Ming the Merciless: Klytus, I'm bored. What plaything can
you offer me today?
Klytus: An obscure body in the S-K system, your majesty.
Its inhabitants refer to it as the planet Earth.
[Ming uses an earthquake ray to cause some long distance damage.]
Klytus: Most effective, your majesty. Will you destroy
Ming the Merciless: Later. I like to play with things awhile
Like Kraft Macaroni and Cheese, 1980's Flash Gordon is the cheesiest.
But in a good way. Some movies go for hip cheese value, but just end up being
lame. Some movies are cheesy because the actors and filmmakers are talentless,
because the production values are horribly dated, or because the filmmakers
didn't have enough of a budget to realize their vision. Every slice of cheese
in Flash Gordon is 100% intentional (and is made from a full cup of milk).
Each character is perfect. Max Von Sidow (The Exorcist, Conan the Barbarian,
Needful Things, Strange Brew, Minority
Report) is Ming the Merciless. How merciless is Ming? So merciless
that he watches his own daughter being tortured while snacking from what appears
to be a dish of Planter's mixed nuts. Princess Aura is Ming's daughter, and
Mongo's resident trollop. The love triangle between Aura and Flash Gordon and
Dale Arden is much like the one between Buck Rogers, Wilma Deering and Princess
Ardala in Buck Rogers, that other comic strip space opera (The Buck
Rogers strip first appeared in 1928. Flash Gordon in 1934).
Prince Barin (Timothy Dalton) is in love with Aura, and he's so terribly earnest
you can see tears welling up in his eyes at one point. And it's no wonder he'd
do anything for Aura. Arborea, the land he rules over, is evidently populated
only by men in green Robin Hood tights. Prince Vultan (Brian Blessed, who was
the voice of Boss Nass in The Phantom Menace) is the leader of the birdmen.
Blessed, who looks like Odin, says everything in a booming voice accompanied by
a huge open-mouthed grin.
The only two actors I'm not sure about are the ones who play Flash Gordon and
Dale Arden. Were they hired specifically because they are terrible actors, or
are they both so accomplished that they can flawlessly impersonate terrible actors
who don't realize that the lines they're delivering are ridiculous? Either way,
they are perfectly cast.
Flash Gordon is hilarious, but it's also more of an homage than a spoof,
remaining relatively faithful both to the comic strip and the 1936 serial starring
Buster Crabbe. The serials had ham-fisted acting, one-dimensional characters,
damsels in distress, and special effects that basically consisted of shoving a
Fourth of July sparkler into the back end of a model spaceship (for those who
watched Star Trek: Voyager, think Tom Paris' Captain Proton holo-novels).
Flash Gordon retains that Saturday matinee at the local moviehouse feel.
There are scientific idiocies. Everyone on Mongo measures distance in "Mongo miles."
(When's the last time that you said, "The next gas station is only three Earth
miles away"?) And, though the inhabitants of Mongo know nothing of Earth, they
not only speak English, but also have wedding ceremonies, complete with "I do"s
and the traditional Earth wedding march music.
There are men in flimsy, laughable alien suits (The shuffling lizardmen are quite
possibly the least believable creatures in the entire history of cinema).
The heroes are upstanding, innocent, and morally forthright. Dale says to Aura
that she must honor a promise because: "Keeping our word is one of the things
that make us better than you." Flash wears shirts with his own name emblazoned
on the front, and his lines consist of things like "I'm not your enemy; Ming is.
Let's all team up and fight him!"
But in the midst of all this goofiness, the action and characters are still strangely
involving, much like the Batman television show (and, lo and behold, Lorenzo
Semple Jr., the writer for Flash Gordon, also wrote 16 episodes of Batman).
The costumes, sets, and special effects are actually quite beautiful. Not realistic,
mind you, but that's not what Flash Gordon is trying for. Flash Gordon's
Mongo is the strange, lush, colorful world of Alex Raymond's comic strips, with
vivid swirling gases, elegant art deco spaceships that look like old tin toys,
and guns that shoot golden restraining gauntlets.
Oh, I almost forgot the best part of Flash Gordon. The decadent soundtrack,
which was composed and performed by Queen. It's a cornucopia of straight-faced
mock-pretentious psychedelic space nonsense by the same geniuses who wrote an
operatic ode about how they like to ride their bicycles. I defy you to watch the
movie and not buy the soundtrack album. Go ahead, I double-dog defy you.
Well, it is the "Widescreen Edition" (WhooHoo), but other than that, there's not
one bell or whistle. But who cares? Buy it, and behold the power of cheese.
And now for my 4,500-word compare and contrast essay on the similarities between
Flash Gordon and the 1972 skin-flick Flesh Gordon. What? I'm out
of time? Damn. DVD Extras Rating: 1 out of 10