Saviour of the Universe!
Cast: Sam J. Jones, Melody Anderson, Ornella Muti, Max von Sydow, Chaim Topol, Timothy Dalton, Mariangela Melato, Brian Blessed, Peter Wyngarde, etc…
Director: Mike Hodges
Runtime: 111 minutes
Plot: International Space villain Emperor Ming the Merciless (Max von Sydow), decides he will destroy the Earth by natural disasters. American Football star Flash Gordon (Sam J. Jones) and travel journalist Dale Arden (Melody Anderson) are struck by a meteorite during a flight and crash land in the greenhouse of mad scientist Dr. Hans Zarkov (Topol), who lures them into his spaceship that he built on suspicion that something was going on in space. They land right in the middle of Ming’s base planet, and pursue to stop his nefarious plot of destroying the Earth.
Flash Gordon is perhaps the campest film I have ever seen, and really, that is its saving grace. Without the camp charm the film lays on in droves, Flash Gordon would just be a bad, bad film that would not be worth anyone’s time beyond the theme song.
Indeed, perhaps the most famous aspect of Flash Gordon is the theme song by Queen. This is played throughout the film and really sets up the mood of the proceedings. Queen provided the entire soundtrack, even playing the wedding song (sorry I don’t know the proper name, but I’m sure you know what I’m talking about) as a cheesy, awesome guitar solo. The rest of the film is as ridiculous and camp as its soundtrack and this is presumably the reason it has become such a cult classic in recent years.
The story and characters in the film must also be an important aspect of the film’s continued fan-base, Ming the Merciless in particular is great and has to be one of the strangest villains to have ever graced our screens. The mental story and characters play well with each other, but the majority of the acting falters beyond just camp hilarity.
Sydow’s performance as Ming is great fun and Brian Blessed as a winged warrior-king (‘Gordon’s Alive!’) is faultless – his performance is worth watching alone. However, the rest of the actors involved aren’t as good as the situations they find themselves in. I know I could watch Blessed shouting lines for hours, but watching a barrage of actors looking bored and just giving their lines is not that enjoyable, ruining for me at least what could have been a true classic.
As mentioned above, the situations the characters find themselves in in Flash Gordon are great, the fact that the special effects have aged so badly only helps proceedings. Only in this film will you find a man killing people by throwing what appears to be a Faberge Egg at them in an American football fashion. Or a fight-scene on a moving platform covered in spikes controlled by Brian Blessed and his laughing demeanour. When the acting gets more physical, Flash Gordon shines as a camp sci-fi curio.
Production design in Flash Gordon is very strong, and the whole array of camp characters dressed in equally camp costumes really make the film more enjoyable than it has any right to be, appealing to the comic-book aesthetic the film successfully employs.
At 111 minutes, the film is just too long. It really could have done with cuts made on many scenes of dialogue, where the acting really stinks. It is a shame, because a tighter edit that focussed more on the action and less on character relationships and interaction would have made for a Flash Gordon that was even more about the fun. At the length it is, Flash Gordon just does not flow well, and at times plods along in boring details (a problem I find with many sci-fis), the world and acting should sell the film, not the details.
Despite the film (in my opinion) being genuinely bad, I had quite a lot of fun with Flash Gordon. It’s a film that definitely is better than the sum of its parts, but the acting (other than Blessed and Sydow) is beyond “so bad it’s good” – it’s just bad. Flash Gordon is a cult classic, and I’m sure you’ll enjoy the film more than I did, so give it a go.
Flash Gordon is worse than it should be, and better than it should be. It’s confusing.