Flash Gordon (1980)

Pathetic Earthlings...who will save you now?

Flash Gordon is a product of the science-fiction/fantasy/adventure craze that hit the comic pages in the 1930s. Created by cartoonist Alex Raymond and first published by King Features on January 7, 1934, Flash Gordon was one of many comic adventure stories inspired by and created to compete against Buck Rogers in the 25th Century, but since then has taken on a life of its own, having been reprinted many times under many publishers, adapted into a number of TV series courtesy of the DuMont Network, the Filmation cartoon studio and the Siffy Channel, and has recently been featured in the works of Seth MacFarlane, a guy who's somehow made a lot of money by trying to pass off pop culture references as jokes.

Though, to be honest, MacFarlane was not referencing the comic itself, but rather the 1980 movie based off of it.

The one produced by Dino De Laurentiis, the Italian film producer who gave us Barbarella, the 1976 King Kong remake, and both Conan the Barbarian movies, riding the wave of sci-fi/fantasy movies inspired by the original Star Wars.

The one screen-written by Lorenzo Semple, Jr., who also wrote the first Batman movie. No, the FIRST Batman movie.

The one with the kick-ass theme song performed by:

Of course it's not like there's another Flash movie out there. Apart from the serials.

Once upon a time, there was a nice, kind, benevolent emperor named Ming (played by Max von Sydow of The Seventh Seal and The Exorcist) who ruled a very far-away planet called Mongo. One day he happened upon a planet named Earth, and decided he likes it so much he wanted to play with it, with earthquakes, hurricanes, and somehow triggering nasty volcanic eruptions to terrorize the population.

Oh, did I say "nice, kind and benevolent?" I meant "horribly, horribly evil."

Looks like a cross between Bruce Willis, Fu Manchu and Queen Amidala.

Meanwhile, somewhere in the barren wasteland of somewhere in the United States, a plane is boarded by Melody Anderson playing traveling journalist Dale Arden and the star of this movie, nude Playgirl centerfold Sam J. Jones as Flash Gordon--in the original comic a polo player from Yale University, in this film star quarterback of the New York Jets.

Ming sends in a plague of "hot hail" (couldn't it just say meteorites?) which pummels the plane and somehow makes its pilots disappear, leaving Flash and Dale to try and keep the plane in the air, but despite their best efforts, it crashes into the greenhouse belonging to one Dr. Hans Zarkov (played by Topol, whom I remember as one of James Bond's allies in For Your Eyes Only), an ex-NASA scientist who believes that these disasters are the cause of an alien invasion, an extraterrestrial force that is slowly pushing the moon towards the Earth.

Zarkov doesn't seem to mind that Flash and Dale have crashed an airplane into his house. In fact, he even invites them to fly his new rocketship with him to investigate these alien goings-on. At gunpoint, mind you, but, hey, at least they get to ride a rocket.

Okay, so which one of you is Flash?

The rocket takes them all to Mongo, where they are promptly captured by stormtroopers and brought before Ming. The fuehrer decrees Flash to be executed, Dale to become his new concubine, and Zarkov to have his mind wiped for entry into his secret police, and then...a football game breaks out between Flash and Ming's soldiers. Yeah, a football game. Flash plays quarterback, Dale plays cheerleader, and Zarkov reveals that he was a first-round draft pick for the Kansas City Chiefs by accidentally braining Flash with a forward pass.

At Flash's execution, however, he is rescued at the last minute and smuggled from his coffin out of the palace by Ming's daughter Aura (Ornelia Murti) who, I've gotta be frank here, is a TOTAL SLUT. I'm not just saying that, she is literally a tease. She already has a relationship with Prince Barin of Arboria (played by another Bond actor, Timothy Dalton) yet she seduces the royal surgeon to smuggle Flash out of Ming's palace during his execution, and while teaching Flash to fly the airship that's taking him to freedom and teaching him how to telepathically contact Dale and tell him he's alive, keeps trying to put her tongue down his throat.

Hey, hands on 10 and 2, buddy.

Anyway, Aura drops him off at Arboria, which looks a lot like the Ewok village from Return of the Jedi, and returns to the palace to be interrogated and tortured. And Prince Barin proves himself to be most hospitable to Flash by locking him in a cage and dumping him in a swamp, daring him to stick his hand in a hollow tree stump that is home to a poisonous stinging thing, and then saving his live from a carnivorous plant...so as not to be denied the pleasure of killing him himself.

