Flash Gordon (1980)
If there is another Science-Fiction movie with a title song to outdo the opening notes of Freddie Mercury and Queen’s electro-operatic ‘Flash’ I have yet to hear it. As flamboyant as the film it heralded it remains a drum-thumping, set-the-bass-to-maximum classic. And the same can be said for this 1980s ode to the black-and-white ‘Flash Gordon’ serials of the 1930s (and the comic strips that in turn inspired them). The storyline is one familiar to a legion of Sci-Fi fans from the grainy B&W TV episodes of the serialized show that were a staple of Saturday morning television in Ireland, Britain, the United States and pretty much everywhere else in the 1970s and ‘80s. An American football star, Flash Gordon (played by B-actor celeb Sam J. Jones), is involved in a plane crash along with journalist Dale Arden (played by an overly winsome Melody Anderson) during a mysterious storm. Seeking refuge in a nearby house they encounter a controversial scientist called Dr. Hans Zarkov (Israeli actor Chaim Topol giving a wonderfully manic performance), who informs them that the Earth is under attack from an alien power, and the Moon is being diverted from its orbit. At gunpoint Zarkov forces the duo to join him in his home-made rocket ship on a journey to the to the mysterious planet (Mongo) to discover the source of the assault on the Earth and to end it.
What follows is an absolutely rollicking adventure as they explore the world of the Emperor Ming the Merciless (played by famed Swedish actor Max von Sydow in a role he clearly relished), and the many kingdoms and peoples of Mongo he rules over, while struggling to create an alliance to overthrow Ming’s tyrannical rule. Despite the clichés and silliness of the plot, the story still manages to engage and hold the attention and it comes to a suitably satisfactory end – albeit an open one with an unfortunately never to be fulfilled hint of a sequel.
‘Flash Gordon’ was and remains beautiful to look at, containing some of the most colourful sets and designs to be found in Science-Fiction movies, with retro-futuristic costumes to match. The special effects are about par 1980s standard, but a good standard, and still hold up (the skies of Mongo are still incredible to look at). The movie knows itself for what it is: energetic, tongue-in-cheek, there to be enjoyed camp Sci-Fi, and is all the better for it. It never really takes itself too seriously and in doing so has created one of the great SF movies of the 1980s.The supporting cast is wonderful, with the incredibly sexy model-turned-actress Ornella Muti playing Ming’s dangerously obsessional daughter Princess Aura, British actor and future ‘James Bond’ Timothy Dalton playing Prince Barin (Aura’s on-off lover), and a truly, fantastically, outrageously manic Brian Blessed as Prince Vultan, polystyrene wings, rubber hammer an’ all. In the United States the movie received a very poor box office showing, and was generally disliked by critics, while in Europe and elsewhere it rapidly reached the status of a cult must-see classic, a status that has only grown with the passing of time. ‘Flash Gordon’ remains a silly, cheerful Sci-Fi romp held in deep affection by its many fans, and is deservedly available in several quality DVD and Blu-ray editions. And, seriously, who does not know that Queen song?
Saviour of the Universe…!’