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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