“That must be one hell of a planet you men come from!”
The Scoop: 1980 PG, directed by Mike Hodges, and starring Sam Jones, Melody Anderson, and Max von Sydow.
Tagline: Pathetic Earthlings… Who can save you now?
Summary Capsule: Ze rose-tinted glasses! Zey do nossing!
Louise’s rating: All joy of man’s desiring wrapped up in a DVD case.
Louise’s review: Two esteemed mutant colleagues have already reviewed this film, so ordinarily I might consider the job done and leave it at that. However, my adoration for this film is so deep, so true, so passionately evangelizing, that I have to just tell the world about it.
If you don’t like Flash Gordon, there is something wrong with you and you should see a doctor. Ask him or her to fix your brain with science. I have a friend who doesn’t like Flash Gordon. There’s something wrong with him. This film is perfect. It is the ultimate cinematic gem.
The joy starts with its opening. The credits feature character names: a device which, like a soap opera, suggests that we already know and love the characters. Are these hallowed names mere characters, or are these prehistoric archetypes from the recesses of our species memory? Either way, they are accompanied by a dream cast list, music by Queen and glimpses of the original 1930s comic strip.
The joy ends with the ending. The end? Never! Flash Gordon lives forever.
In the middle we have Plot and Story. The earth comes under attack by freak weather conditions, including mysterious red clouds which apparently eat innocent pilots. Three earthlings – American Football player Flash Gordon, travel agent Dale Arden and mad scientist (hey, just because he’s mad doesn’t mean he’s wrong!) Dr Hans Zarkov, formerly of NASA – take a rocket trip through a wormhole to the planet Mongo. Mongo and its adjacent moons are ruled by Emperor Ming, an evil, evil tyrant. In order to save themselves and the earth, our heroes must seek help from Ming’s kinky daughter and his resentful vassals, the crass Hawkmen (led by Brian Blessed in hot pants) and the
Merry Men Arborians (led by Robin Hood Timothy Dalton with a moustache).
What’s the acting like? There is nothing here I would describe as acting. The design and script rather take the place of the acting. Flash is played by an athlete, Dale is played by a model, and the rest of the cast play the roles in the way which is expected of them. People like Brian Blessed, Topol and Richard O’Brien don’t so much act as have a recognizable charisma and personality. Don’t get me wrong – it’s incredibly good. I’d say it was awesome, if that word wasn’t rather overused (and not least by me). It’s just not acting. Brian Blessed I believe hasn’t *acted* since Man of La Mancha, but that doesn’t mean I’m not always glad to see him.
It’s when we get to Mongo that the film really takes off. Ming the Merciless (played slightly close to a Chinese racist stereotype by Max Von Sydow, also known as ‘Jesus with a perfect parting’ from his role in The Greatest Story Ever Told) lives in a giant red and gold shuttlecock, and there is an amazing scene where we get to see his imperial court in all its glory. We meet him, his daughter Princess Aura, and the different cultures of the moons of Mongo, all of which are spectacularly dressed in bright colours and shiny metal. Seriously, the film was costumed by an absolute fashion genius, or Luna Lovegood. One of the two. Also in this amazing scene is the first game of American Football ever to be played with aliens. If this scene doesn’t make you smile, you will not like the film and you should turn it off now, and consult your doctor about your missing heart.
Second to the costumes of Mongo is the technology of Mongo, all of which is charmingly user friendly, and includes a machine for creating weather, a machine for telepathy, flying scooters, robot-type people plugged into computers, machines for completely wiping memory, and, my personal favourite, War Rocket Ajax. Naturally, the machines are brightly coloured and made of shiny metal. This is a supremely well cared-for despotic autocracy.
This film is funny. It’s meant to be funny. It’s funny sci-fi. Only miserable people without souls do not enjoy funny sci-fi. The script is gloriously quotable; my friend Gina and I spend many happy hours playing the Flash Gordon Quoting Game, where you take turns quoting until someone can’t think of another line (whereupon the other person wins. This game can be played in person or via text/email and is terrific fun). Even the lines which don’t sound that hilarious written down on a page turn out to be so when they are coupled with the gestures, voices and situations the characters find themselves in. Sure, everyone knows, “Gordon’s alive?” but you have to actually watch to fully appreciate, “We are on Arboria” or “Without measure!”
