Flash Gordon (1980)
Flash Gordon (1980)

Genre: Sci-Fi Adventure Running Time: 1 hr. 51 min.

Release Date: December 5th, 1980 MPAA Rating: PG

Director: Mike Hodges Actors: Sam J. Jones, Melody Anderson, Max von Sydow, Topol, Ornella Muti, Timothy Dalton, Brian Blessed, Peter Wyngarde, Mariangela Melato

 


 

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vil Emperor Ming (Max Von Sydow) uses his immeasurable powers (helmed by a glowing ring, augmented with high-pitched laser noises) to toy with the universe, targeting Earth with volcanic activity, hail, and earthquakes, for sport. Meanwhile, famous football quarterback Flash Gordon (Sam J. Jones) and travel agent Dale Arden (Melody Anderson) are flying in a small jet when piping hot moon rock pellets plummet down upon them, causing extreme turbulence. Ex-NASA researcher Dr. Hans Zarkov (Topol) has wildly unorthodox theories about the current eclipse and obsessively demands (at gunpoint) that his assistant Munson (William Hootkins) accompany him in a rocket ship – just before Flash crash-lands the plane directly into Zarkov’s laboratory. The mad scientist tricks Flash and Dale into his space shuttle and blasts off.

Zarkov predicts that in 11 days the moon will collide with Earth, unless the three of them can stop the source – Ming, who waits in his magnificent palace, accepting tributes from the numerous humanoid species that inhabit the distant planet Mongo. Upon their arrival, Flash, Dale, and Zarkov are immediately captured. Dale becomes a royal concubine, Zarkov is taken away to have his mind wiped by the Imperial Secret Police, governed by General Klytus (Peter Wyngarde), and Flash is sentenced to execution that evening. But Ming’s daughter Princess Aura (Ornella Muti) uses her desirability to con a surgeon into counterfeiting the fatal gassing. She revives Flash and helps him escape to a rendezvous at the kingdom of Arboria, where Prince Barin (Timothy Dalton) just might be able to organize a revolution.

When Flash picks up a green orb and proceeds to tackle and plow his way through the enemy troops in the main hall, “Flash Gordon” identifies itself as a grandly goofy, ludicrously colorful science-fiction extravaganza. Jones can’t seem to deliver a single line with sincerity, and none of his dialogue is scripted to give the poor actor a chance. The same goes for Anderson. “This place is a lunatic asylum!” The visuals of this comic strip adaptation take several of creator Alex Raymond’s ideas and turn them into the most laughable elements of any modern fantasy film, complete with unconvincing responses by nearly every actor – save for Dalton, who takes his part much too seriously, and Brian Blessed as the leader of the hawkmen, Vultan, who is likely the most fitting character.

In the blink of an eye, Dale masters martial arts combat and laser blaster marksmanship. Talk of secret pleasure moons, thought amplifiers for telepathy, and barbaric initiation rites take up too much screen time. Howard Blake’s orchestral score can’t seem to break free of rock band Queen’s overpowering theme song. And many of the character designs seem like rejected “Star Wars” concepts, or obvious derivations (Klytus is a moderately amusing Darth Vader clone). The entire ordeal is hilariously silly. Furthermore, the costumes are extravagantly elaborate (guards look like gold and crimson samurai, court attendants resemble heavily ornamented, ancient South American Indians, and the hawkmen are winged Roman soldiers).

The special effects fare no better, proving the budget couldn’t accommodate anything more adequate. The dialogue is pitiful and the acting notably amateurish. And yet the combination of so many forms of bad filmmaking results in a campy bit of surreally over-the-top fun and unintentional entertainment, featuring a complex shootout finale, a pillow fight between Aura and Dale, and a consistently light-hearted tone that is regularly reinforced by nutty comments. And what exactly are the dreaded bore worms?

– Mike Massie

  • 6/10