Peter’s Retro Movies Review: Flash Gordon (1980)

November 18, 2011

Flash Gordon Posterby Peter Nielsen

Earthquakes, tornadoes, vulcanic eruptions, red-hot hail? The Earth is struck by one disaster after another and no-one seems to know why. No-one except Dr. Hans Zarkov that is! The slightly mad and obsessive scientist, who claims that Earth is under attack from an alien force. Unfortunately for Earth, he’s absolutely correct in that assumption. When things turn from bad to worse, the good doctor more or less kidnap Dale Arden and Flash Gordon and force them to go with him on his homemade rocket-ship.

They set their course for the approaching planet that seems to be the cause of the disasters on Earth. They are forced down onto the surface of the planet Mongo and taken to Mingo City where they are brought before Ming the Merciless, supreme ruler of the universe. He’s completely ruthless and will have you killed if you so much as look at him the wrong way. He takes a liking to Dale Arden and wants to marry her and since Flash objects, he’s promptly sentenced to death. Dr. Zarkov is to be conditioned (brainwashed) and turned into an agent of Mongo.

War Rocket Ajax

War Rocket Ajax

The emperor Ming is played brilliantly by Max Von Sydow, an actor with an impressive list of movies on his CV. How about Dune, The Exorcist or Needful Things to name just a handful? And add to that a bunch of successful Swedish movies and the list goes well beyond one hundred.

The cast of Flash Gordon is actually kind of impressive with the likes of Timothy Dalton (The Living Daylights, The Rocketeer), Brian Blessed (High Road to China, Much Ado About Nothing, Macbeth, King Lear) and Topol (Fiddler on the Roof, For Your Eyes Only) in the various important roles surrounding Flash Gordon.

Topol is the scientist Dr. Zarkov, who manages to fool his captors that he is in fact brainwashed… at least for a short while. A very short while! Ming is much too smart to fall for that. Flash himself, at this point believed to be dead, is revived by Ming’s daughter, the princess Aura, who’s smitten by Flash and wants him all for herself. She takes him to her other lover, Prince Barin, so he can stay hidden from her father. She’s good at manipulating people into giving her what she wants.

Squadron 40! DIIIIVE!!!

Squadron 40! DIIIIVE!!!

Now this other lover is played by Timothy Dalton who gives a surprisingly “wooden” performance as Prince Barin here. This is however rather fitting, since (and I know this is going to sound cruel) Barin is the prince of Arboria, the forest world… Ouch!! He is also insanely jealous and wants to kill Flash himself. Ornella Muti who plays the princess, and has been in a ton of Italian movies, looks very appetizing in her skintight, red cat-suit, so I kind of understand the good prince a little.

They eventually all end up in Sky City on the home-world of Prince Vultan of the Hawk-men, where Flash is re-united with Dale Arden. Maybe I should introduce you to the actors in these roles. Sam J. Jones as Flash has been in the comedy 10 (starring Dudley Moore) as well as episodes of Baywatch, The Highwayman and Hunter. In 1987 he also starred in my favorite movie-version of Will Eisner’s The Spirit. Dale is portrayed by Melody Anderson from Firewalker opposite Chuck Norris and also from the horror movie Dead & Buried.

I would advise AGAINST sitting down without looking!

I would advise AGAINST sitting down without looking!

Ok, so back to Sky City where the loud and boisterous Prince Vultan (the great Brian Blessed) has pitted Prince Barin and Flash against each other in a fight to the death (with whips) on a floating platform with spikes. If nothing else the movie sure is inventive with these things and that harkens back to the old serials too.

The various methods of killing people off were always elaborate and inventive, but I suppose that was the case with all of the old cliffhanger serials, huh? Anyway, after a bit of bickering and fighting they all agree to join forces against Emperor Ming to bring an end to his reign of terror. Ok, so there’s a bit more to it than that, but I can’t tell you everything, now can I?

In case you haven’t figured it out yet, this movie is one of my guilty pleasures. I’ve been a Flash Gordon fan since I first started reading the comic-strips and watching the great cliffhanger serials starring Buster Crabbe. Space Soldiers from 1936, Trip to Mars from 1938 and Flash Gordon Conquers the Universe from 1940. In this version from 1980, the director Mike Hodges (Get Carter, A Prayer for the Dying) has managed to make a campy, cheesy and ridiculously over the top type of movie which is impossible NOT to love.

Zarkov, Dale and Flash sans costumes.

Zarkov, Dale and Flash sans costumes.

It’s also a very colorful one and I don’t just mean the characters, but also the costumes and the sets themselves. In Arboria it’s all brown and green (of course), Sky City is mostly white and silver and in Ming’s palace you’re almost overwhelmed by red and gold. And don’t get me started on the spaceships… They’re truthful to the comics and in some way also the old serials and they are fantastic!

I’m sorry, but I have to mention three more characters… Let’s start with Klytus played by Peter Wyngarde (The Innocents), the gold-armored human/robot-hybrid henchman who is as evil as Ming. And then we have Kala, Ming’s other henchman or woman as it were, who is as ruthless as both Klytus and the Emperor. She is portrayed by Mariangela Melato whom I haven’t seen in anything else, but like Ornella Muti has been in a lot of Italian movies.

The last one I’d like to mention is one of Prince Barin’s men, Fico. And all you Rocky Horror Picture Show fans out there (of which I’m one) will most surely recognize Richard O’Brian in this role. He’s also been in another little gem called Dark City.

And as if all of this wasn’t enough to make Flash Gordon one hell of a great ride, we top it off with the stupendously awesome soundtrack from Queen. I’ll bet that even those who haven’t seen the movie, still know the opening song… Right?

To wrap things up, I’ll just like to say that I know this flick probably won’t be to everyone’s liking, but fortunately we’re all entitled to our own opinion and THIS… is mine: Flash Gordon is a kick-ass movie and I friggin’ love it!

Until next time my friends…


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