FLASH GORDON - Camp, Queen, and ADR
“Flash Gordon” remains a campy classic fueled by a soundtrack for the ages
Realease Date: December 5th, 1980
Date of My First Viewing: June 30th, 2019
Too much is made of the phrase “style over substance”. Critics like to throw that out there in an effort to diminish the fact that style can be part of a work’s substance. What an audience sees on the surface can in fact be more important than what is supposed to be beneath the surface. This holds true for “Flash Gordon”, the 1980 space opera from director Mike Hodges. It is an adaptation of the old comic strip and serial films of the same name, and it’s use of a highly campy style has made it a cult classic for fans across this universe and beyond.
For those who might not be aware of the plot, don’t worry because it’s pretty straight forward and pretty bare bones. Flash Gordon (Sam Jones) is a football star for the New York Jets. He and travel agent Dale Arden (Melody Anderson) end up in a plane that is hit by a meteorite, and it crashes in the lab of Dr. Hans Zarkov (Topol).
It turns out the meteorite and other natural disasters happening on Earth are the work of Ming the Merciless (Max Von Sydow), an evil intergalactic ruler who is in the process of toying with the planet. Dr. Zarkov has suspected alien interference all along so he lures Dale and Flash onto a rocket, and the three find themselves on the planet Mongo, the home world of Ming.
Flash, Dale, and Zarkov then become acquainted with all the workings and players of Mongol. They have to contend with the scheming of Ming’s right hand man, General Klytus (Peter Wyngarde), while also getting involved with the likes of Princess Aura (Ornella Muti), who is Ming’s daughter), Prince Barin (Timothy Dalton), the ruler of Arboria, and Prince Vultan (Brian Blessed), the ruler of the Hawkmen. All of these players move about and interact as the film leads up to the eventual good vs. evil climax like all good space operas.
“Flash Gordon”, for me, is one of those films that has been on my “must watch” shortlist for some time, yet I’ve just never committed to sitting down and watching it until now. Over the years, I’ve seen clips of it on TV during a random weekend or seeing it on the screen at Saturn, a music venue I frequent and photograph at a lot. “Flash Gordon” is pretty much the perfect film to match that venue’s aesthetic. So, there wasn’t any negative reason why I have avoided such a wonderfully delicious piece of eye candy all these years. Like many films that get featured here, it can all be filed under “David was just too lazy”.
That being said, I really did enjoy what I saw and heard while watching “Flash Gordon”. Is it a perfect movie? Absolutely not. Is it a movie that makes a lot of sense? Not really. Is it a movie that’s a load of fun and has a killer soundtrack by Queen, one of the greatest bands of all time? You better believe it.
This is a movie that had numerous production problems, in-fighting between the crew and the higher ups, and where the lead actor had most of his lines re-done by someone else through ADR. You can’t ignore that nor can you ignore the beautiful production design on display or the killer riffs and Freddie Mercury vocals pulsating throughout the film’s run time. You can’t ignore the fact Max Von Sydow just devours ever available piece of campy scenery with his performance as Ming. You can’t ignore that “Flash Gordon” is a super fun movie with a perfect level of self-awareness. I know the campy style wasn’t what was intended by some, but, man, that style makes this movie such an enjoyable treat.
I can’t really add more to this review because, frankly, what else is there to say about “Flash Gordon” at this point? There isn’t any attempt at hidden meanings or a greater message at hand. The reason “Flash Gordon” works is because its style is its substance. This is a movie that is awash in beautiful colors, crazy costumes, and out of this world production design. Sometimes that is enough to overcome even the biggest deficiencies in terms of plot, character, and all that other important stuff.
Now excuse me while I go hum the opening to Flash’s theme before yelling out “FLASH!” in my best Freddie Mercury voice.