Flash Gordon (1980)

Flash Gordon (1980), directed by Mike Hodges.

First review


Pathetic earthlings. Hurling your bodies out into the void, without the slightest inkling of who or what is out here. If you had known anything about the true nature of the universe, anything at all, you would've hidden from it in terror.

I saw this in the theater. In the next row were two serious science fiction fans, very unhappy. I've always wanted serious SF in films too, but after a while you get tired of waiting and just want to have fun. Here they turn the Silly Dial up to 10. And sometimes to 11, which is too much: when the Hawkman says "they just winged me", or when they play the Wedding March for Ming's nuptials, I just wish they hadn't.

Still, you have to give them credit for achieving what they intended. No suspension of disbelief required, because there is no intended believable world. Time has made the production more than a bit clunky, but it still has an amount of grandeur. The music helps. There are moments when we glimpse a possibly more serious treatment.

Max von Sydow was born to play Ming the Merciless. All those years with Ingmar Bergman were just prelude. His Ming is more believable than his Jesus.

Brian Blessed and Timothy Dalton: I admire those distinguished British actors who will do anything. Ornella Muti: yeow. The only other picture I remember her in was Swann in Love (1984). Everyone else: good job. What happened to you afterwards?

Back then I wanted one of the space shuttles to be named "War Rocket Ajax". Dear Dale Arden: how does doing a cartwheel improve your aim? I wondered the same thing in The Matrix (1999). The woodbeast is kind of cool, as is the swamp spider thing. Some of the laser blast and energy field effects look like the video games popular at the time.

I counted the word "pleasure" used with lewd emphasis 7 times. It's a PG film.

Available on Blu-ray. I notice it was filmed with some sort of star filter in some scenes, most noticeable when there is a lot of sparkly jewelry. That can't help the fine detail.

Second review

Comic book and superhero films have become a busy genre in recent decades, but I still don't know what to make of them. Just as Italian spaghetti westerns are a different genre than standard American westerns, so superhero films are not easily compared with films of other types.

I confess that I often feel let down. I always want "more": a sense of wonder, of real adventure that seems missing. Of course, what I really want is to relive the thrills of my youth when everything was new, but that is unreasonable. How could any filmmaker deliver that? Which is why we revisit the old, often cheesy films of our youth: to recapture the experience, even if nostalgically.

By common consensus, some superhero movies are better than others, but I have a hard time seeing the differences. Some are thought to be excessively "stupid". I don't know what to say about that; doesn't it come with the territory?

Are people responding to variations in style they don't like? Some films are futuristic, others more retro. Some suggest the printed page, others go for hyper-realism. Some are meant to be funnier and more slyly self-mocking than others.

Flash Gordon (1980) is an early entry in the modern era of comic book films that seems to inspire a lot of dislike. Its emphasis is retro, unserious and mostly comic, stagey, perhaps suggesting the printed page, although if that was the intent it shouldn't have such a glossy, shiny look.

Quoting the wikipedia:


Flash Gordon is regarded as one of the best illustrated and most influential of American adventure comic strips... graceful, imaginative and soaring.

Well, maybe. I'm no judge.

The film obviously has a lot a problems. Producer Dino De Laurentiis wants to go "big" and it is indeed sometimes colorful, but the results are often cheap looking, with (intentionally?) ludicrous costumes. As I mentioned for Barbarella (1968) his approach is sillier than SF audiences appreciate.

The leads were not well known, but are likable enough:

The supporting cast is strong:

Adding to the weirdness and taking us out of the retro mood altogether is the dynamic score by Queen. I wonder what that cost?


Photographed by Gilbert Taylor.

Available on Blu-ray.