Review by Paul Redfern (https://talesfromthebackroomchewmanger.blogspot.com/)
DIRECTED by Mike Hodges.
SCREENPLAY by Lorenzo Semple Jr.
STARRING – Sam J. Jones as Flash Gordon, Melody Anderson as Dale Arden, Max Von Sydow as Emperor Ming the Merciless, Topol as Dr. Hans Zarkov, Ornella Muti as Princess Aura, Timothy Dalton as Prince Barin, Brian Blessed as Prince Vultan, Peter Wyngarde as General Klytus, Mariangela Melato as General Kala.
This movie has the very definition of the term “an all-star cast”. That is, ironically, except for its leading man.
Sam J. Jones as Flash was an American footballer/model with very little acting experience. The role of Flash Gordon was only his second screen appearance, beating Kurt Russell and Arnold Schwarzenegger in auditions to land the titular role. Jones brings an authenticity to the role stemming from his real life background as an American footballer and whilst he’s not technically a brilliant actor, I really can’t imagine anyone else playing the role of Flash, he’s just a perfect fit for the part.
Melody Anderson has good onscreen chemistry with Jones and makes for a plucky and spirited Dale Arden and Topol is a note perfect Hans Zarkov. As with Jones, both of these actors perfectly embody the original comic book characters and will always be the definitive versions.
Max Von Sydow is also spot on casting for Ming the Merciless – he brings a refined sense of evil to the role – bored, indolent and calculating. Ming is also a bit of a sexual pervert on the sly – taking women against thier will and asserting his dominance over them. There’s also a hint of a dark sense of humour to the character, Von Sydow plays Ming with a twinkle in his eye and is clearly relishing being the villain.
Another piece of great casting is Peter Wyngarde playing the role of General Klytus – Ming’s golden armoured right hand man. You never see Klytus’s face as he’s always wearing a mask, the reason for this is never explained – presumably he’s disfigured in some way. However, the mask does resemble Wyngarde’s own face and his voice is unmistakable. He brings a silkily evil menace to the proceedings.
Onto the good guys now. Timothy Dalton is perfectly cast as Prince Barin. At first resentful and jealous of Flash, being openly hostile to him. In these scenes Dalton is cold and intimidating, clearly Barin is a dangerous man and not to be triffled with. As the story progresses Barin mellows towards Flash and the two eventually become firm friends and allies. Dalton’s performance becomes much warmer by the end of the film as a consequence of this. The character of Barin truly develops and he’s possibly the most three dimensional character in the film.
The most memorable performance of the entire film belongs to Brian Blessed as Vultan, leader of the Hawkmen. Blessed is a huge bear of a man and he practically bellows every line of dialogue he’s given. He’s a jovial, fun character and gets to shout the films most iconic line – “GORDON’S ALIVE ???”. He’s massively O.T.T and he’s utterly brilliant. Brian Blessed is a legend.
SFX – This film is a visual feast, from the blazing skies of Mongo to the glittering imperial palaces of Ming. There is practically every type of special effect technique that was available in the late 70’s/early 80’s at play in this film. Model work, make-up effects, practical effects. Everything here is top notch, and while the effects have aged they still look fantastic. If this film was made today it would be almost entirely CGI, it would be like a Pixar cartoon and wouldn’t have an ounce of the charm that this does.
SEX & VIOLENCE – For a family film there are some very adult elements in this movie. There’s a risqué hint of S&M in some of the torture scenes, especially when Princess Aura is tied down and whipped. Klytus’s later comment that she appeared to enjoy it further cements this.
The violence is purely comic book stuff, people being shot with lasers etc. There is blood but it’s always coloured green – they are aliens after all, even though they look human.
There’s one gory scene when Klytus is pushed to his death onto a disk of spikes – his eyes and tongue splurge out through his mask as he instantly decomposes like a vampire. I can always remember this scene was cut whenever the BBC showed Flash Gordon on TV when I was a kid. That used to really annoy me as it was my favourite bit.
RATING – I love this film. Flash Gordon was the first film that I ever went to the cinema to see. I was five years old and my Mum and Dad took me to see it at the ABC in Mansfield. I didn’t know what to expect, I didn’t even know how big the screen was going to be. I just knew that it would be better than watching the telly. Sitting in that cinema, watching this film, blew my five year old mind and the intensity of that experience has never left me to this day. You never forget your first time.
Literally everything in this film is great. I can’t fault any aspect of it, and just when you think it can’t get any better… you get the icing on the cake – THAT QUEEN SOUNDTRACK. The film would be brilliant without it but it’s presence in the movie takes it to the next level. Flash and Vultan storming the War Rocket Ajax, lasers zinging through the sky with Brian May’s guitar riffs blasting out at full volume … it just takes you to another place entirely and THAT is precisely what a good film should do.
If you’ve managed to indulge me this far then you’ll probably know what’s coming next – 5 saviours of the universe out of 5. This film made me the movie fan I am today, it was a formative experience in my life as a child, and if you haven’t seen it yet – I absolutely IMPLORE you to do so. You won’t regret it. Thanks Flash.