A lot of the humour comes from the characters and their implied private lives. Now, I’ve got to warn you: I’m going to talk a little about sex now. Feel free to move to the next paragraph if you feel more comfortable there. Basically, the whole film is Kink. Do you know what I’m talking about? Do you use the term ‘kinky’ outside the UK? Anyway, all the characters of Mongo are seemingly involved in torrid affairs with each other, lots of which are flavoured with multiple partners, creepy chemistry, pleasure from pain, etc.
Now, the film is rated PG, so none of this is offensively explicit at all, and you can call me dirty-minded (to which I say, that’s not dirt, that’s a genuine patina which makes me all the more attractive to the true connoisseur), but It. Is. There. Ming and Aura, despite being father and daughter, know far too much about each other’s love lives than is healthy. Ming has a ring (I call it a kink ring) which he uses to test the ladies’ potential receptiveness to romantic advances. Aura has a large appetite for the men and a ring of her own.
However, it seems the one person she has never let near her is Ming’s chief enforcer Klytus. He has a peculiar relationship that isn’t really explained with his colleague Kala (I call them the kink twins). Other highlights include Aura and the earthling Dale having a pillow fight, to the delight of some slave girls, Flash and Barin fighting with whips, and Flash chained up wearing only underpants made of what looks like electrical tape. It makes Flash and Dale’s relationship seem positively ordinary and wholesome. They really are the simplest souls in the whole story – Flash is a pleasant but brainless jock, and Dale is an… actually rather normal young woman, come to think about it.
Finally, I’d like to pay tribute to Prince Barin, ruler of the Treemen of Arboria, moustachioed hero of our dreams, played by Timothy Dalton. He’s dashing, handsome, brave, clever, appealingly blunt in his speech and an all round lovely. He does swap to Flash’s side rather abruptly, perhaps, and he does feature in the film’s one redundant scene, but we shouldn’t hold that against him. Nobody’s perfect.
Except this film. Watch it. Watch it with friends. Watch it on your own. Then watch it again. All concepts of what makes a ‘good film’ go out of the window, and you realize that Flash Gordon is what makes a good film. There’s something magic in it that transcends normal rules. Maybe it is manipulating us with its kink ring? It matters not.
Watch Flash Gordon. The power of the kink and the Queen commands you.
Oh, and learn the song as well, to help you identify fellow Flash-loving brethren and sistren. “Flash! Aah – aah. Saviour of the universe!”
Kaleb’s review: Many moons ago, I recall reading a review of, I believe it was Metroid Prime, wherein the reviewer mentions that the original NES Metroid is an unlockable bonus, and caps that statement with an ominous proviso: “Careful; it sucks way more than you remember.”
Were it not for the concepts of plagiarism and journalistic integrity and all that other nonsense, I could submit the aforequoted as a concise summation of my Flash Gordon re-watching experience, and not bother with the rest of this review.
At this point, I’m trying to recall whatever compelled me to watch in the first place. I’m going to tentatively blame my older brother. In the mid-80s, his geek would’ve been in full bloom, and I would’ve been at an age to immediately fall in love with anything containing trippy colors — actual quality be damned — and/or be frightened into obsequiousness by Brian Blessed’s fearsome jaws.
But it isn’t all bad news, and most of the bad news that it isn’t comes in the form of a strong supporting cast. I couldn’t name one other thing that Max von Sydow has been in, but he sure seems to wear evil well (it may just be that his name makes it sound like he should). Ditto for Peter Wyngarde, and the finest Destro impersonation I’ve seen in some time. And yeah, it seems like Dr. Zarkov should be singing all of his lines, but Topol is such a blast to watch, it hardly matters. Timothy Dalton as Prince Barin arguably takes the whole thing a bit too seriously, but still comes off as one of the best actors on show, and the aforementioned Brian Blessed: Not actually a human in real life, but a giant golem made of fun and teeth.
There’s a smattering of weird dialogue, but not cripplingly so; and the special effects are rather cheese, but that has to be attributed to limitations of the time. No, the film’s primary failing lies, unfortunately, with its leads. Melody Anderson’s Dale combines mild okay-ness with not being around much, and Sam Jones… is probably a wonderful person in real life. Loving father, kind to animals, not that great of an actor. It may just be that he has the whole “gee, gosh, and perhaps golly” wholesome, likable, New York… Jets… wait, what?
