Flash Gordon (1980)
“Get ready to kick some Flash.”
Flash Gordon (1980)
Director: Mike Hodges
Cast: Sam J. Jones, Melody Anderson, Max von Sydow
Synopsis: A football player and his friends travel to the planet Mongo and find themselves fighting the tyranny of Ming the Merciless to save Earth.
Flash! – AA-AAAH!! In the time it takes him to sing that line (over a wonderfully evocative opening titles sequence), Freddie Mercury indelibly establishes the camp credentials of Mike Hodges’ Flash Gordon. Today, thirty-five years after this colourful extravaganza first hit cinemas with a resounding thud, a disappointingly large number of people still don’t understand how firmly Hodge’s tongue was lodged in his cheek when he made it. The rock band Queen, led by the flamboyant Mercury was an inspired choice for the music. Mercury got it, of course, He understood that it was an irreverent celebration of the ridiculous. He could even have been one of the characters…
The plot – like the entire movie – revels in its absurdity. From his opulent base on the planet Mongo, Ming the Merciless (Max von Sydow – The Exorcist, Three Days of the Condor) takes out his boredom on Earth by unleashing a series of natural disasters. Only Dr Hans Zarkov (Topol – Cast a Giant Shadow) suspects the real reason behind nature’s erratic behaviour, but he’s considered to be a crackpot by the rest of the scientific community. When his cowardly assistant refuses to co-pilot his homemade rocket to Mongo (despite Zarkov’s most dramatic finger-pointing), the doctor forces football star Flash Gordon (Sam J. Jones), who has just crash-landed a light aircraft in Zarkov’s laboratory, to help him. Dale Arden (Melody Anderson), Gordon’s co-passenger on the flight, is also dragged along and, when they land on Mongo, catches Ming’s eye after the intrepid trio are taken captive by his guard. While Ming’s concubines prepare her for marriage to him, Flash is sentenced to death, and Zarkov is ordered to have his mind wiped clean by a big machine that ends in a point.
Despite its overt campiness, there’s something rather subtle about Flash Gordon which ensures its veiled sexual references not only fly over the heads of watching children, but a good many adults, too. It’s true, there’s an overabundance of bulging biceps and men in tight little leather hot pants, but there’s also a stunning villainess (Ornella Muti) squeezed into a tight leather cat-suit who forces herself upon our bound hero before finding herself threatened with the dreaded bore-worms and being subjected to a whipping while tied shapely bottom skywards to a bench. There’s also a clean-cut, forest-dwelling pre-Bond Timothy Dalton dressed in green with his not-so-merry men, and commanding his foes to ‘Freeze! You bloody bastards!’ And, of course, there’s the wondrous, bewhiskered man-mountain Brian Blessed (Alexander, The Pirates! In an Adventure with Scientists!) bellowing his lines for all he’s worth (GORDON’S ALIVE!!) as the leader of the winged hawkmen. Max von Sydow oozes menace and maliciousness in equal measure, while Peter Wyngarde (Alexander the Great), his trademark moustache concealed behind a golden grille, channels George Sanders for the part of Ming’s equally-evil sidekick Klytus.
It’s true that Flash Gordon is a bit of a mess, and that some of the acting has a distinct whiff of cheese about it, and the special effects aren’t much better than you’d find on an old episode of Star Trek, but that all adds to the film’s eccentric flavour. There’s a certain quaintness in the way it strives to remain faithful to the look and spirit of the comic books rather than aiming for ‘Star Wars’ technology, and its relentless pace coupled with regular cliff-hanging moments are an affectionate nod back to the modest serial origins of Gordon’s exploits on the screen.
(Reviewed 10th September 2015)