Flash Gordon
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Flash Gordon (1980) *  *  *  *  Extra Cheesy
Pathetic Earthlings... Who can save you now?

Of course, no review of Flash Gordon's career can ignore the 1980 Dino de Laurentiis feature movie which features that catchy theme song by the rock group Queen. You know the one that clues us in to a couple of the film's subtler subtexts, such as the fact that Flash is the "king of the impossible" and that Flash will "save every one of us."

George Lucas once talked about his dream of modernizing the old "Flash Gordon" serials of the 1930's and 40's. Unfortunately (or not) the rights to that particular franchise had already been obtained by Dino de Laurentiis, so Lucas made Star Wars. The rest, as no-talent internet hacks like me might say, is history.

After the 1977 release of Star Wars and its subsequent mind-boggling box office, studios fell over each other like Bob Dole on a campaign stop to slap together something "science-fictiony" that would get those gullible kids into the theater or in front of their televisions. Creative bankruptcy is as prevalent in Hollywood as Botox parties, after all, but I know I'm not the only sad person who sat through "The Black Hole" and "Battlestar Galactica" while waiting for my next Han Solo fix. de Laurentiis, typically desperate to jump on the SF bandwagon, gave the go-ahead to a new "Flash Gordon" movie.

Like Kraft Macaroni and Cheese, 1980's Flash Gordon is the cheesiest. But in a good way. Some movies go for hip cheese value, but just end up being lame. Some movies are cheesy because the actors and filmmakers are talentless, because the production values are horribly dated, or because the filmmakers didn't have enough of a budget to realize their vision. Every slice of cheese in Flash Gordon is 100% intentional (and is made from a full cup of milk).

Each character is perfect. Max Von Sidow is Ming the Merciless. How merciless is Ming? So merciless that he watches his own daughter being tortured while snacking from what appears to be a dish of Planter's mixed nuts. Princess Aura is Ming's daughter, and Mongo's resident trollop. The love triangle between Aura and Flash Gordon and Dale Arden is much like the one between Buck Rogers, Wilma Dearing and Princess Ardala in Buck Rogers, that other comic strip space opera (The Buck Rogers strip first appeared in 1928. Flash Gordon in 1934).

Prince Barin (Timothy Dalton) is in love with Aura, and he's so terribly earnest you can see tears welling up in his eyes at one point. And it's no wonder he'd do anything for Aura. Arborea, the land he rules over, is evidently populated only by men in green Robin Hood tights. Prince Vultan (Brian Blessed, who was the voice of Boss Nass in The Phantom Menace) is the leader of the birdmen. Blessed, who looks like Odin, says everything in a booming voice accompanied by a huge open-mouthed grin.

The only two actors I'm not sure about are the ones who play Flash Gordon and Dale Arden. Were they hired specifically because they are terrible actors, or are they both so accomplished that they can flawlessly impersonate terrible actors who don't realize that the lines they're delivering are ridiculous? Either way, they are perfectly cast.

Flash Gordon is hilarious, but it's also more of an homage than a spoof, remaining relatively faithful both to the comic strip and the 1936 serial starring Buster Crabbe. The serials had ham-fisted acting, one-dimensional characters, damsels in distress, and special effects that basically consisted of shoving a Fourth of July sparkler into the back end of a model spaceship.

There are scientific idiocies. Everyone on Mongo measures distance in "Mongo miles." (When's the last time that you said, "The next gas station is only three Earth miles away"?) And, though the inhabitants of Mongo know nothing of Earth, they not only speak English, but also have wedding ceremonies, complete with "I do"s and the traditional Earth wedding march music.

There are men in flimsy, laughable alien suits (The shuffling lizardmen are quite possibly the least believable creatures in the entire history of cinema). The Lizard Men... remember them? They look like walking snakes, except for the odd fact that they have eyes *inside* their fanged mouths. The lizard men are, without a doubt, the most subaltern of the Mongo races. They're executed capriciously (a lizard man was the first death we saw on Mongo), imprisoned by everyone (Flash briefly shares a swamp cage with one on Arborea), and forced to serve as grave-digging slaves. Huh? Oh, yeah the review...

Ok, so it's not a classic. Heck, it doesn't even deserv to be in anyone's top ten, but it shaped the minds of a generation with it's complete over-the-top attitude and showed that special effects while still a bit dodgy, were evolving into something a lot better.

Produced by DINO DE LAURENTIIS * Directed by MIKE HODGES
© 1980 Famous Films, B.V. All Rights Reserved

Sound Gallery

Opening Theme
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Vultan's Theme (Flight of the Hawkmen)
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The Wedding March
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Flash Gordon's Theme
Battle Theme