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.
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.