- Movie Rating -

Flash Gordon (1980)

| December 5, 1980

Flash Gordon, like every other science fiction epic in the late 70s and early 80s, falls under misfortune of having been released within close proximity to the Star Wars movies.  They are so popular and such a genre game-changer that you almost reject them for not being as good.  But what movie could be?  Those films took this silly genre and turned in on its head, offering up a mythology that took itself seriously and made us look at it in a new way.  Given that, a movie like Flash Gordon seems cornball and old-fashioned.

But, let me just say, I think that was the point.  This movie wants to be cornball and old-fashioned.  The marvel is that it takes the tenets of the old Flash Gordon serials and makes them fun and interesting instead of tired and boring.  It cross-pollinates the old Buster Crabb serials with the aesthetics of a new world of music videos and the result is a movie that it bright and lively and colorful.  It’s a lot of fun.

What it doesn’t have is brainpower, but we don’t mind much because we know the territory.  The movie opens with a crisis facing Earth that our scientists don’t seem to take too seriously despite the fact that the moon is out of orbit and there’s a solar eclipse out of nowhere.  Naturally the only person to take it seriously is completely mad – the mad doctor Han Zarkov who interprets these events as an attack on the Earth.  So, he kidnaps Dale Arden (Melodie Anderson) and Flash Gordon (Sam Jones) and puts them aboard his rocket (he has one of those) and hurls them into the cosmos to stop the impending attack.

Here is where the movie seems to run dangerously close to being trounced by Star Wars.  The special effects here look cheap and artificial.  The rocket that hurls through space looks like cardboard model against a spilling canvas, and given the artistry that created those elephant-walkers in The Empire Strikes Back, one might be willing to reject the film on general principal.  But cheap is the name of the game in Flash Gordon.  Owing to its origins, the movie wants to be as cheap and hokey and silly as it can.  If not, how can you possibly take it seriously – given the kind of grounded reality of Star Wars, if they tried it here, it might make for a very boring movie.  After all, how do you ground Ming the Merciless in reality?

I loved how bright and glittery Ming’s kingdom looks.  It’s all decked out in gold and red with courtisans decked out in ridiculous costumes that look like something out of a very expensive Vegas revue backed by a never-ending chorus of music by Freddie Mercury and Queen.

I can’t say much for the plot, but then again, I never expected to.  Flash, Dale and Zarkov end up in the court of Ming who imprisons Flash, makes marriage plans for Dale and sends to Zarkov to a chamber where his genius will be sucked out of his head – it’s that kind of a movie.  But what’s more interesting is the world here, all full of bizarre creatures, strangely robed dignitaries with silver crowns and a flock Hawkmen that look leftover from Barbarella.  The back half of the movie is overloaded with lasers and glittery surfaces and badly molded matte paintings and that pumping rock score.  This isn’t a brainy movie.  It’s silly, goofy, bright, colorful and fun.

About the Author:

Jerry Roberts is a film critic and operator of two websites, Armchair Cinema and Armchair Oscars.
(1980) View IMDB Filed in: Uncategorized