This is one of the goofiest movies I've ever watched. The 1980 film version of Flash Gordon, while drawing it's inspiration from the Alex Raymond-created newspaper comic strip (1934-2003) and the classic three movie serials produced between 1936-1940, is an enjoyable romp that otherwise could've been -should've been- a lot more satisflying. (Click here to reserve our copy.)
The unfortunate (mis)casting of Sam J. Jones as Flash, the use of "camp" style humor and a lack of geniune suspense and wonder (except in a few scenes) undermine any dramatic foundation or audience empathy the film could've provoked. But in it's own surreal (as Flash screenwriter Lorenzo Semple Jr. puts it on one of the DVD's extras) way, it's enjoyable*.
In this update wriiten by Semple (who developed and wrote scripts for the equally campy 1966-68 Batman TV series), produced by Dino De Laurentiis and directed by Mike Hodges, Flash, now a quarterback for the New York Giants (!), accompanies reporter/love interest Dale Arden (Melody Anderson) and Dr. Hans Zarkov (Topol) on a trip to the unknown planet Mongo, which is apparently responsible for various bizarre disasters (earthquakes, typhoons, "hot hail") occuring on Earth. Landing on Mongo, they meet Emperor Ming (current Oscar nominee Max Von Sydow) who takes a liking to Dale and plans to have his way with her. After they're married, of course! (The imminent danger to the Earth -Ming even plans to destroy the planet after he's finished having "fun" with it- is pretty much shoved in the background until the climax.) Flash, in between one crazy situation after another, tries to stop the wedding. And um, save the Earth too.
Flash Gordon is full of bizarre characters and sequences, but the able supporting cast, including Timothy Dalton (Barin), Ornella Muti (Ming's daughter Princess Aura, who's got it bad for Flash), Peter Wyngarde (the Darth Vader-like Klytus), Lina Wertmuller regular Mariangela Melato (Klytus' assistant Kala) and Brian Blessed (who gives a rousing performance as Vulcan, the King of the Hawkmen), the over-the-top rock score by Queen and the fumetti-like look of the film (Semple likens it to "an Italian comic book", which is apt**) contribute to making the almost hallucinatory tone of the film work. And the dialogue! " No! Not the Bore Worms!" and "Onward my brave Hawkmen!" are just two of the howlers awaiting you. Ignore the stiff with no stage presence cast as Flash (Jones, who,apparently owing to a salary dispute, had to be dubbed by another actor) and you'll have a terrific 111 minutes of fun.
*(Another DVD extra has comics artist Alex Ross discuss what an impact watching this film had on him as a child; I can relate.)
**(Apparently we have the film's Italian production designer Danilo Donati, who also worked with directors like Fellini and Pasolini, to thank for that.)