Craptastic Cinema

Celebrating The Best Of The Worst Movies

Flash Gordon

Year : 1980 Director : Mike Hodges Running Time : 111 Minutes Genre : ,
Movie review score

FLASH… Ah Ahh… Saviour Of The Universe!!!!!!

If you are anything like me, you can not read the above words without singing the infamous theme of the 1980 movie Flash Gordon.

Flash Gordon was originally a comic strip created in the 1930’s to compete with Buck Rogers, which was the most popular space comic at the time.  Since then, Flash Gordon has been featured in cartoons, television shows, postage stamps, radio plays, and most importantly to this site… movies!  Yes, the 1980 version of Flash Gordon was not the first Flash movie, and will not be the last either.   What makes the 1980 movie start apart from all the other incarnations?  Is it not obvious?  It’s Craptastic!!!!!

I never saw Flash Gordon in the theaters, but growing up I must have seen this movie at least fifty times.  Flash Gordon was a staple of the Saturday Afternoon Matinee movies shown on local UHF stations here in Sacramento.  I do clearly remember watching this for the first time with my Dad and brother.  We laughed and enjoyed every bit of it.  I also remember my Mom laughing at my the three of us for liking this movie.  “It’s crap,” she would say over and over again.  Maybe that is what spawned my love for cheesy movies.

Flash Gordon (Sam J. Jones) is the Quarterback of the New York Jets.  He is just an average, every day man.  As the film opens, Earth is being plagued with seemingly normal natural disasters.  Hail storms, earthquakes, volcano eruptions, and oddly a solar eclipse.  Flash is on his way home from a trip when he boards a small plane.  On it, he meets a journalist named Dale Arden (Melody Anderson).  During the flight, the plane is hit by a meteor, and the pilots get sucked out of the cockpit.  This causes Flash to try to land the plane, unsuccessfully.  He crashes it into the lab of discredited scientist Dr. Hans Zarkov (Topal).  Zarkov has some deranged ideas as to why all the events are happening.  He kidnaps Flash, and Dale, to board his spaceship to fly to source.

When the three of them arrive, they realize that the universe is under the rule of an evil dictator named Emperor Ming The Merciless (Max von Sydow).  Ming is responsible for all the disasters happening on Earth, and has the intent on destroying it as well.  Ming ordered his generals Klytus (Peter Wyngarde), and Kala (Mariangela Melato) to kill Flash, but then retracted it because his daughter Aura (Ornella Muti) developed a small crush on Flash.  Of course, Aura hooks up with every man in the galaxy as it turns out.  One of those guys is the rightful prince of the universe Prince Barin (Timothy Dalton).  Ming also determines that he will marry Dale because of her beauty.  Flash objects, and is once again sentenced to death.  Only to be rescued by Aura, by means of a doctor who she has slept with… what a little hussy she is.

All the worlds of the universe are kept in a constant state of war, thus giving Ming a much easier time ruling them.  Many of the worlds are ready to fight back, but none are willing to be the first to fight.  Flash knows that separate they will lose, but together they have a chance.  He goes about trying to make peace among the worlds, but does not have a lot of success.  In the end, it is Flash’s bravery wins the day, creates peace long enough for one giant battle against Ming, to save Dale, and save Earth from destruction.  His main allies in the battle are the Hawkmen, lead by Prince Vultan (Brian Blessed).

Flash Gordon was filmed as a tribute to the old television serials from the 1930’s-50’s.  The look of the movie was directly influenced by those old productions, and other sci-fi from the era.  The acting was also purposely corny and over the top, just like it was in those old films too.  Some compare the acting in Flash Gordon to that of the Batman television show of the 1960’s staring Adam West.   The major visual improvement over the vintage films came with the advancement of special effects of the late 1970’s.  Movies like Star Wars changed the landscape forever, but don’t expect this movie to look like Star Wars.  Oh no, this movie looks like it is the largest budget movie of all time from the 1930’s.  One major difference from the movies of the 30’s, outside maybe The Wizard of Oz, is Flash Gordon has extremely vibrant colors.  It is almost like watching a painting with action placed on top of it.

The other major part of this movie, is the soundtrack performed by the rock group Queen.   They also made all the sound effects (lasers and such) with their instruments.  I can not stress enough how important this soundtrack is to the overall production of this movie.  Every moment is enhanced with Queen’s music.  Every time there is a major action moment, expect to hear “FLASH” sung.  It really does round out the movie perfectly.

Flash Gordon finds the right balance of action, humor, visual splendor, and audio delight.  On the Craptastic Scale, it can not score anything less than a 5 out of 5.  This is a cult classic, and deserves to be in every video collection.  If you are looking to buy it, there are two versions to look at.  The Blu-Ray stands out as perhaps the best choice, but if you want to go cheap, the “Saviour of the Universe” Edition of the DVD is worth tracking down.  Both have a great remastering of the picture and sound.  I actually own the Saviour of the Universe DVD, and am quite happy with it.  I have watched the Blu-Ray, and enjoyed it, just not enough to replace the DVD.

Interesting tidbit #1 – Sam J. Jones is an alumni of the High School I went to.

Interesting tidbit #2 – Richard O’Brien, of Rocky Horror Picture Show fame, stars in this movie as Prince Barin’s assistant Fico.

Interesting tidbit #3 – George Lucas originally wanted to do this movie in the mid 70’s, but when he heard someone else got the rights, he wrote Star Wars instead.

Interesting tidbit #4 – Pink Floyd was originally commissioned to do the soundtrack, but declined…. thankfully because this theme is too awesome…

-Matt Camarco

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