Flash Gordon


Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

Flash Gordon
"Max Von Sydow's magnificent Emperor Ming is a template against which all future alien rulers have had to measure up."

When the Earth is in peril, who ya gonna call? Golden-haired, all-American quarterback Flash Gordon is riding on a plane when a sudden meteor storm interrupts the flight. Crash-landing in the home of archetypal mad scientist Dr Hans Zarkov (formerly of NASA), accompanied by the nervous Dale Arden, he is inadvertently seconded to the mysterious alien world of Mongo. There an evil emperor has made the Earth his latest toy. It will take a real hero to stop him. Could Flash be that man?

This Eighties re-imagining of the classic early matinee series has gone to great lengths to get all the right elements in place. There are spectacular campy costumes, fantastic low-budget sets, muscular men, scantily clad women, swamp monsters, evil cyborgs and even a bottomless pit. There's also a much-loved rock soundtrack by Queen, which captures the atmosphere perfectly.

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Unfortunately, what it lacks is a real hero. Sam Jones' Flash may look the part but he's bland in the extreme, likeable enough and yet utterly lacking in the sort of charisma needed for the story to make sense. Melody Anderson doesn't do much better as Dale. But these are the bland leads one often sees in pantomime. Despite the film's title, they're not really the point.

Much more important to a story like this is the villain, and Max Von Sydow's magnificent Emperor Ming is the template against which all future alien rulers have had to measure up. From his pointy beard to his magic ring, he's everything evil ought to be, and he commands the screen effortlessly. On the other side, Brian Blessed is perfectly cast as a secondary hero, a hawkman warrior leading his troops to victory largely through the power of shouting. Timothy Dalton is bland as usual, though suitably dashing, as the Prince of Arboria, but Ornella Muti makes a stunning and believably seductive Princess Aura. Alongside them, a fascinating cast fill out the minor roles. Richard O'Brien puts in an appearance which foreshadows his role in The Crystal Maze and Blue Peter's Peter Duncan dares once too often.

Flash Gordon is a very silly film, but it has some great lines and some unforgettable moments. It would be a mistake to demand that it live up to the standards of bigger budget, more serious productions. What it has to offer is timeless fun.

Reviewed on: 07 Mar 2009
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Flash Gordon packshot
An evil alien ruler plans to destroy the Earth, and only an American football quarterback can stop him.
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Director: Mike Hodges

Writer: Lorenzo Semple Jr and Michael Allin, based on the matinee series.

Starring: Sam J Jones, Melody Anderson, Max von Sydow, Topol, Brian Blessed, Ornella Muti, Timothy Dalton, Peter Wyngarde, Richard O'Brien, Peter Duncan, Robbie Coltrane

Year: 1980

Runtime: 111 minutes

BBFC: PG - Parental Guidance

Country: US, UK

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