Flash Gordon (1980)


A football star (Sam J. Jones, 10) somehow finds himself travelling on a spaceship to the mysterious planet Mongo where he discovers that the planet’s ruler, Ming the Merciless (Max von Sydow, The Exorcist), has a plan to destroy Earth.

Reaction & Thoughts:

“Flash, I love you! But we only have fourteen hours to save the Earth!”

Many years before popular filmmakers Bryan Singer and Christopher Nolan made comic book movies more serious and realistic, the consensus was that comics were for kids, so comic book film adaptations were expected to be brash and sophomoric. Flash Gordon is reflective of the movie industry’s pre-2000s attitude towards comic characters: it’s outrageously colorful, corny and cheesy by design.

Rather than straying away from an established formula, producer Dino De Laurentiis (Conan The Barbarian) and director Mike Hodges (Get Carter) gave audiences exactly what they were expecting from a movie based on a comic. De Laurentiis and Hodges probably went a little too far — Flash Gordon wasn’t a major success at the box office. Apparently, not everybody liked a heavy dose of unabashed kitschiness.

Sure, Lorenzo Semple Jr.’s (co-creator of the campy 1960s TV show Batman) script stinks, but the awful dialogue and many ridiculous scenes seem to be a deliberate attempt to dumb things down. How do you put down a film that constantly laughs at itself? I find it very hard to dislike a self-deprecating movie, whose only goal is to give audiences a good time — Flash Gordon tickled me in exactly the right places.

In actuality, the movie isn’t as unpretentious and dumb as it pretends to be. Based on characters created by Alex Raymond, Flash Gordon isn’t content with merely bringing a comic strip to life; the film also attempts to evoke the serials of the 1930s. With that in mind, I’m quite sure that the movie won’t make any sense to viewers who have never read an old comic book and/or aren’t familiar with ’30s serials.

But for people who grew up watching Buster Crabbe serials and remember when comics were sold at the grocery store, Flash Gordon is a kooky nostalgia trip. Danilo Donati’s (Amarcord) over-the-top sets and costumes are like things that came straight out of a dream. Rock band Queen’s bizarre but hummable soundtrack amplifies the weird factor (Howard Blake wrote the incidental music). Cinematographer Gilbert Taylor’s (Star Wars) doesn’t hold back either — there is plenty of strange imagery here.

The large cast is pretty awesome too. While Sam J. Jones’s Flash lacks charisma (he isn’t bad, he’s just a little bland), Melody Anderson (Dead & Buried) delivers the goods as Flash’s spunky love interest, Dale Arden. Anderson demonstrates fine comic timing as she charmingly spoofs the damsel-in-distress archetype (you can tell she is having fun). Topol (Fiddler on the Roof) is good, if a bit underused as Dr. Zarkov.

Max von Sydow is fantastic as Ming the Merciless. Interestingly, the Swedish actor plays Ming with a straight face, and it turns out to be a wise decision — Sydow is genuinely menacing as the evil emperor! Italian actress Ornella Muti (Swann in Love) is ultra-sexy as Ming’s treacherous daughter, Princess Aura. And Timothy Dalton’s (The Living Daylights) Errol Flynnesque Prince Barin is a complete delight — Dalton’s performance is full of vitality and charm (it’s as if he’s auditioning for the role of 007).

Conclusions & Final Thoughts:

Flash Gordon may not be entirely successful (the project needed someone like Ken Russell, The Devils), but it’s old-fashioned fun. And the film kills two Mongorian bats with one laser gun: It’s not just a blast from the ’80s; it’s a loving tribute to the low-budget serials of the ’30s. As long as you accept it as an unashamedly silly flick, I’m sure you’ll enjoy it. Recommended to fans of cheese. Color, 109 minutes, Rated PG.

This is my contribution to The Bond Not Bond Blogathon, hosted by RealweegiemidgetReviews and Pale Writer.

38 responses to “Flash Gordon (1980)

  1. Sam Jones achieved immortality when he plays an equally goofy version of himself in “Ted”. Add Queen’s terrific theme song, which leads with one of Sydow’s signature droll lines, and this is a goofy, playful gem…as someone who thinks that Nolan is FAR TOO PRETENTIOUS, I’m glad this is an upbeat good time!

