This 1980 British science fiction film, based on the comic strip created by Alex Raymond, is directed by Mike Hodges and stars Sam J. Jones, Melody Anderson, Topol, Max von Sydow, Timothy Dalton, Brian Blessed, Peter Wyngarde and Ornella Muti.
New York Jets quarterback Flash Gordon (Jones), journalist Dale Arden (Anderson) and Dr Hans Zarkov (Topol) are Earth’s only hope when they are transported to another galaxy and battle the evil Emperor Ming the Mercliess (von Sydow).
Across strange worlds and facing danger at every turn, it’s down to Flash to help convince Ming’s subjects Prince Barin (Dalton) and Vultan (Blessed) to join the fight against evil and restore peace to the galaxy before it is too late…
Thankfully not taken on by director George Lucas to homage the sci-fi B-movie adventures of the golden era (he would go onto interpret that himself with something called Star Wars), the sci-fi exploits of Flash Gordon would fall to Brit director/writer Mike Hodges. And thank goodness it did because we get one of the best sci-fi adventures ever made for lots of the right reasons and plenty of wrong reasons.
While the tone may be a little camp in places – I say that, but IS it, really? – the set design, costumes and visual effects have be given huge praise. No wobbly doors or faulty lights in sight, we have rich looking place throne rooms, eerie swamps and forests, dizzying galaxies and hi-tech prisons and starships. I’ve seen far worse from sci-fi films, and it solidifies the fact that ‘Flash Gordon’ is made with a great passion for film-making and an understanding of the source material.
It’s full of surreal nonsense, the logic goes out the window, and questions are left open as to how, why, and what… but that’s the joy of science-fiction done for entertainment purposes. This hasn’t been made to redefine the genre or win awards, it’s been done to honour the fun and escapism of science fiction comics, cartoons and serial adventures a generation was raised on and transition it to screen without losing itself in gritty, dark and serious tones. This needed to be bright, fun, poppy, and quick-paced to work.
With a rock-pop soundtrack performed by the legendary Queen with THAT iconic theme tune and orchestral work by Howard Blake, we are treated to energetic synths, hard-edged guitar riffs and war-mongering drum beats as we traverse a fantastical galaxy in a simple plot with only a few visits to a handful of planets (just 4) and back again to where we started for a final battle. It’s a checklist of the classic good vs evil sequence, because we love the basics, no matter how it’s presented:
Hero, princess and wise wizard join forces – Captured by evil – Unite others – Good vs Evil battle
It’s so simple. Anything that tries to mess with this sequence risks failing no matter how much money you spend or CGI you use or leading actors you employ. A $20m film with a cast few unknowns and a couple of big names mixed with basic SFX gets it right because it follows the rules and just enjoys itself.
Sam J Jones (yes, him from Ted) embodies Flash as the all-American hero. His blond hair, blue eyes and dashing good looks make him look the perfect hero to save the day, without being obviously muscly and ripped, with only one gratuitous toned body shot. But as there were disputes in pay and contracts, many lines of dialogue was replaced by an unknown voice artist in post-production for lines that needed it, so you don’t hear much of the REAL Jones, but his slightly camp and soothing voice…somehow works!? It makes him sound more normal, more human, and all the better for it as he punches, blasts, flies and talks his way to saving Earth from evil.
A wonderfully European supporting cast join American Jones and Canadian beauty Melody Anderson in the likes of the perfect Swede Max von Sydow as the perfectly creepy and powerful Ming, who fights more with his dark threats than all-out action; Israeli Chaim Topol as the eclectic Hans Zarkov; Welshman Timothy Dalton in a pre-Bond role as bad-ass Prince Barin; Italian Ornella Muti as seductive Princess Aura and Brit Brian Blessed as the outspoken Prince “GORDON’S ALIVE?” Vultan. This mix of international actors helps create a diverse pool of looks and accents to help populate a galaxy full of diverse creatures, but also cements the fact that any race, sex, colour or creed can triumph together over evil. They work with the sets, SFX and hammy dialogue to bring the characters to life, each one very memorable for their own reasons, especially the bad-ass, foul-mouthed womaniser Prince Barin who manages to drop a “Bitch”, “Bastard!” and “Freeze, you bloody bastards!” through the family friendly movie. If you need one actor to swear like that with such rich tones, only Timothy Dalton sporting emerald green clothes and tight moustache could do it so perfectly.
The fact this was made in 1980 and sports commendable model work, matte paintings and visual effects is a treat, because you can’t really place what part of the 80s it could be from. There’s a timeless charm to it, suspended in bright colours, a rock soundtrack and larger than life performances and costumes. But it all goes to making it so much fun when you watch, because everyone is putting 110% into their roles, and that is wonderful to see.
It’s scary, it’s exciting, it’s clever, it’s witty, it’s emotional (at times) and it’s just great, great fun. Keep your mind-bending, critically acclaimed, genre defining, 3 hour long stories – I want 100mins of sci-fi fun just how it was meant to be in the comics and TV shows!
This new 4K 40th anniversary restoration is a a dream come true for fans of the film, and of cult classics in general. A crisp picture accompanies crisp sound and colour, but the main draw here is the wealth of bonus content never seen before.
From audio commentary with director Mike Hodges and star Brian Blessed, interviews and reflections from cast and crew, a look at deleted scenes and concept art, original ‘Flash Gordon’ cartoons, trailers and behind-the-scenes features and a look at the production of the Queen soundtrack, there is little else you could want in a celebratory package for such a film as this.
Gordon IS alive and he looks better than ever!
Dir: Mike Hodges
Scr: Lorenzo Semple Jr.
Cast: Sam J Jones, Melody Anderson, Max von Sydow, Topl, Ornella Muti, Timothy Dalton, Brian Blessed, Peter Wyngarde
Prd: Dino De Laurentiis
DoP: Gilbert Taylor
Runtime: 114 minutes
Flash Gordon 40th Anniversary is available now on 4K Ultra HD, Blu-ray and DVD distributed by Thorn EMI.