When I see the name Dino De Laurentiis attached to a movie, I immediately think of goofy science fiction and fantasy films. So obviously, when I saw it appear at the beginning of Flash Gordon I knew I was in for a special kind of treat. Despite its questionable “parentage”, Flash Gordon is definitely a must see film for any fan of B level science fiction films.
To begin, the audience finds itself introduced to our hero, Flash Gordon, quarterback for the New York Jets. Flash quickly finds himself, as well as travel agent Dale Arden and Dr. Zarkov, hurtling into space in a craft of Zarkov’s design, in an attempt to save Earth from Ming the Merciless. Ming has decided to destroy Earth because Zarkov was smart enough to figure out Ming was behind a series of natural disasters. Flash and his companions eventually become prisoners of Ming and shortly thereafter Flash is executed. Or so it would appear. Flash is instead revived by Ming’s daughter and thus begins a series of events that will culminate in Flash leading an open revolt against Ming.
I have to admit that I was more than a little surprised at the quality of Flash Gordon. In fact, in almost every respect, it exceeded my expectations. Now to be fair, there are several plot holes big enough to drive an aircraft carrier through, but I expected as much going into this. And while there are a few truly silly moments, like when Flash plays football as a means to take on Ming’s guards, there were far fewer of them than I expected. I’m almost more surprised at the quality actors that De Laurentiis was able to get. The cast includes Max Von Sydow, Topol, Timothy Dalton and Brian Blessed. While these guys may not be Hollywood A-listers, they are certain several steps above the quality I expected to find. Even Sam Jones as Flash isn’t bad. His performance is, if nothing else, entertaining, which is honestly all I can hope for from a movie such as this. Jones plays a solid good guy hero. Flash doesn’t really need to think too hard, just do the right thing at the right time, and Jones does his job ably.
The aspect of the movie that really had me sold was the visuals. Normally, a movie like this will be filled with cheap looking sets and poor quality costumes. Much to my surprise, neither of these were true. Again, one must understand that this is still not grade A Hollywood. At no point do I feel really immersed in the universe, but neither do I feel like I’m looking at a badly dressed sound stage. Some of the sets, like Arboria are really quite elaborate and rather wonderful. I was amazed at how much depth there was to the sets. The film also made excellent use of lighting. Given the fact that the movie obviously didn’t have much of a budget, let alone for special effects, lighting was one of the things they could use. The various techniques used help to make the film vibrant and just plain pleasant to look at. As for the costumes, they are ridiculous to be certain, but they are well made and look rather impressive. Although it may not be particularly PC to say, I think the most impressive had to be those of the various women in the film. While they didn’t offer much coverage, they all were made of various elaborate and detailed pieces, making the best of what little was present. And of course, throughout all the visuals of the film ran the hints of material “borrowed” from Jodorowsky’s Dune book, which certainly helps improve the visual appeal of the film.
Of course the movie has some down sides as well. As good as Max Von Sydow is, he is still in what amounts to “yellow face,” being a white man playing a nominally Asian character. I get the fact that the movie is almost thirty years old, but that still doesn’t make it ok. I don’t think it would surprise anyone to know that there were, in fact, Asians in 1980. It was one of the few things that kept making me shudder throughout the movie. Also, I have to admit that I wasn’t really a fan of the Queen soundtrack. I’m really quite impressed that they managed to get Queen in the first place, but they just kept playing the Flash theme over and over again, and after a while it stopped being funny and corny and switched to just annoying.
Overall, Flash Gordon is just a really fun movie. It certainly didn’t win any awards, nor does it really deserve to. But then again, not every movie worth watching is going to win awards. Sometimes it’s nice to just crash on the couch and turn ones brain off for a couple hours. Flash Gordon provides prime brainless material. 4/5 Death Stars