Tuesday, December 29, 2020

Flash Gordon (1980)

Far off in the reaches of space, galactic despot Ming the Merciless is bored, and seeks out a new 'plaything'. To entertain himself he bombards the planet Earth with scores of natural disasters, which are recognised as an attack by one man only, the disgraced scientist Dr. Hans Zarkov. After one of these disasters causes a plane malfunction, world-class footballer Flash Gordon and his companion Dale Arden crash land right by the doctor's lab, and are led at gunpoint into a homemade rocket ship.   sent flying off to outer space, where they soon find themselves in the bizarre alien world of Mongo, and must escape capture and defeat Ming if they want to have nay hope of returning home...

Flash Gordon is a true classic of the 80s, in more ways than one. It's often regarded as a camp classic, but it's also very fondly remembered as a legitimately great film in its own right. Produced by Dino de Laurentiis as a British-Italian co-production, and directed by industry veteran Mike Hodges. =

The movie gets off to a brisk start. An ominous and dryly funny exchange between Ming the Merciless tells us all we need to know, then we get straight into the action, meeting our heroes as they find themselves stuck on a journey to almost certain death, and fight to liberate this strange planet, and find a way home. We see their enemies and allies at  from the  Prince Barin, and loud winged warrior Prince Vultan. Also 

This is very much a campy movie, intentionally so by the filmmakers. Which makes it all the more impressive that it works, as trying to make something campy has a poor track record, just like someone trying to make a 'so bad it's good' film. It's something that usually only happens by accident. As for why it works here, sincerity is a key factor. The story is played completely straight, no matter how goofy things may get. And there's just the right balance of humour and =.

The dialogue is great, full of funny and = lines, from Ming's = comments and monologues, to the banter between Aura and Barin, and the bad puns. And who could forget the classic "Flash I love you, but we only have 14 hours to save the Earth!"

This is a perfect adaption too. It captures all the colour and imagination of the comics, as well as accurately depicting the story, and while it takes the mickey a little bit, it's never a full-on parody, nor does it ever just make fun of the source material. Some movies aren't above sketchy behaviour like that, but there's a clear respect here of the original comics, which is no more evident than in the stylish and meticulously crafted opening credits.

The worst thing Flash Gordon could be accused of is being a little overstuffed. There's a lot going on, a lot of characters, and a lot of places. It all works perfectly, though to some first time viewers it may come across as a little bit much.

The appearance here is stellar! The opening 10 minutes are actually weird in a way because they take place on Earth, when the rest of the film is 100% on Mongo. Many films either take a cheap way out, or set as much time as possible on Earth, but here is a movie not afraid to look as alien as possible. Each location is vast, garish, wildly coloured, and some are almost surreal in design, with even the sky and space looking like a living artwork. The integration can sometimes look a little unconvincing, but these are minor and forgiving moments.

Then there are the effects themselves, which

characters    , while Vultan is more aggressive and headstrong, but honourable. I like how none are allies from the get-go, and we really gt a sense that Flash has to work to gain their respect and trust. This makes it all the more impactful when Barin becomes so devoted to this new friend, after spending half the movie trying to kill him.

The villains are  And Ming is a superb villain. He has such a great presence. There is never any need for him to yell and scream. He's already got everything he wants, and he can send out more fear with a quiet command than a howl. But as the film goes on, we know that Flash is gonna make this asshole vocal with fear!

The actors all do a great job, and are nicely varied. We have some exaggerated performances here and there, and some amusingly = Italian ones, but none do a bad job. Accused over the years of delivering a wooden performance is Sam J. Jones as Flash, but I think he's fine. He looks the part, and acts it well too, as does his dub actor (long story). Melody Anderson is a spunky co-star, while Topol is equal parts daffy and endearing. Timothy Dalton and Brian Blessed are great in different ways. Ornella Muti is drop dead gorgeous as the seductive Princess Aura, playing her to a tee. Peter Wyngarde is a much welcome presence as the masked villain Klytus too. And lastly we have Max von Sydow as the iconic Ming the Merciless, delivering an icy cold performance, with lots of great dialogue. Overall there's quite a packed cast here! None disappoint, which is the best you can hope for in any film.

The music in Flash Gordon is unique in that is was scored entirely by Queen (and some dude named Howard Blake)! There were only two movies to receive this honour. Flash, and Highlander. While the latter film got a full-on [music] soundtrack, there are mostly instrumental tracks here, but all are great and each stands out as a distinct and = piece. They fit their scenes perfectly, often elevating them tenfold. And they're unmistakeably Queen too, especially the rousing title track! I tell ya, the whole last act wouldn't have nearly as much power if it weren't for Freddie Mercury periodically blasting out "He's a miracle!...King of the impossible!".

Flash Gordon has always been a favourite of mine

1 comment:

  1. It has all the virtues of 80s film-making without any of the vices. Great fun.