Flash Gordon is the hero of one of the oldest science fiction adventure comic strips and originally drawn by Alex Raymond. First published January 7, 1934, the strip was inspired by and created to compete Buck Rogers adventure strip.
I must admit Defenders of the Earth (1986) other TV series’ since the 1980’s film outing never rocked my boat and I wasn’t particularly fond of the comic strip or black and white serial reruns. That said, I have a childhood fondness for the feature animated (part rehash of the 70’s cartoon series) Flash Gordon The Greatest Adventure of All (1982). Ah the geek in me.
Without further ado here’s a few thoughts on Flash Gordon revisited without the childhood nostalgia.
A football player is tricked to travel the planet Mongo and finds himself forging friendships while fighting a tyrant, Ming the Merciless, to save Earth.
Lacking the production values and execution of the comparable Star Wars, Flash Gordon retains its comic-strip and Saturday morning matinee serial feel, possibly thanks to a troubled production and Lorenzo Semple Jr. screenplay.
Peter Wyngarde plays masked villain Klytus elegantly creepy (possibly and inspiration for He-Man’s Skeletor) and with Mariangela Melato Kala’s (oddly He-Man borrows another character this time Evil-Lynn) leads the assault while The Emperor Ming played subtly by Max von Sydow takes a back seat. It’s this distance between the protagonist and antagonist that hampers the film but on the other hand it’s works to its credit allowing an array of colourful characters to line the screen including Brian Blessed as Prince Vultan who’s delivers a barrage of classic lines while Timothy Dalton to graces the screen as dashing Errol Flynn alike Prince Barin.
Flash’s love interest Dale Arden is played by Melody Anderson and is the perfect 1950’s style every day New Yorker. Flash lacks Charisma, history may have been different should Kurt Russell had committed. Either way Sam J. Jones Flash Gordon does the job. There’s tones of familiar faces including UK’s Richard O’Brien, Robbie Coltrane
Sultry Ornella Muti is perfect as Ming’s daughter Princess Aura nevertheless there’s no doubt Topol steals every scene as unhinged science ‘genius’ Dr. Hans Zarkov.
While characters arcs change pacer than Queen’s memorable pumping and notable soundtrack amongst themes of forging friendships, suicide, death, sacrifice and resurrection to name a few there’s spaceships, poisonous creatures, red-clad guards and enough sequins to start a cabaret show all the things you’d expect from a science fiction. Beneath the bright and lustre costumes there’s a dark and rebel subtext.
Director Mike Hodges gives us many stand out scenes including a battle to the death on a remote control tilting platform with retractable spikes, an American football inspired fight, a space shuttle assault, gooey spider-monster and girls cat fight. There’s also some nice touches during Zarkov and prince escape that stay in the mind.
The effects are a mixed bag with projection and composites heavy utilised, again it gives it’s that hammy serial feel but hampers Flash’s longevity as a rounded work of art. Even so it packs in so many memorable characters, lines and moments that it retains a must seem charm.
Flash Gordon is flawed as much as the actor title role, it never fully explores the characters, yet, it’s well defined and still is a lot of fun. Gordon’s alive!