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Flash Gordon: The DVD
Reviewed by Jason Myers, © 2002

Format: Movie
By:   Mike Hodges (director)
Genre:   Sci-Fi
Released:   December 5, 1980 (original theatrical release)
Review Date:   December 12, 2002
Audience Rating:   PG
RevSF Rating:   10/10 (What Is This?)

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 this Earth?

Ming the Merciless: Later. I like to play with things awhile before annihilation.

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.

DVD Info

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

RevSF Film/DVD editor Jason Myers loves you, but he only has 14 hours to save the Earth.

 
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