1980: Revisiting FLASH GORDON

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Dun dun dun dun dun dun dun dun Flash! A-ah. He'll save everyone of us.... With "Gordon's Alive" ringing in his ears, Si Shepherd reveals a deep love for Flash Gordon.


Flash Gordon is, what I like to call, my litmus test of movies. If you don't enjoy it at some level then you aren't allowed to call yourself a fan of movies anymore. You have no authority on them. Your opinion does not count. That's the rule I judge my friends by.

In case you do not know the story (and why not? Go watch Flash Gordon right now), American Football legend Flash Gordon (Sam J. Jones) and journalist Dale Arden (Melody Anderson) are aboard a private flight when a weird red-storm forces them to perform an emergency landing. They crash into the back garden of eccentric ex-NASA scientist Hans Zarkov (Topol), who believes the world is under attack from alien forces, and so he has built his own spaceship to do battle with the enemy. Astonishingly, it turns out that Zarkov was right - and pretty soon, Flash, Dale and Zarkov find themselves on the planet Mongo, battling against its tyrannical emperor Ming the Merciless (Max Von Sydow), with a little help from Ming's treacherous daughter (Ornella Muti), her lover Barin (Timothy Dalton), and the winged warrior Vultan (Brian Blessed).


I can only think of one word to sum up everything that Flash Gordon has to offer - magical. It is an absolute triumph of movie making, and I'm not even kidding. I say that in respect that it is an perfect homage to the Flash Gordon adventures which began in comic form in 1934, and the Buster Crabbe serials that appeared shortly afterwards. There is not one other movie that is based on source material from 50 years previous, which remains half as true to its origins as Flash Gordon does. It's essentially a 1930s comic strip brought perfectly to life, and if you watch this and do not come away feeling 10 times better than you did before then movies as a medium are clearly not for you.

Flash Gordon is only enhanced by the decision to use bad actors in roles that would only benefit from the lack of skill (I'm not totally blinded by my love for the film to see that Sam Jones and Melody Anderson are never going to be troubled during Awards Season), as well as casting them alongside Oscar-caliber actors in the most demanding roles. Max Von Sydow is an obvious example of the latter, but Mariangela Melato (Kala), Brian Blessed, and Ornella Muti are all standouts in their respective roles. If Blessed in full Hawkman costume is not enough to fill the geek factor then there's the pre-Bond Timothy Dalton looking like a dashing young Douglas Fairbanks; Jason King himself, Peter Wyngarde as Klytus and Blue Peter's Peter Duncan dipping his arm into a tree he'd made earlier.


If you are 20 minutes into this movie and are not already totally won over by the sheer feel good factor then you need to check your pulse. You've just witnessed Flash accidentally launching himself into space, one of the best opening sequences accompanied by the amazing score from Queen, and the 'American football fight' scene between Ming's guards and Flash. When our hero takes his jacket off to reveal a T-shirt that says "FLASH" you know that we're just having fun for the remainder of our time together.

Flash Gordon continues to take that fun to new, amazing levels. Constantly topping itself in scene after scene. Our tour of Mongo delivering segments pulled straight from those classic adventures and polished up with fantastic matte backdrops. Before you know it we are at the "What do you mean? Flash Gordon approaching?" scene, and Flash is advancing on Mingo City via a rocket cycle - the last 100 minutes having flown past in one magical haze of glorious technicolour.


Flash Gordon is an absolutely insane film, there really is nothing quite like it - it has such a unique visual style. The set design is remarkable, with extraordinarily ornate production designs and costumes. Then there's the decision to have Queen score the whole thing which just raises the movie to a totally different level - their single 'Flash!' is packed full of quotable dialogue from the film but unfortunately missing some of the best (a few samples: "This Ming is a psycho!"; "That must be some planet you come from!"; and, my favourite, "Freeze! You bloody bastards!"). I think it is a match made in heaven, and exceeds their later work on Highlander, after all Flash Gordon is as camp and theatrical as Queen were themselves.

Flash Gordon should be a disaster - it could've been an awful shambles of a film with no redeeming qualities. It isn't. Not at all. The sum of its parts far exceeds all expectations. Clearly an awful lot of love went into this production and, inadvertently or not, the end result is truly the greatest guilty pleasure movie of all time.
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