it-up performance of Brian Blessed as the winged Prince Vultan constantly sniping at his rival Prince Barin (Timothy Dalton earning some early 007 cred), Peter Wyngarde as the almost comically evil Klytus or Ornella Muti as the sexy, cunning Princess Aura, the supporting cast is just as entertaining as the leads.
Jones is fine in a nondescript every man’s hero kinda way, but he doesn’t have to do a lot of heavy lifting thanks to the talented cast around him. Von Sydow is spectacularly committed to making Ming the sleaziest, evil 80s villain on screen.
The only aspect that ages badly is Dale’s portrayal as a helpless damsel in constant distress awaiting her Flash Charming to come along and sweep her off her feet with his rugged good looks and football prowess. Anderson works magic in salvaging most of those scenes and the eye-rolling dialogue.
Director Mike Hodges reportedly had a $35 million budget to work with — far less than the $54 million of Superman II, but nearly double that of Empire Strikes Back’s $18 million budget. Judging most 1980s sci-fi films to Star Wars isn’t a fair comparison, but for the massive scope of what Hodges attempted, the film looks better than average.
Cinematographer Gilbert Taylor assembles a lavish outer space experience with bright, overly saturated colors and skylines that resemble luxurious paintings. Production/costume designer Danilo Donati also subscribes to the more garish the better, but the sparkly, shiny costumes work to illustrate good fashion sense has a completely different meaning out in Mongo.
There’s probably just a handful of films where the music perfectly captures the movie’s tone, but fewer still have me trying (and failing) to fully rock on as Queen’s legendary soundtrack. Check it out here Flash Gordon (Soundtrack). From the hard guitar riffs, long drum solos and first strands of ‘Flaaaa-asshhhh!’ you’re hooked and ready to join Flash on his mission.
You’ll be hard-pressed decades later to find many films that pull out all the stops to leave its audience so fully entertained with its carefree spirit and unapologetic sense of fun. Flash Gordon isn’t the best of the sci-fi genre, but you don’t have to go to a galaxy far, far away to enjoy every minute of it.
Rating: 9.5 out of 10
Buy it here:Flash Gordon [Blu-ray]
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