Eventually everyone gets abducted (including Dale, who escapes Ming's palace with a very-much-not-mindwiped Zarkov, and Zarkov as well) and taken to the airborne kingdom of Sky City, home of its ruler Prince Vultan (played by BRIAN BLESSED, who has since become the most notorious actor in this film) and his army of Hawkmen (no relation to the DC superhero). And Vultan's first official act is to have Flash and Barin fight to the death on a rotating spiked platform.

But not before Dale is briefly reunited with Flash and hurriedly pops the question to him, after knowing him for just the span of a few hours, most of which she spent unconscious flying in a space capsule.

I don't think he expects you to talk.

The battle comes to an end when in a show of good sportsmanship Flash saves Barin from falling to his death, much to Vultan's disappointment, but word has gotten out that Flash has survived and it isn't long before Min's mingions...Ming's mingings...minmingminamin...the baddies turn up and recapture everybody. Except for Vultan and the hawkmen who fled at the arrival of Ming, and Flash, who rejects Ming's offer of a kingdom of his own after seeing how he turns everybody's neighbors against each other as insurance against a possible owverthrow of government and is left for dead at Sky City as it is to be demolished.

Having conveniently found a vehicle he can ride to escape just as Sky City is destroyed, Flash must now rescue Dale from marrying the universe's biggest prick, somehow save Barin and Zarkov from execution, and though I personally don't think she deserves it, stop Aura from being exiled to the coldest, iciest, most uncomfortable part of Mongo. Tall order for a first-string quarterback.

"Errm...which one of you is the bride again?"

Luckily a newly reformed Aura escapes her own exile and frees Barin and Zarkov just as Ming's army notices that Flash is not quite dead again and sends some army guys to make him not not quite dead again. Flash thinks to the newly-displaced Vultan, and together he and the Hawkmen launch an invasion of Ming's palace and stop the wedding. This includes a flying laser battle fight scene on Ming's battleship Ajax, complete with THE BEST MUSIC YOU COULD POSSIBLY SET TO A FLYING LASER BATTLE FIGHT SCENE.

Have a listen:

Queen could make a FAMILY REUNION sound epic.

Anyhoo, long story short, Barin manages to lower the palace's lightning field, allowing Flash to suicide-plunge the Ajax into the exact spot where Dale is becoming Ming's new sexual playthi--marrying the bastard, and without even bothering to wait until the "speak now or forever hold thy peace" part of the ceremony, finally crashes, skewering Ming on the long pointy end of the vessel, where he eventually...makes himself evaporate.

Oh, yeah, and the Earth is saved somehow, I guess.

Barin and Aura become the new Emperor and Empress of Mongo, Vultan is named their new general, and a big thank-you party is thrown in Flash's honor as he, Dale and Zarkov contemplate getting back to Earth.

Meanwhile, an unknown hand picks up Ming's ring in the final shot, setting up a possible sequel that never happens.

Earthling drivers.

It's very easy to dismiss Flash Gordon as comic book camp but, let's face it, it is. Any movie where half the characters dress in silly costumes and act like they're supposed to be taken seriously IS camp in its purest form. It was written by the guy who wrote the 1966 Batman movie, and knowing the sort of material he came up with for THAT feature, of course it would be a tad theatrical. Plus, anybody who could get BRIAN BLESSED to dress up in feathery shorts and wings with no shirt on...do I HAVE to spell it out for you people!!

Don't give me that look. It's not necessarily a bad thing to be overly theatrical. Adam West's Batman is regarded not just as a TV classic, but as a major influence to certain elements of the Batman comic we know today. And Electra Woman and Dyna Girl gets a pass because, well, it's Sid and Marty Krofft and I wouldn't expect anything more or less from them. Not sure what was the deal with Supergirl, though...

I enjoyed Flash Gordon. It was very entertaining. The visual effects were nice to look at, the action was pretty good, there was obvious attention to detail paid to its source material, and, of course, the soundtrack was kick-ass. And if no one else, at least Brian "GORDON'S ALIVE?!" Blessed appeared to be enjoying himself, even if his outfit wasn't doing him any favors.

That is the face of a man whose place in pop culture has just been cemented.

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