Obsolete Review: Flash Gordon

Movie Review Flash Gordon

Flash, I love you, but we've got 30 seconds to save the universe!

In the long and sordid history of comic film adaptations, this Dino De Laurentiis-produced oddity based on the 1930s action comic serial strips, doesn’t often rise to the top of the pack. But taken on its own, it is a weird achievement. In full disclosure, this was the first film I was allowed to see in the theater without my parents. Therefore the sci-fi S&M atmosphere must have seemed just that much dirtier. (I didn’t know about this yet.) And the marriage of awesomely grandiose Queen soundtrack (later sampled by Public Enemy) with ridiculous visuals like Hawkman gladiators attacking in flight just doesn’t get old. In its wooden acting (aside from Max Von Sydow’s seminal Ming the Merciless) and fetishistic camp sets/costumes, the movie’s true cousin is the infamous BARBARELLA (also Dino’s baby).

Though instead of Fonda cheesecake, here we must watch Sam Jones, blank block of beefcake (dubbed badly) whose only other notable role was in the delightful MY CHAUFFEUR. Flash is here a star quarterback for the New York Jets, who along with Dale (Melody Anderson) is marooned in a rocket with mad Jewish scientist Hans Zarkov (Topol from FIDDLER ON THE ROOF!). They are bound for the planet Mongo, controlled by the evil Emperor Ming himself. Ming plans to scrape their brains clean through an evil found-footage machine (see A Clockwork Orange), and use Zarkov’s vague technology to destroy the Earth and enslave the universe- he’s bored.

Right away, Flash’s football skills come in handy, as he plays keepaway and smear the queer with Ming’s valuable booty. Dale is taken captive into the royal harem, and Flash must resist the ample temptations of Ming’s daughter Princess Aura (sexy Ornella Muti), who hopes to seduce him telepathically to the dark side. She wears amazing skin-tight red satin pantsuits, and straddles him as he tries to operate a stick-shift. (Dale even hears his incriminating telepathic VO: “Oh my god – this girl is really turning me on.”)

Flash’s strategy? Recruit the leaders of the planets currently under Ming’s thumb to rebel and overthrow the tyrant. He finds mustachioed Prince Barin, (Timothy ‘Bond’ Dalton) a simpering Errol Flynn-lite suitor of Aura, on his planet Arboria, and must stick his arm in a bunch of holes to overcome the scary random stump monster (which really terrified me as a kid) in order to gain his loyalty. They also draft Prince Vultan (bearded Brian Blessed) and his Hawkmen, half-man/falcon creatures sort of like the Hell’s Angels (they still ride righteous flying motorcycles even though they can fly.) Together the rebel troops attack, and Flash must defeat Ming’s robot commander Klytus in a duel over metal spikes (oozing eyeballs-check). 

Flash leads the rebels to victory over the fiendish Ming, turning the telepathy machine against him (that’s gotta hurt). The football hero saved us all! (Every single one of us.) As I said, taken on its own terms, this version of the 1930s comic serial works perfectly. Like the old film serials, it creates an absurd, campy universe that believes its own BS, not a clueless, sterile ‘futuristic’ CGI-enhanced empty vessel like we’re all stuck in.