FLASH GORDON - Golden Oldies On the Big Screen
For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, Nov. 6, 2020
EDITOR’S NOTE: The self-referential revival of ‘Flash Gordon’ some 40 years ago is accepted today more as a comedy than it was originally intended … I think. It remains relentlessly silly but not unwatchable as a campy cult favorite, and if you’re interested you can see it on the big screen at local Cinemark and Megaplex multiplexes on Sunday, Nov. 15; Monday, Nov. 16; and Wednesday, Nov. 18, courtesy of Fathom Events. And despite my prediction at the end of this review, initially published in the Deseret News on Dec. 4, 1980, ‘Flash Gordon II’ never materialized.
I don’t mind admitting that I went to “Flash Gordon” with mixed feelings, knowing what I do about the last two big-budget remakes producer Dino De Laurentis attempted.
His versions of “King Kong” and “Hurricane” are two of the 1970s’ most notorious troubled productions, despite the box-office popularity of the former.
“Gordon” is no flash in the pan, though. It has enough action to please the space-epic fans (though its special effects are admittedly not quite up to “Star Wars” standards) and plenty of camp humor to keep the rest of us happily along for the ride.
The humor, in fact, is probably “Flash Gordon’s” biggest saving grace. It is as much a spoof as a remake of the old 1930s cliffhangers with Buster Crabbe, while it sticks amazingly well to the storyline and tenor of Alex Raymond’s comic strip.
Topol, left, Melody Anderson, Sam Jones, 'Flash Gordon' (1980)
In this version, Flash is a football star instead of a polo player. Sam J. Jones is very appealing, with almost as much vulnerable charm as Christopher Reeve showed in “Superman,” and he firmly establishes a solid (but never flashy) personality for the screen. His sense of humor in the role of Gordon occasionally carries the film.
On a private plane he meets fellow passenger Dale Arden (Melody Anderson) and they inevitably link up with the slightly mad Dr. Zarkov (Topol). In Zarkov’s spaceship they zoom to the distant planet Mongo, where they become involved in the doctor’s attempts to stop Ming the Merciless (Max Von Sydow) from destroying the earth.
The cruel Ming brutally toys with his subjects — the Hawkmen, the Lizardmen, the Treemen, etc. And that includes his own sexy daughter Aura (Ornella Muti).
Among the exciting moments are Flash being sentenced to death and seemingly executed, his battle with Prince Barin (Timothy Dalton) on a spiked floating platform and Flash leading the Hawkmen into battle with Ming’s troops. All are handled in cliffhanger fashion with a twist of humor.
Several sequences are milked for all the camp value they can contain, such as Flash’s first encounter with Ming’s army as he fights them in football-game fashion.
Thailand poster for 'Flash Gordon' during its 1980 international release.
And Jones seems to be having such a fine time during all of this that it’s hard for the audience not to enjoy itself.
The supporting cast offers several juicy roles. Brian Blessed is a standout as Vultan, leader of the Hawkmen, a comically ruthless part, and Von Sydow has a ball as Ming — not quite as nasty as Charles Middleton was in the 1930s serials, but effective.
Lorenzo Semple Jr.’s tongue-in-cheek script is witty and Mike Hodges directs at a very fast clip, so things never drag long enough for us to think about them.
In fact, the only real drawback in “Flash Gordon” is a thoroughly dim-witted score by Queen, laser-rock music that becomes redundant after the first over-the-credits chorus.
And, as is routine these days, the ending is left open for a sequel. No doubt, “Flash Gordon II” is just around the corner.
“Flash Gordon” is rated PG for violence and some profanity.