The point that I just derailed from is that he’s supposed to be an affable side of beef, and perhaps pulls it off a bit too well, to powerfully bland effect.
One thing, though, that I really really really… really… ridiculously approve of in a hard way is the Queen-produced score. Something about one-band movies just seems to work. Take Maximum Overdrive (Please! Wakka-Wakka!), for instance: Whether you thought it was godawful or merely terrible, you have to admit, AC/DC, for whatever reason, fits evil tractor-trailers like a glove.
Such is the case with Queen and camp sci-fi. Or maybe it’s the fact that it doesn’t fit that makes it fit so well.
Yeah, that sounded lame. Allow me to elaborate:
As of 1980, the world had already been well-convinced of the fact that sci-fi scores must always be grand and orchestral and John Williams-y, and then here come the squealy guitars, demanding attention and sticking in your brain the way that only something that is where it shouldn’t be can do.
It’s so evocative, too. You may have never even seen Flash Gordon, but just listen to “Flash’s Theme”, and see if you don’t suddenly feel compelled to pilot the world’s slowest rocket through the world’s least-accurate laser defense array.
In the end, it’s far from horrible. I never implied otherwise; only that it wasn’t quite as amazing as I remembered (c’est la everything). Yeah, it’s nobody’s masterpiece in terms of quality, but the true measure of any film is not so much whether it’s good, but whether it’s enjoyable, and this is certainly that.
Not quite the savior of the universe, this one, but close enough for rock n’ roll.
Eunice’s rating: DIIIVE!
Eunice’s review: So there’s this guy, Flash (Aa~ah!). He’s for every one of us. Stand for every one of us. He’ll save, with a mighty hand, every man, every woman, every child. With a mighty flash.
Got it? No? Man, I just have to explain everything!
Flash Gordon is a loose remake of the ’30s movie serials based on Alex Raymond’s adventure comic strip. Here’s the skinny:
Space tyrant Ming the Merciless (villain extraordinaire Max von Sydow) gets bored and decides to destroy Earth by crashing the moon into it. Pro quarterback Flash and travel agent Dale Arden, who fall in instalove during an ill fated flight, get kidnapped by rogue and slightly off kilter scientist Dr. Hans Zarkov. They hop into Zarkov’s homemade space ship and end up being our Only Hope ™. They have some adventures involving a naughty space princess, the 4th Bond, and Hawkmen. Of course fighting Mr. de Merciless the whole time.
And all of it is set to a soundtrack by Queen.
There’s a football battle, wonderfully bad special effects, battles to the death, Deep Roy, Richard “Riff Raff” O’Brien, mind telephones, escapes, planet hoping, daring do, and, again, Hawkmen.
I’m trying to think of something negative to say here. But I can’t. I just can’t seem to work up the cynicism and snobbery that would be required to do so. I don’t think I would’ve ever made it as a Mutant if I could. Because the truth is…
It all comes together to be a movie so awesome, so flashily ‘70s, it might just melt your face off.
Is it goofy? Yes. Silly even? You betcha! Campy? Yep, yep. Thankfully though it never goes over into zany or wacky, and yeah there’s a difference. As it is, it strikes a nice balance.
For all its inherent goofiness, I do really like this movie, and, when in the proper mood, downright love it. Quippy lines are delivered with over the top zeal. It’s campy, but knows it and plays it to the hilt. Colorful and musical and epic… It’s just a lot of fun, making for perfect Saturday morning viewing.
If you can’t appreciate Flash Gordon, you might want to check your pulse.
- I wish the power windows on my car sounded like the main gate of GI Joe headquarters opening.
- We just have to trust that Ming, an all-powerful intergalactic dictator, had a really good reason for singling out and attacking a small charter aircraft.
- 8:24 and there’s no sun? Unheard of! Absurd!
- Ha ha! He’s fat so that means his accidental horrible crushing death that’s barely even acknowledged is funny!
- Ming bothered to make Flash a fancy tombstone customized with his own personal font?
- Something about Zarkov’s flashback that always bothered me: His wife is thrown into a swimming pool, gleefully frolics about for a bit, and then… dies? She was water-soluble, I guess?
- Apparently the hawk-people kept that rocket-cycle in the garage just in case a non-flying person might one day need to escape their exploding kingdom.
- What are the other haremites gigglefully watching Dale and Aura’s pillow fight from the shadows hoping will happen? Is it the same thing I’m hoping will happen?
