Flash Gordon is another colorful cult classic 80’s adventure I didn’t get into as much as I hoped. Similar to Big Trouble in Little China, I guess I should’ve seen it when I was younger. Not that I didn’t appreciate its campy charm and intentionally silly performances. Flash Gordon is the original heroic space adventurer (save for Buck Rodgers). His 1934 comic strips sparked black & white film serials and several TV shows, but no movie until 1980. George Lucas failing to obtain the rights to Flash Gordon fortunately led to the creation of Star Wars. Both stories are epic space operas with vast galaxies full of advanced technology, large scale war, and aliens from a thousand worlds.
The same Italian producer behind the equally campy Barbarella also ended up making Flash Gordon. He gave it a comedic B movie feel with lesser known actors like Sam L. Jones as blonde football player Flash and Melody Anderson as his plucky true love Dale Arden. Like the comics or serials, they’re sent to the planet Mongo in Dr. Hans Zarkov’s rocket ship. Bigger names like Topol play the well-meaning scientist, along with Timothy Dalton as dashing enemy turned ally Prince Barin, Brian Blessed as literal Hawkman Prince Vultan, and Max von Sydow as the diabolical Fu Manchu-like villain Emperor Ming the Merciless.
The beautiful Ornella Muti plays Ming’s seductive daughter Princess Aura. When Ming threatens the Earth’s atmosphere, it’s up to Flash! Ah-ah! to become the savior of the universe. The aliens, technology, and civilizations are all delightfully cheesy. The best scenes are of Flash playing mock football against Ming’s henchmen and dueling Barin with only 14 hours to save the Earth. Made even better with a soundtrack by Queen. Although Ming’s defeat teases a sequel, there’s strangely never been a follow up or reboot. Flash Gordon doesn’t always make sense, but it’s meant to be dumb fun.