Tuesday, June 22, 2010


Pop quiz time. What movie is as campy as the summer solstice is long, features a cast of notable (mostly) British actors in ridiculous costumes and features a soundtrack by Queen? It can only be 1980’s Flash Gordon, possibly one of the largest single servings of cinematic ham AND cheese to ever grace the screen.

Well, it’s Flash Gordon. The Emperor Ming of the planet Mongo decides on a lark to destroy Earth and its up to Flash (AHHHHH-ahhhhh!), a mad scientist who’s invented a rocket and a random girl swept up in things to challenge Ming and save the Earth. ADVENTURE! ensues.

Flash Gordon: Sam J. Jones is kind of dull as the square-jawed hero and former quarterback of the Jets. I mean, sure, he cuts a dashing figure, but really, Flash (AHHHHH-ahhhhh!) is far from the most outrageous figure in the movie. Although he does fight a squad of goons early in the film as though it were a football game, so…yeah…

Dale Arden: Melody Anderson plays Flash’s (AHHHHHH-aahhhhhh!) mild-mannered, somewhat dull love interest. They met by chance on a flight that went down thanks to the chaotic weather created by Emperor Ming. Like her old school counterpart, she gets captured a lot.

Dr. Hans Zarkov: Topol (who was Tevye in the 1971 movie of Fiddler On The Roof) plays the merry mad scientist Zarkov, who uses his crazy ideas for good instead of evil. He gets some good, cheesy lines as one of Flash’s (AHHHHHH-aahhhhh!) main supporting characters.

Emperor Ming the Merciless: The ever-awesome Max von Sydow really hams it up big time as Ming the Merciless. Ming is part hedonist, part bored aristocrat and all tyrant. He presides with an iron fist over his court and is so brilliantly, gleefully evil that you can’t help but like the guy, even as he threatens to crash the Moon into Earth for kicks. Totally badass.

Princess Aura: Ornella Muti plays Ming’s beautiful, selfish and somewhat less evil daughter. She takes a liking to Flash (AHHHHH-ahhhhhh!) and doesn’t want to see him killed (until she’s had a go with him at least).

Klytus: Peter Wyngarde plays Ming’s second in command, a robed, metal-masked, probably robotic fellow with a laconic voice. Visually, he looks a lot like a gold-faced Dr. Doom with a more laid back attitude about things. I rather liked him.

General Kala: Mariangela Melato plays general of Ming’s military, and eventually dispatches the flagship (and apparently ONLY ship) of Ming’s fleet, War Rocket Ajax, to retrieve the body of the seemingly dead Flash (AHHHHH-ahhhhhh!). She’s a cruel woman who also oversees tortures & interrogations and kind of has a dominatrix look to her. She’s quite evil, all right. Sexy evil.

Prince Barin of Arboria: Timothy Dalton (yep, one of the James Bonds) is the lord of the Moon of Arboria, a forested planetoid with all manner of dangerous creatures. He’s got a love/hate thing going with Princess Aura and tries to kill Gordon at first before joining him with his swashbuckling, Robin Hood-esque swordsmanship.

Prince Vultan of the Hawkmen: Brian Blessed in arguably his most recognizable role, shouting his way through the movie and dressed in a ridiculous set of wings commanding a flying legion of similarly dressed hawkmen. He’s no friend of Ming’s, but he’s Barin’s rival and doesn’t trust Flash Gordon when he arrives. Vultan is so insane he’s awesome.

Mike Hodges as director and Gilbert Taylor as director of photography really give the movie a distinct visual look that is sort of a cross between the old black & white serials and what I’m assuming is an acid trip on drugs left over from Zardoz. The special effects are…spotty, but the whole feel of the movie is self-aware of its own cheesiness, so the often bad effects kind of work in the film’s favor. It’s also colorful as all hell.

So Flash Gordon was originally a comic strip created by Alex Raymond in 1934 (and been adapted several times). This version was adapted by Michael Allin with the screenplay by Lorenzo Semple Jr. (who was one of the writers for the 1960s Batman series and boy howdy does it show. In a good way, I mean).

Orchestral score by Howard Blake, but in all honesty, that doesn’t matter when you’ve got Queen on soundtrack duty wailing away with electric guitars.

There’s no denying that Flash Gordon is a weird-ass movie. At several points, you get the feeling that the budget was spent on paying Queen and supplying the art department with mind-expanding substances to abuse. That said, there is an infectious spirit of fun present in the film that completely overrides the many, many flaws of it. It’s a big cast dressing up in silly costumes, spouting crazy dialogue and flinging understatement and restraint to the wind. The film kind of flopped in the US, but is apparently very fondly regarded in the UK, so make of that what you will. For my part, I thought it was a hell of a lot of fun in a “so weird it’s awesome” way, though I have no doubt that your mileage will vary.

So many drugs...

No comments: