Kicking off with quite possibly the single greatest theme song in cinema history, we are hurled kicking and screaming into the swirly, garish world of Flash Gordon, a film that took quite some time for an infant me to grasp thanks to the stranglehold that Star Wars had on my tiny child brain. Back then I had carelessly written Mike Hodges’ comic book epic off as silly fluff that lacked the grit and tangibility of George Lucas’ holy trilogy, therefore spectacularly missing the point. Critically, you can no sooner compare Flash Gordon to Star Wars as you can compare Adam West’s Batman to The Dark Knight trilogy – they are utterly different animals and therefore deserve to be loved equally for completely different reasons.
A living amalgamation of the original comics and the black and white series of the 30’s and 50’s, Flash Gordon is a fabulously trashy assault on the senses who’s broad fun and ridiculous tone still manage to live on today in the form of such movies as Taika Waititi’s gonzo Thor: Ragnorok.
Emperor Ming – a cruel space despot with black McDonald’s arches for eyebrows and an alarming penchant for wanting to bone any women who enters his gaze – has decided to amuse himself by fucking with the planet earth by twating it about the universe with violent storms. Into this rainbow hued kingdom stumbles a trio of humans who get accidently blasted into space in the rocket of the mad, but well meaning, scientist Dr. Hans Zarkof. His travelling companions are Flash Gordon, a star football player who somehow is a decent guy despite the fact he openly wears a t-shirt with his own name on it and Dale Arden, a travel agent.
Immediately (and accdently) coming within a hair’s breadth of inciting a revolution within minutes of being led into the throne room, Flash is sentenced to death, Dale is enlisted into Ming’s harem and Zarkov is to have his mind wiped and recuited into the Emperor’s secret police but all three manage to escape. While Flash half-heartedly fends of the advances of Ming’s nymphomaniac daughter and is smuggled out only to butt heads with dashing swamp-prince Prince Barin while Dale and Zarkov find themselves at the mercy of a race of winged barbarians known imaginatively as The Birdmen. Pretty soon Vultan, the King of the Birdmen (who lacks any semblance of an indoor voice) manages to capture Flash and Barin and the former pleads the heads of the two mistrusting kingdoms to finally unite in order to stand against the sadistic Ming.
Can they possibly hope to persevere against this colossal space pervert and unite all the kingdoms of Mongo into one?
By any measure of scientific sense, Flash Gordon simply shouldn’t work. Being filmed in primary colours so incredibly vibrant they could disperse (or cause) a cataract and armed with a script so tongue in cheek it’s a wonder you can understand what anyone is saying but literally everyone involved tackles the material with such a spirited lack of cynicism, it’s impossible not to get swept up in the hugely enjoyable lunacy.
The performances are the level of intergalactic panto and are, frankly, amazing. Max Von Sydow and disgraced former Jason King actor Peter Wyngarde frantically try to out-sneer each other as Emperor Ming and his Doctor Doom-esque right hand man, Klytus as they both purr their lines like evil, immaculately dressed cats. Timothy “Freeze, ya bloody bastards!” Dalton brings a dash of Errol Flynn to the role of Prince Barin, somehow keeping his dignity intact as he scampers around in what appears to be Peter Pan’s hand-me-downs and adding tremendously to the already critical levels of high camp are the shy, retiring personalities of Topol and the walking vocal chord that is Brian Blessed who make every line, no matter how insignificant, into a booming statement that reverberates around the skull like a verbal concussion.
“CHECK THE ANGULAR VECTOR OF THE MOON!!!”, “GORDON’S ALIVE!!!” and of course “DIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIVE!!!!!” go to prove that there’s simply not enough exclamation points in the world to do justice to the quotes of this film.
And still the campness continues as almost every action, set, costume and scrap of dialogue is overblown out of all proportion.
The action, while sometimes a little staged, is hugely entertaining as Flash busts some football moves on Ming’s unsuspecting royal guard while Dale pulls cheerleader duties from the sidelines and flies a rocket ship right into the side of Ming’s palace to fuck up the bald degenerate’s wedding while Queen’s rocking themes tie the insanity together with delirious power chords and pumping rhythm and the grudge match between Flash and Barin on a tilting platform rotten with spikes is suprisingly viscous, especially considering they are both enthusiastically lashing the crap out of each other with bull whips the whole time.
Featuring exquisite set and costume design and featuring visual effects of multicolored paint swirls that drift across the Mogo skyline; it’s so lush, I’ve grown convinced that either I’m in danger of getting diagnosed with diabetes everytime I watch it or I’ve accidently dropped a tab of acid and the fact that almost everyone in the film is bizarrely horny pretty much all of the time means that it’s very much in the running for being one of the ultimate cult movies of all time. Not bad for a film where the lead actor is quite obviously dubbed.
Anyone who turns their nose up at this movie may very well be missing the point that it’s REALLY not supposed to be taken seriously (it’s made by the director of Get Carter for christ’s sake – the man obviously knows serious when he sees it!) but never mind them or their tears (as Ming says; it’s a sign of their weakness).
Flash, I love you but we only have fourteen hours to save the earth!