Flash Gordon (1980)

2009 #27a
Mike Hodges | 107 mins | DVD | PG / PG

Flash GordonI hadn’t been intending to review Flash Gordon — it’s not as if I don’t have enough new films to review — but though I have seen it before it was a long time ago and I was very young, so watching it again now I wasn’t quite prepared for just how good it is.

Flash often seems to be dismissed as an unintentionally campy load of nonsense, perhaps with some ironic appeal. What this assessment misses is how knowing it is. Yes, it’s ridiculously camp, the dialogue is cheesy, the performances equally so, and it’s brighter and more colourful than any under-5s TV show ever produced. But it knows it is, and because it does it with nary a nod nor a wink I think that passes some viewers by.

The sheer volume of things there are to love in this film makes them hard to list without watching it and pointing them out as they appear, but I’m sure I can manage a few. For one, there’s the design work — the sets, the costumes, the spaceships — all huge, vibrant, retro and often ridiculous, and all wonderful for it. The special effects are truly special, creating skies full of swirling rainbow colours, rainbow clouds for the spaceships to float through, platforms that tilt over a rainbow vortex… Do some of them look primitive? Well, a bit — but they have more charm than CGI ever will, and they don’t get in the way either.

The plot is ludicrous, built from B-movie elements and predicated on cliffhangers — which is exactly as it should be. The dialogue is packed with quotable lines, many so patently ridiculous that it can only have been deliberate. There’s not a single bad performance — everyone’s either in on the joke or playing the straight man to it. Of particular note are Max von Sydow’s properly villainous villain (who, to be quite honest, still has more depth than too many nemeses we see today); Peter Wyngarde as his scheming right-hand-man, granted a fantastic death; Mariangela Melato as his right-hand-woman, granted some of the very best ‘bad’ lines; Topol as a somewhat loopy Dr Zarkov; and, of course, Brian Blessed — no more need be said.

The fights and assorted other action scenes are exciting, frequently epic, and tinged — like so much of the film — with a perfectly judged level of humour. Arguably the best is a harem-set tussle between between Dale Arden and Princess Aura, watched by sniggering servants as they wrestle on a giant bed. It’s beyond knowingly handled by Hodges, the brief cutaways to the servants indicating the deliberate commentary on such voyeuristic lesbian-lite wrestling matches in other films.

Then there’s the score by Queen. As with Brian Blessed, what more needs to be said? (Incidentally, I got a big laugh when Blessed screams, “who wants to live forever anyway?”, forgetting that Highlander was still six years off when this was made.)

So, in all that, what’s wrong with Flash Gordon? When I noticed how much I was enjoying it — about five minutes in — I began keeping my eyes open for flaws, any niggling thing that detracted from the experience Hodges created. I couldn’t find a single thing. Not one.

Which means I can now become known far and wide as the blog that only awarded Star Wars four stars, but gave Flash Gordon a perfect

5 out of 5

1 thought on “Flash Gordon (1980)

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