Welcome to this week’s edition of the Nerd Review! Every week the Nerds give you their take on a different classic from the Nerdosphere. This week Dave and Patrick celebrate Milo Hodges’ Comic Book Cult classic Flash Gordon!
The Flick: Flash Gordon
What’s it About: Based on the classic comic of the same name, the story tells the tale of Flash Gordon and his battle against the evil Ming the Merciless. Gordon, along with reporter Dale Arden are forced onto the rocket of Dr. Hans Zarkov when Earth begins experiencing extreme weather patterns. The three become lost in the realm of Mongo ruled with an iron fist by Ming. Gordon refuses to be subjugated and attempts to lead a rebellion against Ming’s tyranny.
Metacritic Score: 58
The Nerds’ Take on Flash Gordon (1980):
Dave The last two weeks has seen us review movies that, in many respects, were cult classics. This week, we review one of the biggest cult classics ever, a movie that is as much a foundation of nerd culture as anything, and a movie that was a big influence on the movie we reviewed two weeks ago, Scott Pilgrim vs The World. It seems a long time coming but this week we review the one and only Flash Gordon.
Flash Gordon is unique in that there really is no middle ground here. Either you are like Patrick and I and you absolutely adore everything about the movie or you are like, for instance, my wife or my niece who does not get it and does not see the allure of the film at all. Dino DeLaurentis’s 1980 film adaptation of the very popular comic strip that began in 1934 (five years before Superman appeared) might be polarizing to some, but it is everything that made the 1980’s great rolled into one fantastic movie. The story is well known to anyone who has seen this movie even once. Ming The Merciless is the ruler of the universe and emperor of the galaxy. He is bored and comes upon an obscure body in the SK System, a little blue planet called Earth. So, Ming unleashes all sorts of natural disasters upon the Earth and pulls the moon out of orbit, putting it on a collision course with Earth in 14 days. Enter Flash Gordon, quarterback for the New York Jets, played by Sam Jones whose hair is, indeed, parted down the middle. Flash, Dale Arden, and Doctor Hans Zarkov hurl themselves into space in an attempt to stop whatever is causing all the issues on Earth. They have no idea that they will get sucked into a vortex and land on one of the many worlds in Ming’s galaxy. Flash is executed, revived and eventually allies Prince Barin and Prince Vultan in an attack on Ming to not only save the Earth but free the people of Mongo from Ming’s tyranny. It is as classic a good vs evil story as you can get and is done as perfectly as possible.
Some of the criticisms I have heard center around the movie’s cheesiness or campiness. To me, it was always one of the aspects of the movie that made it great. The idea was to replicate the comics strip and, to a large degree, the campiness fed into that. But make no mistake, there is an excellent story here. The various characters we meet and the worlds Flash travels to are all so varied and unique. Two scenes truly stick out. One is Flash and Barin (Timothy Dalton) challenging the wood beast in the sacred temple on Arboria. The other is the fight between Flash and Barin in Vultan’s Sky City, where Vultan takes an active role in deciding the outcome. In the end, Flash and Barin emerge from the conflict as allies and this sets the stage for the climatic finale.
Another of the criticisms I hear involve the special effects and, to be honest, I call rubbish on that. Yes, the special effects were not on the same level as Star Wars or the other mega science fiction hit of 1980, The Empire Strikes Back. But they were not far behind what we got in Superman II, which also came out in 1980 (yes, 1980 was pretty much the polar opposite of the train wreck that is 2020). And, again, there was supposed to be an element of campiness in the movie to replicate the comics.
But enough of that. Let’s turn to everything great about the movie. The story is excellent. Queen did the soundtrack. The cast had a couple of heavy hitters, especially with the magnificent Max Von Sydow playing Ming The Merciless to perfection. The role of Flash made Sam Jones an American icon, so much so that he was able to hilariously play a coked out parody of himself in Ted. The movie is so colorful and just so incredibly fun. Queen did the soundtrack. There are some crazy creatures here and there and the various alien races all have their own personalities. Ming’s daughter, Aura, had multiple men wrapped around her finger to the point they would do anything for her. Klytus, Ming’s enforcer, is an insufferable, evil, douchebag but he does it in a rather comedic way. Dale Arden is the proverbial damsel in distress, but she is a bad ass as well and quite smart. And, oh yeah, Queen did the soundtrack.
