7 years

Review: Flash Gordon (1980)

Sam J. Jones stars as Flash Gordon in this slice of cheesy 1980's cinema. Directed by Mike Hodges, the film features Queen's famous title theme

Hot contender for cheesiest film ever made, Flash Gordon combines the left-overs of gaudy 70’s sci-fi with the epic riffs of Queen to create one of those rare beasts; a film that is, quite literally, so bad it’s good.

Starring Sam J. Jones as the iconic Flash, the film travels to the planet Mongo, a planet Flash, love interest Dale (Melanie Anderson) and scientist Dr. Hans Zarkov (Topol) find themselves catapulted to after the Earth is attacked by the evil Emperor Ming (Max von Sydow). Taking an instant dislike to Flash, Ming sentences him to death whilst taking Dale for his own pleasures. A battle between good and evil ensues – will Flash save the day and, more importantly, will he save the Earth?

Of course he will. Queen foresee it in their rampaging title theme – he wouldn’t be a very good ‘saviour of the universe’ if he didn’t. That said, Flash doesn’t do much in the film’s 111 minute runtime to deserve such accolades – apart from getting cosy with not one but two willing females the nearest he gets to peril is sticking his hand repeatedly in an unassuming rocky hole in a strange feat of Russian roulette. When taking on Ming’s worryingly deformed minions (or should that Mingions? Arf) he imitates the sport for which he is famous for on Earth and never really seems to recognise the level of his plight.

Based on a mildly successful comic book created by Alex Raymond, Flash Gordon is a tongue-in-cheek action romp supposedly based loosely on the camp outings of Adam West and co in the 1960’s Batman series. There’s an endless amount of costume changes with Flash himself often wearing what seems to be Michael Jackson cast-offs emblazoned with flashes of lightning – quite nice of his captors to provide him with such iconic outfits.

There’s also much to chuckle about outside of the costume department. In the opening scene we see Ming encounter Earth for the first time and, as the camera pans slowly across his hugely destructive control panel, we quite clearly see a button called ‘Earth quake’. Funny how a race who has trouble with coming to terms with the word Earth would have a button that would inflict an Earthquake on a planet. Add lashings of timing inconsistencies as well as some dodgy special effects into the already questionable production values and you’re in for a treat, with many of the background aliens looking like men in rubber masks (which, we assume, is exactly what they are).

There is actually some real acting talent hidden behind the make-up and clothing; alongside Max von Sydow you’ll also spot a pre-Bond Timothy Dalton and a flying hotpant-wearing Brian Blessed, a man who was on top form in the vocal stakes even in 1980.

The fact that the film was a roaring success here in the UK and a flop elsewhere is worrying – what does it say about the British movie-going public? We dread to think. Instead, sit back and let your mind melt in the company of such colourful insanity.

Best song: Flash by Queen.
Best bit: Brian Blessed’s strange remote control spinning battle plate.
Worst bit: The ending. The appearance of the question mark after ‘The End’ is was just too much cheese for us to handle.

Titbit: Catch a glimpse of the film here… (the review sounds 150% more epic when read to the tune of the video, too).


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    A small Part of my childhood died when reading this review. :) To many people, particularly in the UK, Flash Gordon was their first introduction into some of the lesser mainstream comics and it was done perfectly - for the time (we'll come back to that). Remember the 1980s were a weird time, well looking back at them they are, and this film was so close to the 70s it still carried some symptoms of disco fever. Yes the acting by some was wooden, but the low budget effects and occasional excellent performances by Topol, Max Von Sydow, Timothy Dalton and Brian Blessed were excellent. Don't forget fledgling performances too from Peter Duncan (Blue Peter, Duncan Dares) and Richard O'Brien (Rocky Horror Show, Crystal Maze). The ending cheesy? Maybe so, but don't comic book movies always set up a sequel? So as one of the first, it's going to perhaps fudge it a bit. For me this was a brilliant film and due to the heavy British influence in (Direction, Art Direction, Music etc) it was always going to be a slightly weird but quirky affair that would only really be fully liked in the UK, Olympics Opening Ceremony anyone? Back to the 'It was perfect for the time' bit. As we know a remake is on the way, after the big budget successes of Ironman, Batman et al, no doubt all comic book movies will be remade at some point and Flash Gordon was always destined to get the big budget, Hollywood touch. Will it be better? Most definitely in style, looks and effects. The story may also be better, possibly darker and with a more serious edge, but that doesn't stop this funky, colourful, cheesy, sexy, Thespianesque, action packed disco adventure being the saviour of my childhood universe. :) Alternative Rating: 4/5 Alternative Best Line: "Gordon's Alive?" Alternative Worst Bit: Weird romantic but still evil moment between General Klytus and General Kala.
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    Totally agree with Paul. I watched this at the cinema with my Mum and a group of friends and loved it :D