Flash Gordon


This is the kind of movie that Ed Wood would have made if he’d ever had the budget. It has everything: bad writing, bad acting, bad special effects and bad music. Is it cheesy? There’s enough cheese on screen to keep every restaurant in France supplied with sauce for a year. Is it campy? It goes beyond camp. This is an entire Boy Scout Jamboree. Is it corny? Like Iowa, baby.

Okay, Mr. Smart Alecky Movie Reviewer Guy, stop beating around the bush. Did you actually like it?

Um… yeah.

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Flash Gordon is one those movies that wears its lack of competence as a badge of honor. It so earnestly tries to entertain you that it dares you not to like it. Nothing about it works the way it should in a good movie, but I found myself having fun despite myself.

Not long after Dino De Laurentiis’ King Kong remake debuted to universal critical raspberries, George Lucas came along with his universally beloved little space movie. The producer must have decided that if this guy from Marin county could make that much money with a movie loosely based on the old Flash Gordon serials, then he could make that much more by going straight to the source material.

Sadly, Lorenzo Semple’s problematic script and some bad casting decisions undermined any hope of director Mike Hodge producing a blockbuster. Leading man Sam J. Jones, plucked from game show obscurity, couldn’t act his way out of the proverbial paper bag if he had a blowtorch. His Flash Gordon is a star quarterback for the New York Jets who’s just learning to fly a plane. I’m just not summarizing his character, either. That’s about all the development he gets. Dale Arden (Melody Anderson) is a travel agent who’s afraid to fly and that’s about all we ever know about her. At least Chaim Topol as discredited scientist Hans Zarkov gets some scenery to chew and seems to have fun with his role.

The same goes for the film’s rather distinguished supporting cast, all of whom must have lost a bet with De Laurentiis at some point. Brian Blessed and a pre-Bond Timothy Dalton gamely give their all. Swedish acting giant Max von Sydow, about a million miles from Ingmar Bergman, also injects a since of fun into his role as Emperor Ming but the efforts of these veterans are undermined by a lack of acting chops at the center of the story.

Not only does Sam Jones seem lost, but the unknown actor who dubbed all of his lines didn’t really improve things that much. I don’t know what was wrong with Jones’ original performance, but it’s hard to imagine it could be worse than what we got. The least they could done was dub Flash in Japanese or Swedish and make it interesting that way. Melody Anderson tries hard but she is mostly just required to deliver about 75 different variations on the name, “Flash!”

As Aura, Ming’s daughter, Ornella Muti looks absolutely luscious (maybe accounting for a lot of men’s fond memories of this movie) but she doesn’t have much else to contribute. Regarding her scenes with Sam Jones, I have rarely heard dialog that stilted and delivery that stiff in any film where the actors kept their clothes on.

Speaking of porn, Flash Gordon is probably best known for its musical score performed by the rock band Queen. If there is one element of this movie that has stood the test of time less than the others, it is the music. The famous theme song (“Flash! Aaaa-ah!”) now sounds like drunken outtakes from “Bohemian Rhapsody.” Most of the incidental music in the film reminds you of the cheesy synth loop from a porn movie.

So why is this monument to late seventies cinematic excess so fondly remembered, even by me? How could it possibly earn an 81% fresh rating on RottenTomatoes.com? I’m sure Ornella Muti didn’t hurt, but she can’t account for all of the movie’s cult status over the years, can she? I have to admit, there is something about its humor, its failure to take itself seriously at all and the sight of Brian Blessed in a leather speedo and hawk wings that wins you over despite yourself. It’s like the underachieving, unemployed buddy you knew in high school, who still lives with his mother and somehow gets laid more than you.

All I know is I just forked over $15 for the new DVD of this movie and I don’t feel guilty at all.

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