Why I Love... Flash Gordon

WARNING: SPOILERS! 

I love any excuse to rewatch 1980s cheese fest, Flash Gordon. And here's why...

1. The Queen soundtrack

2. A gun that fires golden gauntlets on the end of lasers

3. Ornella Muti could make any­thing sound filthy

Ornella Muti, an Italian former model, stars as horny space prin­cess, Aura, the daugh­ter of Ming the Mer­ci­less. For a film that is a whole bunch of inno­cent, goofy fun, aimed primar­ily at kids and the block­buster crowd, she almost seems out-of-place as a smutty char­ac­ter who makes no secret of her sexual desire for Flash. Plenty fall under her spell, includ­ing Prince Barin (Timothy Dalton).

Here she is, demon­strat­ing her sexual free­dom in what I think is a nice role reversal of all those films where the hero catches a glimpse in a mir­ror, either inten­tion­ally or unin­ten­tion­ally, of a woman chan­ging her clothes. Of course, with Prin­cess Aura, the cheeky look at Flash’s butt is all intentional.

And what an accent! I reckon it’s phys­ic­ally impossible for Ornella Muti to say even the most inno­cent of sen­tences without it sound­ing com­pletely filthy and loaded with innu­endo. Take this example, where she’s giv­ing Flash fly­ing les­sons, telling him how to "handle the controls".

I think I need a cold shower! She gets bonus points for hav­ing her very own "pleas­ure moon".

4. The supporting cast

 Sam J. Jones (as Flash Gor­don) was nom­in­ated for a Golden Rasperry Award for worst lead actor. How­ever, due to a dis­agree­ment with the pro­du­cer, the entirety of his dia­logue was dubbed by a voice actor. So who was at fault? The voice actor? Or Jones him­self? It has to be said, even with dub­bing, Jones’s act­ing looks kind of dazed, and bewildered, regard­less of what’s required of him from scene to scene. In a strange way, his lack of act­ing skills are some­times a good thing. Being wrenched from your home world, and then dropped into the swirl­ing tech­ni­col­our mad­ness of Ming’s uni­verse would be enough to con­fuse any­one. It gives Flash a dumb, likable quality.

But whatever your opin­ion of the lead’s act­ing might be, he’s thank­fully sur­roun­ded by a host of scenery chew­ing act­ors who appear to be hav­ing a whale of time. As soon as one grand­stand­ing actor leaves the screen, another one appears shortly after. And when they’re all on-screen together, it’s kind of magic.

The most restrained -- unusu­ally for a film of this sort -- is the vil­lain, Ming the Mer­ci­less. Max Von Sydow plays him with ironic detach­ment, quietly aloof, almost bored with the pro­ceed­ings, a cruel over­lord who has seen everything the uni­verse has to offer. Des­troy­ing plan­ets is the only thing that can raise more than a chuckle from him.

The standouts are Timothy Dalton as Prince Barin, and Brian Blessed as Prince Vultan, two old-school Brit­ish act­ors whose char­ac­ters are often at log­ger­heads. Some­times, Dalton looks to be act­ing in an alto­gether more ser­i­ous film, but that’s just prob­ably Dalton giv­ing it his usual 110%. He cer­tainly has a way with words…

But if Dalton’s Prince Barin is the ser­i­ous one, then Brian Blessed’s Prince Vultan is the loud, funny, crazy one. Him and his army of hawk­men get a very cool, and very cheesy battle scene near the end, full of explo­sions, laser fire, and awe­some gui­tar riffs from Brian May. This scene includes the most mem­or­able use of the word, “Dive!” in a movie ever!

5. Klytus’s eye­balls and tongue pop­ping out in his death scene

6. The cos­tume and set design

 Okay, so Sam J. Jones was nom­in­ated for a Raz­zie Award, and that seems reas­on­able. But the gar­ish, over the top cos­tumes and set design were also nom­in­ated for more pres­ti­gi­ous awards (and rightly so) such as the BAF­TAs, where it picked up nom­in­a­tions for Best Cos­tume Design, and Best Art Design.

7. The witty dialogue

I think a com­mon mis­con­cep­tion with Flash Gor­don is that the dia­logue is bad. Sure enough, a lot of it won’t be win­ning awards any time soon, and mostly it’s effi­cient, deal­ing with the task of pro­pelling our her­oes through the plot with the least amount of fuss. Listen closer though, and there’s a num­ber of witty lines bur­ied in there.

High­lights for me are Ming’s wed­ding vows; Dale Arden’s pro­clam­a­tion of love to Flash, fol­lowed by her shout­ing that they only have four­teen hours to save the Earth; and Ming’s asser­tion that an Earthling’s tears are a sign of our planet’s weak­ness. Much of it works bet­ter in the con­text of the movie, than it does on paper. Even daft lines like, "What do you mean? Flash Gor­don approach­ing?" are worth watch­ing the film for.

CONCLUSION

It’s camper than a row of tents, col­our­ful, crazy, ener­getic, sur­pris­ingly witty, and very rewatch­able. I’ve lost count of the num­ber of times I’ve rewatched it (I still find it hard to believe this is from the same dir­ector who made the dark and grimy Get Carter with Michael Caine).

Flash Gor­don, a guilty pleas­ure? There’s noth­ing guilty about it.