Directed By: Mike Hodges
Starring: Sam J. Jones, Melody Anderson, Max Von Sydow
Tag line: "Pathetic Earhtlings...Who Can Save You Now?"
Trivia: Kurt Russell auditioned for the part of Flash Gordon, but ultimately turned the part down
When I was 12 years old, I watched Flash Gordon just about every time it played on cable TV, and even then I knew it was one of the cheesiest films I’d ever seen.
But what can I say? I love it!
Ming the Merciless (Max Von Sydow), ruler of all Mongo, has decided to pass a little time by destroying the earth, causing everything from tidal waves to hail storms in his attempt to wipe out the planet. While the citizens of earth are busy dealing with every natural disaster known to man, Dr. Hans Zarkov (Topol) has taken matters into his own hands, building a rocket ship to carry him to Mongo so he can stop Ming and save the earth. The problem is, he needs help piloting it. So, when football star Flash Gordon (Sam J. Jones) and his traveling companion Dale Arden (Melody Anderson) inadvertently crash their small plane into his laboratory, Zarkov takes advantage of the situation and, at gunpoint, orders the two to take a seat inside the rocket. The blast-off is successful, and upon their arrival in Mongo, all three are taken prisoner. Flash, who dukes it out with a few guards and is therefore sentenced to death, catches the eye of the Emperor’s oversexed daughter, Princess Aura (Ornella Muti), while Ming takes a fancy to Dale, and decides to make her his concubine. Meanwhile, the rulers of the various worlds of Mongo secretly plot to overthrow Ming and his tyrannical henchmen, Klytus (Peter Wyngarde). The only thing they need is a leader to guide them, and that leader is Flash Gordon!
What is it that makes Flash Gordon such an incredibly entertaining motion picture? Well, aside from Queen’s awesome title song (“Flash! AHH-AAHHH! He’s a miracle!”), I love the different worlds that make up Ming’s Empire. Prince Barin (Timothy Dalton) is the leader of Arboria, a jungle-like planet where everyone dresses like Robin Hood, and courage is tested by way of a tree stump, which houses a deadly mound of goo with a scorpion’s tail. Even Ming’s palace is spectacular, featuring orbs that float through the air and emit a freeze ray, and cyborg-like workers who wear high tech sunglasses. As Ming, Max Von Sydow is deliciously evil, while Ornella Muti, who plays Ming’s daughter, is drop-dead sexy (back in the day, she set my 12-year-old mind to spinning). Yet nothing… nothing… tops the Hawk men, a species living high above the clouds that’s led by the bombastic Prince Vultan, played by the incomparable Brian Blessed. It’s Blessed who gets the film’s most memorable lines, delivering them as loudly as possible (“Hawk Men! DIVE!”).
Sure, Sam Jones isn’t exactly stellar in the title role (in fact, he’s pretty wooden), and the movie is awash in gaudy, over-the-top sets and costumes (I’m still trying to figure out the tiny race of brightly-colored creatures, all wearing bicycle helmets and square capes, that are one of the many groups paying homage to Ming in his palace. To me, they look like distant cousins of the Oompa-Loompas from 1971’s Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory). On top of that, some scenes don’t make a lick of sense (If, at the beginning of the movie, Ming had never heard of Planet Earth before, why did his “big board of catastrophes” have a button marked “Earthquake”?) But even the film’s most ridiculous characters, its tackiest moments, its worst special effects work in its favor, all doing their part to transform Flash Gordon into a bona-fide ‘80s classic.