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5 reviews, 66 user ratings

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Flash Gordon
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by Rob Gonsalves

"Has lost none of its glitzy capacity for cheeseball enchantment."
5 stars

How can someone heap praise on Mike Hodges' "Flash Gordon" while scorning George Lucas' last three "Star Wars" entries? Very easily. Watch me.

Excoriated by critics and largely ignored by audiences during the Christmas season of 1980, Flash Gordon has no illusions about itself whatsoever. It is thoroughgoing, unapologetic camp of the sort that nobody would attempt today (the Austin Powers films came closest). Seen at a remove of decades, this Flash has more to do with disco and homoeroticism and cocaine dust than with the old Buster Crabbe serial or the Alex Raymond comic strip. It's the ultimate Studio 54 movie, awash in fabulous costumes and ornate set design (originating on the drawing board of master Danilo Donati, the film's real star).

Sam J. Jones may have had to be dubbed because his acting was so wooden, but physically he's the ideal fit for Flash Gordon — "quarterback, New York Jets," he announces proudly — a blonde and uncomplicated hero, Luke Skywalker's true father. Flash, Dale Arden (Melody Anderson), and brilliant scientist Zarkov (Chaim Topol) find themselves on Mongo, home planet of the diabolical Ming the Merciless (Max von Sydow, getting into the spirit of the thing and having a good time). Flash also encounters the duplicitous Prince Barin (Timothy Dalton), befriends the effusive Vultan, prince of the hawkmen (Brian Blessed in the film's runaway performance — who doesn't love it when he shouts "Who wants to live forever? DIVE!!!"), and is almost seduced by the ultra-erotic Princess Aura (Ornella Muti).

Rocky Horror braintrust Richard O'Brien is a featured performer in Flash Gordon, and the movie has some of Rocky Horror's goofball abandon. Unfortunately, the movie's thunder had been decisively stolen by the previous summer's The Empire Strikes Back — a terrific piece of filmmaking in its own right, but dark and haunted and Wagnerian. Flash Gordon, initiated to cash in on the gee-whiz spirit of the original Star Wars (itself heavily informed by the original Flash Gordon), hasn't a bit of gravitas anywhere in it. Its jokey tone bewildered audiences, who didn't realize that Hodges and screenwriter Lorenzo Semple Jr. (who'd previously written Batman: The Movie and the 1976 King Kong remake, two other bastions of camp) were serving up pure, old-school escapism. Indirectly a comment on what audiences had adored three years prior, Flash Gordon bathes happily in its own excess. By the time the movie gets to the football scene (over too quickly, I always felt, even when I was ten) you are, as Dubya would say, either with it or against it.

There's also a good deal of male shirtlessness, whip play, latex, and women coiffed and dressed like Barbie dolls on acid. There's a creepy scene in which Flash and Prince Barin take turns sliding their hands into a slimy hole where a poisonous beast awaits — holy shit, how vagina dentata can you get without actually showing a vagina with fangs? (I'll, uh, leave the fisting analysis to the braver of heart.) Star Wars was squarely heterosexual, but Flash Gordon could only have emerged from the same pop-culture closet that birthed David Bowie, Elton John, Mick Jagger, and Freddie Mercury (heard often on the soundtrack along with Queen, intoning "FLASH! Aah-ahh! Savior of the universe!"). Danilo Donati's designs are like some crazed Oscar-night vision of sci-fi, only with a huge budget. Taken solely as a pop wedge of cheese, it's beautifully realized. As for the empty-headed dialogue and the puerile plot, isn't it obvious those are both part of the point? Everyone involved (well, except maybe Sam J. Jones) knows precisely what this is and performs accordingly, with a straight face but with a small gleam in the eye. Its contemporary at the time, Robert Altman's Popeye (another big-budget flop based on a comic strip), today looks cramped and antagonistic, as if Altman were fighting that fucking movie every step of the way. Flash Gordon just shakes your hand, claps a beefy glittered hand on your shoulder, and invites you into its party. It's Boogie Nights for real.

I don't know if I'd want to know anyone who couldn't love this movie, or at least enjoy it on some level. It's the last hurrah from a decade of excess (I read it as a '70s flick that happened to come out in 1980), a mirrorball love letter to color and lights and Queen's spiralling guitar riffs (Jesus, what would the movie be like without Queen)? Flamboyantly idiotic, and quite happy to be so, "Flash Gordon" has passed the test of time much more gracefully than many "serious" fantasy films. And, really, who ever took any of these movies seriously, or wanted to?

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=2153&reviewer=416
originally posted: 08/10/06 23:49:57
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2014 Boston SciFi Film Festival For more in the 2014 Boston Sci-Fi Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

