Thursday, June 12, 2014

Sci Fi Guilty Pleasures: Flash Gordon (1980 Movie)

What Is It? In 1980, just as the sci fi boom in the cinemas was kicking into high gear, this big budget adaptation of the comic strip/movie serial hero Flash Gordon hit theaters and reinvented the character for the Blockbuster Era.  All of the familiar characters of the Gordon canon came along as well including Dale Arden, Dr. Zarkov, Ming the Merciless, Prince Barin, and of course the sultry Princess Aura stealing the show with a steamy performance by Ornella Muti.  And to cap it all off, the movie sported a driving soundtrack by rock superstars Queen whose over-the-top music added just the right camp flourish to this tongue-in-cheek updating of the Flash Gordon mythos.

Why It's a Guilty Pleasure:  Even though this movie did not quite grab audiences the same way as the sci fi blockbusters that preceded it like Star Wars, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Superman, and Alien, it still stands out as a camp classic that never took itself too seriously and that actually reveled in its own cheesiness.

The Skinny: The Star Wars movies and Raiders of the Lost Ark (which would come out in 1981) recaptured the spirit of the old movie serials of the 30’s, 40’s, and 50’s and added the production values that those films never had.  But Flash Gordon actually went straight back to those roots and redid one of the original sci fi heroes on a blockbuster budget.  It stayed close to much of the camp appeal of the original, though, and played it much more tongue-in-cheek than Star Wars, Raiders of the Lost Ark, or other films that drew heavily on early sci fi cinema.  It's not a great movie, but Flash Gordon does just manage to escape the mind-numbing category (unlike the Buck Rogers TV series that hit the airwaves a year prior), in part because of its self-mocking attitude and in part because of the choice performances of all but the hero and heroine (with outstanding reads by veterans like Max Von Sydow, Brian Blessed, and Topol).  Not that Sam Jones or Melody Anderson did a bad job with Flash and Dale, they just had the unfortunate position of playing straight man/woman to all the more colorful alien characters (and the madcap Dr. Zarkov too).   But the cast in total is impeccable, each perfectly suited to their roles and each fully aware that they were not trying to deliver Shakespeare or Dickens or Tolstoy with this movie, just an entertaining bit of sci fi fun. Don’t go looking to Flash Gordon for high-brow, though-provoking science fiction.  Just take it for the enjoyable bit of fluff it is, and you will find that it goes down quite easy.

Notable Stars: Sam Jones (Flash Gordon), Max von Sydow (Ming), Brian Blessed (Prince Vultan), Ornella Muti (Princess Aura), Timothy Dalton (Prince Barin)

Interesting Facts:  Before beginning on Star Wars, George Lucas had originally wanted to remake Flash Gordon, but could not secure the license for the property.  Thus, he ended up creating his own universe, but one that drew much inspiration from Flash Gordon, Buck Rogers, and many other sources.

And if you wondered why we never got that sequel teased at the end of the movie, you can find out why at this link.

Buy the Many Incarnations of Flash Gordon on DVD and Blu-ray from

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