    Liked by 3 people

      • Nolan’s directing style, certainly when it comes to sci-fi and action-adventure, may not feel all that original in certain ways. I was particularly impressed by Following which was his 1998 debut film even if it wasn’t profoundly new for a neo-noir crime thriller.

        Liked by 2 people

  2. I agree, not a great movie but some memorable and iconic moments. Sam Jones was more of a Playgirl centerfold than an actor, but he looked the part…and whatever happened to the very pretty Ornella Muti? THAT is a name to be remembered and uttered often!

    Liked by 4 people

  3. Love your take on this movie, this is one of my favourite Dalton films and he’s more Errol Flynn than The Rocketeer. Loved Sam in Ted, where he totally brings back Flash for an unforgettable movie cameo and montage. Check it out if you haven’t already. Thanks for joining

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Pingback: The final day of You Knew My Name: The Bond Not Bond Blogathon! – Pale Writer·

  5. Pingback: These Diamond Bond guys are forever in the final day of the You Knew My Name: The Bond Not Bond Blogathon – Realweegiemidget Reviews Films TV Books and more·

  6. That is the only way to descripe Ornella Muti – Ultra Sexy. I still get fever dreams about her today! lol

    Have you seen the doc “Life After Flash”?
    A few highlights, Melody Anderson looks amazing and comes across so natural, funny and friendly. Peter Wyngarde was brilliantly campy deadpan funny, not knowing if he was joking or not. lol.. Then of course Brian Blessed bellowed his trademark booming voice and was his usual hilarious fantastic self. Would of liked to have seen Timothy Dalton and the ultimate naughty girl, Ornella Muti. If you love Flash, you have big fun with this doc and it’s on Prime if you got it.

    Liked by 4 people

  7. Coming after Star Wars and Superman, the timing for this was perfect, they should really have knocked it out of the park. Great art deco sets and costumes and the supporting cast is good. But I think it was just too arch and campy for people to embrace it at the time. Star Wars had set the standard for how these things were meant to be – and they weren’t meant to be camp anymore.

    Liked by 2 people

  8. I think part of the movie’s initial box office failure was that it tried to be camp and surreal at the same time. The campiness, which is laid on just a tad too thick, is interspersed with some images that are truly disturbing and almost horrific. Still, it has a great, eclectic cast, and for me is in the “good weird” category.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Great casts including distinctive talents like Brian Blessed, Max von Sydow and Timothy Dalton can thankfully still have special moments in some movies that are otherwise underwhelming.

      Liked by 2 people

    • Yes, the film ignores the fact that tastes were changing. Superman (1978) has a little camp (mostly during the Metropolis sequences), but it’s a serious affair for the most part. TV’s Incredible Hulk, Amazing Spider-Man and Wonder Woman were devoid of any self-conscious camp.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. One of my absolute guilty film pleasures.

    Have always had a soft spot for this movie, ever since I saw it at the cinema as a 14 year old. I remember this ‘stick your hands in the tree stump and hope you don’t get bit’ sequence like it was yesterday.

    When Timothy Dalton’s character utters the line “Death is certain – but only after tortured madness”, for some strange reason I think of Covid… I mean ‘Omicron’.

    Liked by 2 people

  10. Brian Blessed claims that the Queen (the one who lives in Buckingham Palace) loves hearing him say “Gordon’s alive!”

    This seems to have been a lot more popular in the UK than in the US. It was originally going to be directed by Nicholas Roeg, to a completely different and more adult (ie serious) script; Hodges came on board when they were planning a sequel, but took over when Roeg dropped out. Personally, I prefer the version they made – I’ve loved this ever since I saw it at the cinema (bought the soundtrack album, too).

    Mmmm, Ornela Muti …

    Liked by 2 people

      • These days he’s known in the UK as BRIAN BLESSED! (Just think loud lol)

        This is the film that boosted – but also changed – his career. Before this, he was a familiar character actor: he was a brilliantly subtle Augustus Caesar in the BBC’s I, Claudius. After it … well, if you want larger-than-life, you call BRIAN BLESSED!

        I’ll always love this film for the fact that they didn’t hold back – they really went for the camp glamour – it’s almost a pantomime. But I couldn’t watch too many films like it.

        Liked by 2 people

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