Catching the Classics: Flash Gordon

Flash Gordon PosterSince 1998, I have been maintaining a list of movies that I wanted to see. Sometimes these are all-time classics that passed me by, sometimes they’re genre classics that interest me. The list grows regularly and is currently more than 1800 movies long. Fogs has gone through and hand-picked several classic films for me to “fast-track” and review here. This is one of those films.

It’s something of a puzzler how it took me so long to track down this movie. It’s almost impossible, as a sci-fi fan, not to be aware of Flash Gordon. I haven’t seen the old serials, but I’ve known of them for years. I’ve read a few of the pulp novels. I’ve heard the soundtrack by Queen. Knew the character names, knew the aesthetic, and somehow didn’t ever get around to actually seeing the thing. Obviously that had to be remedied.

In the movie, Flash, played by Sam J. Jones, is on a private flight with Dale Arden (Melody Anderson) when severe turbulence forces them to make a crash-landing without their pilots. The entire Earth is being disrupted by severe weather and earthquakes, but fortunately Flash and Dale land near the lab of discredited scientist Hans Zarkov. Zarkov believes it’s an alien force wreaking havoc on the Earth — and he’s right. Ming the Merciless has set his sights on Earth, and it’s up to the scientist, the reporter, and the football player to unite the forces of Ming’s oppressed people, oust the evil emperor and save the Earth.

It must be noted at this point that the movie has no misgivings or shame about its pulp fiction roots. Given that people today don’t seem to be as appreciative of old-school pulp sci-fi, it’s possible that some people will find the campy nature of the film hard to take. These people are missing out. A good old-fashioned romp with swords and blasters and Robin Hood lookalikes and bearded hawkmen is hard to beat in terms of pure unadulterated fun. Everything is gloriously over-the-top. A duel to the death isn’t big enough if it’s just a swordfight; there has to be a tilting platform as well. With spikes on it.

The actors are into it as well. Brian Blessed, the king of hammy actors, plays the prince of the hawkmen. He sets the standard for acting in the film, and everybody else is actively trying to meet it. Chaim Topol, who plays Zarkov, actually achieves the near-impossible and out-hams Blessed in some scenes. Max von Sydow makes a delightfully evil villain as Ming, and Timothy Dalton channels his inner Errol Flynn for the role of Prince Barin. Among such luminary loudmouths, Sam J. Jones nearly seems subdued, but he gets help standing out from the soundtrack; any time he’s getting ready to do something incredible, Queen lets you know with a hearty “FLASH! Ah-aaaaaah!”

It’s a film I’m sure to watch many times again in the future; it’s the sort of movie that makes you feel like a kid again. Some might say it’s hard to take it seriously, but it doesn’t need to be taken seriously. It’s too fun to take seriously. There’s an energy and life to it that never stops.

Rating: 4 Stars

Morgan R. Lewis writes about other classic (and just plain old) films at his own blog Morgan on Media.

35 thoughts on “Catching the Classics: Flash Gordon

  1. It’s a cult classic for sure! I remember watching this w/ my brother. He had a crush on Ornella Mutti and I of course on Dalton. Long live Prince Barin!!! :D

  2. It’s a cheesy ass film but so much fun to watch. Especially for the fact that it’s got a cool soundtrack by Queen. Thank God for “Ted” to bring that film back to the world.

  3. Yay! Someone else who also hadn’t seen the film until recently! I really thought I was the only one. Absolutely loved it and feel very ashamed of myself for not having seen it until last week. AND I got to see Brian Blessed on Saturday! He is truly epic in that film. And I’m currently listening to the soundtrack, as it is Freddie Mercury’s birthday.

    • Nothing to be ashamed of; there are plenty of good reasons not to have seen a classic film — especially since, for almost anybody, there are going to be several films that are old than you. :)

  4. When Dalton was first announced for the James Bond Series in 1986, this was the VHS tape I went to first to try and visualize him as 007. The cheese on this movie is thick, but it looks bright and shiny.

  5. Nice high stinking cheese; a cult classic for sure.
    I gather that Sam J Jones left during post production ending any chance for a sequel and causing his lines to be dubbed over by a voice actor. Still cool!
    Nice take Morgan.

    “Freeze! Yer bloody bastards!”
    Prince Barin (Timothy Dalton), Flash Gordon (1980)

  6. Great review. This line sums it up… “It must be noted at this point that the movie has no misgivings or shame about its pulp fiction roots.”

    I watch it a few times a year, and never get bored of it. It has some cracking dialogue. Everyone involved just seems to be having such a good time.

    And I have the biggest crush on Ornella Muti’s space princess. It’s her accent as much as anything. I don’t think the woman is capable of saying anything without it sounding filthy. Haha.

  7. Hi, Morgan:

    Intriguing choice!

    One of the things I enjoy about ‘Flash Gordon’ and to its lesser, guilty pleasure kin, ‘Flesh Gordon’. Is the delightful fidelity and respect given to their incredibly low budgeted material, sets and effects from the original serials.

    Worthwhile heroes, sidekicks and villains, to be sure. With sharp, memorable dialogue and Queen buttressing it all.

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