It is hard to argue that this wasn’t the best summer ever for super hero movies. Iron Man, The Incredible Hulk and The Dark Knight all spent weeks at number one. In fact the past decade has been huge for super hero movies and don’t expect that to change anytime soon. Back in the 70’s and 80’s Superman held the top spot in the movies. But he wasn’t the only one to grace the big screen… at least temporarily. When I was at a friend’s house for a 4th grade birthday party we watched the 1980 super hero flick Flash Gordon. I remembered very little about the film other than I liked it. And who could forget the Flash Gordon theme song sung by Queen (if you’ve seen Blades of Glory you know what I’m talking about). Actually most of the musical score was composed by Queen, and it is a big standout of the movie. So I decided it was time to re-watch the movie and see how it compares to the super hero films of today.
Flash Gordon has a terrific cast of actors including Max von Sydow and Timothy Dalton. Flash is played by Sam J. Jones who you may remember from the short lived TV show The Highwayman. Flash is a New York Jets football player who is taking a flight home when some strange natural disasters start occurring. The world is rocked by volcanic eruptions, earth quakes and meteors falling from the moon. But what the world doesn’t know is that the evil Emperor Ming is using the earth as one of his toys. During the flight some mysterious red clouds envelope the plane and rip the pilots through the front window. Flash, who has taken a few flying lessons, is forced to make an emergency landing. He and the only other passenger, Miss Dale Arden, crash land in the laboratory of Dr. Hans Zarkov. Zarkov has been blathering on for years about how the earth is vulnerable to attack, and he is the only one who believes that the planet won’t last long unless someone stops the assault. Fortunately the good Dr. has created a rocket and tricks Flash and Dale into helping him pilot it into space.
As Flash and his companions hurdle through space Ming is notified to their presence and helps their rocket reach the planet Mongo. Immediately they are taken prisoner and soon realize that the inhabitants of Mongo and the surrounding planets are all slaves to the Emperor and his armies. The inhabitants include lizardmen, hawkmen, gold faced robot looking creatures and some guys who look like Robin Hood’s merry men. Not wanting to become one of the many slaves of this planet, Flash decides to run an audible and have some fun with the guards. He throws a few blocks into the guards, but after a while the numbers are just too much and Flash is recaptured and sentenced to death by the gas chamber. Dale is set to become one of Ming’s ho’s and Zarkov will soon be sent to have his mind erased.
At this point we meet Ming’s daughter Princess Aura who is engaged to Prince Barin of the “merry men”. She has taken a liking to Flash and can’t bare to see him die. But in all actuality she is just a big slut and uses her wildly charms to manipulate the executioner to give Flash a sedative and not poison. She wakes up Flash and without anyone else knowing takes him to Prince Barin’s nearby planet where she can hide him. Barin is pissed because he knows Aura has a thing for Flash and decides to try and kill Flash.
Meanwhile back on Mongo Dale escapes her captors and meets up with Zarkov. Supposedly his mind was erased and reprogrammed, but he was able to defy the format procedure by reciting Shakespeare and Beatles lyrics (WTF? Seriously?!?). He and the princess find a ride and head for the hawkmen’s planet to get some help against Ming. After some convincing, Prince Vultan and some of his men rescue Flash and take Barin hostage. It is at this point that I finally realized that Flash actually has no super hero powers. He doesn’t even have a special suit, or a belt filled with goodies. He is just country strong and has a gigantic heart that always wants to do the right thing. Vultan is unwilling to help Flash fight Ming, and forces him to fight Barin to the death. They duke it out, but just when Barin is about to fall to his doom Flash saves him and makes a friend for life.
Just when things are starting to look up for Flash, Ming’s army shows up and starts attacking the planet. The hawkmen say to hell with fighting and fly off leaving their planet unprotected. Ming’s men take Barin, Dale and Zarkov hostage, but leave Flash on the planet to die as the attack continues. Seemingly having 9 lives, Flash finds a flying machine and escapes the planet before it explodes. He contacts Vultan and gives an old bird a second chance at attacking Ming. He decides now is the best time, and a plan is hatched. Flash flies back to Mongo and gets Ming’s flagship to follow him back to where the hawkmen are waiting to ambush them. They seize control of the ship and use it to fly to Mongo and stop the wedding of Ming and Dale. On the planet, Aura helps Barin and Zarkov escape and they in turn bring down the shields and guns of the planet. This allows Flash to make one last crash landing into the ceremony and send the spike from the front of the ship right into the back of Ming. All is well; Flash saves the day; Barin becomes the ruler of Mongo… ALL HAIL FLASH GORDON!
There is a lot of good that can be said about Flash Gordon. For a movie made in 1980 there was a ton of terrific special effects. The sets were extremely colorful and well designed. Even though a lot of the aliens were humanoid based, they did have some pretty strange creatures as well. There was of course some super hero cheesiness, but it wasn’t way over the top. Most of the performances were pretty good, but I felt like at the beginning of the movie that Flash could have been batting for the other team based on the way Jones played him. Either he changed his demeanor as the movie went on, or I just began to live with it as I didn’t notice it during the end of the film. Flash Gordon was a fun ride during a time when super hero movies weren’t the norm. But it is really hard to say super hero cause he just wasn’t. I tend to throw him into the sci-fi hero category much like Buck Rogers would be. But that doesn’t mean that he isn’t the “savior of the universe!” I’ve come across this movie a lot on cable lately and if you have a chance to see it I would recommend it to those who like fun, sci-fi fantasy movies. I give this movie 3.5 Flash lightning bolts out of 5.