Dir: Mike Hodges, 1980
Admit it. You sang it.
The only big screen adaptation of Alex Raymond’s science-fiction superhero, is a bewildering exercise in gloss.
Directed by the man who made 1971’s gritty and violent Get Carter, Mike Hodges is a strange choice for a film like this. High end camp and theatrics, Flash Gordon is a bright and engaging piece of cinema, that is incredibly difficult not to enjoy.
Famous American football player, Flash Gordon (San J. Jones), is travelling on an Airbus with journalist, Dale Arden (Melody Anderson).
However, the bus is forced to crash land after being pelted with hot hail.
Finding themselves in the laboratory of Dr. Hans Zarkov (Topol), the pair are kidnapped by the mad scientist and the trio become blasted into space, with the rocket that Zarkov has been building.
Landing on the planet Mongo, Flash, Dale and Zarkov are taken by an army and escorted to the palace of Ming The Merciless (Max Von Sydow), ruler and despot of Mongo.
Ming intends to wed Dale and destroy planet earth. It’s up to Flash, Zarkov and their new alliance, the Hawkmen, to topple Ming and save the earth.
Ignoring the Buster Crabbe serials of the 30’s, Hodges version takes our hero down a different route, with scriptwriter Lorenzo Semple, Jr, re-writing Flash’s character.
No longer the polo player of Raymond’s strip, Semple has modernised the character, allowing him to be more accessible to a contemporary audience. Generally, a large divergence such as this would be enough to cause consternation. But, to have kept him as a polo player would have dated the movie and severely limited where the film could have gone.
As Ming’s daughter, Princess Aura, Italian sexpot Ornella Muti is simply stunning. Possessing a curvaceous body and beautiful eyes, Muti is the perfect other-worldly siren.
Sydow is brilliant as the tyrannical ruler. Camping it up, Sydow plays Ming with over the top zealous. It’s incredibly difficult, to think that Max Von Sydow has worked with Ingmar Bergman, judging by his performance here.
Playing the damsel in distress, Melody Anderson is competent at best. Given very little to do, her role consists of running around in a revealing outfit.
However, it’s impossible to offer a critique of Jones as Flash. His entire voice was dubbed over by an unknown actor.
Despite the film’s low certification, Flash Gordon is rather violent and raunchy. A scene of torture, with Aura being whipped is a little strong. Passed uncut for cinema and video, with ‘A’ and ‘PG’ ratings respectively, the scenes of sexiness are quite near the knuckle. Implied masturbation, orgasms and sexual ecstasy, coupled with stabbings and a frightening scene of Klytus’s death, parents may find it a bit too much for younger viewers.
Flash Gordon has many, not so subtle, undertones of bondage, sadomasochism and homoeroticism. Flash is chained up, wearing nothing but a pair of leather underpants. Whips feature heavily in the film and, as a Hawkman, Brian Blessed is a big fat hairy bloke, parading around in leather bondage gear.
Flash Gordon is a terrible film, with poor effects and cheesy camp. But, this makes it all so much fun. The film falls into the “so bad, it’s good” category.
Rocking a great soundtrack by Queen, Hodges’s movie is a joyful ride in bad taste and tackiness.