4/22/14 Avery Hemming Great movie sadly without a sequel 5 stars
12/27/12 fwyook Am I the only one who thought Clytus was a bad-ass #2 (the mask, the hood, the voice!)? 5 stars
9/29/12 The Big D Light years ahead of Star Wars--more action, more humor, and cooler characters! 5 stars
8/17/12 Mark Vanselow They don't make them like this anymore. Not a "great bad film", just great, period. 5 stars
3/17/11 Onyx2626 Just saw and loved it. Now I know why my sisters came home singing "Flash,aa aaa!" 5 stars
1/24/10 art I WALKEd or should i say DROVE out on this at a DRIVE-IN! 1 stars
1/15/10 CJ A fabulous piece of escapism. Want a 'serious' piece of science fiction? Watch Blade Runner 5 stars
7/07/09 gc One of those "so bad its good" movies 4 stars
1/13/09 Shaun Wallner Thought this was a good film. 5 stars
11/25/08 Leo T Ahhhh... he'll save everyone of us !! 2 stars
7/18/08 sebastian Campy fun..the comic strip brought to life! 3 stars
6/05/08 Knowa Billiant on several levels! A true classic! 5 stars
12/16/07 Jason One of the greatest movies ever! A true sci-fi classic. 5 stars
7/25/07 Mike Wilson The best "bad" movie of all time... not the bore worms!!! 5 stars
3/22/07 David Pollastrini Not great not terrible 3 stars
3/20/07 Dez The cheese n' camp went over my then 12 year old head, but I loved it! Still do. 5 stars
12/15/06 Richard Paquette so, so 3 stars
12/04/06 David Cohen I liked it 4 stars
8/24/06 Al Guy You have to love the 80s! Flash! AHHHHH! 4 stars
8/14/06 Sugarfoot Flash, AHH! He's our miracle! 5 stars
5/11/06 dionwr VERY silly--but still enjoyable 3 stars
5/04/06 Uri Lessing Defender of the Universe. (GoSS!!! See it asap!) 5 stars
5/02/06 Ryan_A He'll save every one of us, you know. 5 stars
5/01/06 David Cornelius What do you mean, "Flash Gordon approaching?" 5 stars
5/01/06 William Goss Haven't seen it. 3 stars
5/01/06 HBS-SH de palma's drill 5 stars
4/17/06 AJ Corny as hell, but ya gotta love it!! 5 stars
12/10/05 Joel I have seen this movie 50+ times 5 stars
8/12/05 ES I was 4 years old and embarassed that someone would see me watching this movie= not good 2 stars
4/02/05 Julian So much fun!! 5 stars
3/13/05 Danny A classic! And the soundtrack by Queen is killer! 5 stars
11/16/04 Mike E This is a masterpiece!!!!! 5 stars
10/12/04 M. Moore Peter Wyngarde is awesome as Klytus 5 stars
5/07/04 R.W. Welch No match for the classic 30's serial but has cult following. 3 stars
2/08/04 Thomas somes parts of the movie is ok some parts not so good but overall the movie is good. 4 stars
1/20/04 Terry Sarmento Great Movie!!! 5 stars
9/27/03 Kyle Jones' acting is laughable, but I can forgive that cause this movie rocks! 5 stars
8/24/03 April camp at its best!!!!! 4 stars
8/21/03 REBLYELL This film was done in a perfect manner for the material involved. 5 stars
8/16/03 3man I think this is more geared for older folks who watched the original Flash shows. 3 stars
7/01/03 Mike I'm only 22 but I've seen this movie tons and it's great! 5 stars
6/19/03 Sammy ....um soundtrack by Queen??? 2 stars
6/08/03 Brendan Foster One of the best examples of a comic book brought to life 4 stars
5/15/03 Andrew Carden Campy and Fun, but Ultimately Overblown (and Stupid) Update Of The Comic Book. 3 stars
3/17/03 Doug Greatest. Movie. Ever. 5 stars
1/17/03 David Psychedelic! The He-man's Xandu! 4 stars
11/22/02 Trella Ocelot Silly movie! "All creatures shall make merry...on pain of death!" 4 stars
10/23/02 Charles Tatum Very campy fun 5 stars
10/22/02 fandom stranger All-time top 10 fave! Ornella = Most gorgeous woman ever! Pure fun, eye-candy flick! 5 stars
7/13/02 R.W. Welch Campy treatment of the old strip, doesn't equal the '30's Saturday matinee serial. 3 stars
3/24/02 Tomas Rosenberg Absolutely wonderfull movie ( Iīm 25 : ) ) 5 stars
1/15/02 David A. Corny, SIlly, and Comic-book style, but it's just oodles of fun! 5 stars
10/19/01 SirJaredG Best Movie of All Time!!! Pay special attn. to all of Sam J. Jones' quotes, and song lyrics 5 stars
9/19/01 Butterbean Unintentially funny as hell!! Watch it with friends! 5 stars
6/16/01 Tina Bate Completely Brilliant!!!! 5 stars
4/17/01 Cygnus Great, Anderson & Jones 5 stars
12/02/00 The Shrieking Ape Blasphemy MY EYES!!! AIIIIEEEEEEEEEEEE!! Fear this movie like you would the thousand eyes of Zoth! 5 stars
11/06/00 Charles Heppenstall Dale...what a damn shame. 5 stars
7/09/00 Anil Sharma The Great movie of all time 5 stars
4/10/00 Matthew Bartley Gordon's Alive!! 5 stars
10/26/99 Karahde Khan Alex Raymond should be rolling in his grave. The only really good thing: the Queen score. 2 stars
10/21/99 bullit17 I loved this movie when I was seven, 19 years later it still holds up. 5 stars
10/19/99 Stu Totally wunnerful. Just so much fun. Gordon's Alive! etc. 5 stars
10/19/99 The Bomb 69 hilarious 5 stars
7/03/99 randy grubbs campy crap, even the queen soundtrack is bad 2 stars
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  05-Dec-1980 (PG)
  DVD: 06-May-1998

  02-Jul-1980 (PG)

  02-Jul-1980 (PG)

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