- When I was a wee tyke, I honestly thought Vultan was saying “DIE!” instead of “DIVE!”, simply because that’s more in line with what actually happens.
- The hawkmens’ strategy seems to revolve around attacking in small, easily-slaughterable waves.
- Brian Blessed has an extraordinarily large face. I have face envy, actually.
- I firmly believe Vultan’s “Who wants to live forever?” line is a cheeky inside joke devised six years before its own relevance.
- I unironically think the kamikaze charge of the Ajax and Ming’s sorta-demise is pretty darn cool. A trifle homoerotic, perhaps, but cool.
- My love of one-band movies makes me dearly want to make it through the recently Heather-reviewed Interstella 5555. Now, if I could just find a workaround for the fact that Leiji Matsumoto’s art style kind of gives me diarrhea (I would watch Galaxy Express 999 in a heartbeat if somebody could promise me that Maetel at some point hijacks a tank by piercing its armor with her chin).
- Who says a man with his name on his shirt can’t save the universe?
- Takes a real man to dress like a Hawkman.
- Dale sure likes touching Flash while he’s chained up in tiny leather shorts. Kinky!
- But Aura likes touching Flash while he’s in the little shorts and dead. Really kinky!
- Zarkov’s memory goes really far back.
- My, but Klytus’ ship looks rather suggestive.
- Rip Hardpeck! Thick McRunfast! Bob Johnson! Oh wait…
- That attack on Ajax music is pretty rad.
- This was supposed to be the first of several movies, but then it didn’t do as well as expected.
- In the comics and serials Flash is a Yale graduate, and his sport of choice is polo.
- Other than Highlander, this is the only movie Queen directly contributed music to.
- What kingdoms of Mongo did you notice? I counted Ardentia, Frigia, Sebaria, Arboria, Aquaria and Cythera.
Ming: Klytus, I’m booored. What plaything can you offer me?
Dale Arden: Just hold me two seconds, then drop me so I can kiss the ground.
The Emperor Ming: Pathetic earthlings. Hurling your bodies out into the void, without the slightest inkling of who or what is out here. If you had known anything about the true nature of the universe, anything at all, you would’ve hidden from it in terror.
Klytus: I’m told you refused your final meal. The chef will be upset.
Vultan: Gordon’s alive?
Princess Aura: Look! Water is leaking from her eyes.
The Emperor Ming: It’s what they call tears, it’s a sign of their weakness.
Prince Barin: I knew you were up to something, though I’ll confess I hadn’t thought of necrophilia.
Flash: Where are the weapons?
Fico: Feel one.
Prince Barin: Where you go, I follow.
Dale: Flash, it must be fifty miles down. We’ll kill ourselves!
Zarkov: Uh, no, no, no problem. The body reaches maximum velocity within a few hundred feet.
Prince Vultan: Who wants to live forever?
General Kala: What do you mean, ‘Flash Gordon approaching’?
Flash: Biro, you all right?
Biro: They just winged me!
Prince Barin: Tell me more about this man Houdini.
Princess Aura: My father always drinks a power potion before he makes love.
Princess Aura: They’ve changed the code.
Prince Barin: I’ve changed too, Aura.
Princess Aura: I’ve changed too.
Zogi, the High Priest: Do you, Ming the Merciless, Ruler of the Universe, take this Earthling Dale Arden, to be your Empress of the Hour?
The Emperor Ming: Of the hour, yes.
Zogi, the High Priest: Do you promise to use her as you will?
The Emperor Ming: Certainly!
Zogi, the High Priest: Not to blast her into space?
Zogi, the High Priest: Uh, until such time as you grow weary of her.
The Emperor Ming: I do.
Dale: I do not!
Zarkov: Why do you attack us?
Ming: Why not?
Vultan: Impetuous boy!
Ming: Klytus, are your men on the right pills? Perhaps you should execute their trainer.
Wedding Banner #1: All creatures will make merry.
Wedding Banner #2: Under pain of death.
Flash: You loony bird! Get outta here, they need you on the ground!
Flash: Tell Dale… I know it would’ve been good.
Vultan: That must be one hell of a planet you men come from!
Flash: Not too bad.
Dale: I’m a New York City girl; It’s a little too quiet around here for me.
Princess Aura: No! Not the bore worms!
If you liked this movie, try these:
- Star Wars and co.