Ultimately, Flash Gordon is very much like Star Wars. It is a classic story of good vs evil, of the ultimate underdog overcoming an unstoppable opponent, of the power of perseverance, and of sacrificing oneself for the greater good. Zarkov and Flash both state that their sacrifice is a rational transaction…one life for billions. Spock would be proud. Unlike Star Wars, Flash Gordon is set against a much brighter and more colorful palette. Ming’s powers are vast but vastly different from The Force or anything being used by Darth Vader. Flash Gordon is also infinitely less serious in myriad ways than how Star Wars was presented. But, at their core, both movies are essentially telling the same story. They just go about it differently. And therein lies the best thing I can say about Flash Gordon. It easily deserves to be mentioned in the same breath as Empire Strikes Back as one of the best sci-fi movies of the 1980’s. Unfortunately, we never got the sequel that was teased just before the credits rolled and, perhaps, that has fed its legend for all these years. On December 5, it will be 40 years since Flash Gordon debuted in theaters. Do yourselves and favor and go back and watch this classic again. If you have not seen it yet, this is one you won’t want to miss. It is that damn good.
Did I mention Queen did the soundtrack?
Dave’s Rating: 5/5
Patrick: This past week on Bandwagon Nerds, I jokingly suggested we cover one of my all time guilty pleasure flicks, Flash Gordon. Imagine my excitement when Dave said let’s do it. Now, this movie will never receive the perfect score I’m giving it from any reputable film critic. I don’t care. This movie rules. Directed by Milo Hodges with a cast of some all-time great actors (not even joking a little) Flash was a blatant attempt to cash in on the popularity of Sci-Fi operas made popular by Star Wars. In that effort, the movie failed spectacularly. What we did get was a trippy sci fi action flick with cheesy special effects and a banging soundtrack topped off with a lead actor whose voice was dubbed over because he ditched the production. I love this movie for all the madness.
The basic story goes like this: the evil Emperor Ming of Mongo is bored and so decides to mess around with Earth before destroying it. He does this by using his technology to create various extreme weather (the flaming hail is my favorite) on the planet. On Earth our hero Flash Gordon and reporter Dale Arden are on a plane during one of these weather events. The plane crashes on the property of Dr. Hans Zarkov. Zarkov has built a rocket to leave Earth because he believes he knows something sinister and alien is causing the weather disturbances. He forces Flash and Dale onto the rocket with him because reasons. The trio take off and immediately are caught in a vortex that transports them to Mongo where they find themselves taken prisoner by Ming. The rest of the film find Flash escaping Ming and attempting to lead an uprising against him.
What blows my mind the most when it comes to Flash Gordon is the cast. Outside of Sam Jones, who was a complete unknown, there are some heavy hitting classically trained actors in this film. Max Von Sydow heads the cast as Emperor Ming the Merciless. His hammy portrayal of Ming is perfect for the colorful world of Mongo created by Hodges. Everything is a toy to Ming and Sydow plays his callousness to the hilt throughout. My second favorite actor in this movie though must be Brian Blessed as Prince Vultan, leader of the Hawk people. From the moment he appears on screen he dominates it. Blessed exudes over the top bombast that is endearing and memorable. As a child, I would pretend to be him and run through my yard yelling “DIVE!!!” as I attacked unseen foes. We also get a young Timothy Dalton in this film as Prince Barin, the great Topol as Hans Zarkov and the great Peter Wyngarde as the evil Klytus.
Two other elements to this film that make it great for me are the terrible special effects and the dope soundtrack. First, let’s talk about the special effects. Even for 1980 these effects are dated, especially when you compare them to the groundbreaking effects of the Star Wars franchise. And yet, the terrible effects are endearing. The sound effects of the lasers make that beautiful ‘pew! pew!’ noise that every child makes. It’s awesome. There are plastic looking ships, silly lizard puppets, and an odd scorpion bubble thing. Also, awesome in its terrible, cheap look. The costumes are gaudy, but bright and colorful. It’s an assault on the eyes that I can’t get enough of. Of course, I have to talk about the soundtrack. Written by Queen, there is no way to describe the titular song other than iconic. Everyone knows the song. The first refrain of “Flash!” is sung and you can count on at least a dozen folks to sing out “AHA!” The score is a terrific blend of synth and guitar rock that in my opinion holds up. The soundtrack alone is a must buy.
Look, I’m not going to attempt to pass Flash Gordon off as some cinematic master work. It’s loud, overacted, and an assault on the eyes. But damn do I love every minute of it. I quote each word of the over the top dialogue. I bang my head to Queen’s guitar riffs. And when the movie ends, I’m just happy. I can think of no better way to waste a couple of hours.
Patrick’s Rating: 5/5