J.B. Rockwell, author of the fantastic Serengeti, entertained us all when she did a guest post on Sci-Fi & Scary about Lake Placid: The Reason I Like Bad Movies Summed Up in One Film . In fact, it was so good that I asked her to do it again after hearing her wax lyrical about another of her favorite bad movies, Flash Gordon. She actually wrote this a few weeks back, but I’ve been stuffed with posts and wanted to give her a full 24 hours to herself so that everyone could be sure to see the awesomeness that was this post on Flash Gordon. Enjoy! (And remember, you can find JB at http://www.jenniferbrockwell.com/ – Lilyn
Ah, the ‘80s: a time of glitz and cheese. A time when nothing was too campy, too over-the-top, or too ridiculous to turn into a movie. Case in point: that sci-fi jewel of awesome badness and subject of this particular post: Flash Gordon.
So, some of you are wondering: Who (or what) exactly is Flash Gordon? Well, to answer that, I have to go back in time (cue Austin Powers style flashback sequence).
It was the 1930s, and Buck Rogers reigned as king of the sci-fi comic strips. ‘We need a competitor!’ someone declared, possibly with much twiddling of curly-cue mustaches, and so Flash Gordon was born.
From the very beginning, Flashy-boy and his muscles were a hit—so popular, in fact, that Flash Gordon was emblazoned on a headline banner at the 1939 New York World’s Fair—and continued to be an icon of Americanism for decades to come. Too huge to be confined to a simple comic strip, Mr. Muscles went on to appear in a whole host of productions, including a 1930s radio serial, a trio of serial films shot (also from the 1930s, the third and final shot in the 1940s), a television series (on SyFy, natch), a couple of animated TV series, an animated movie, a stage show, several comics, a novel, numerous parodies (including Sesame Street’s ‘Trash Gordon’) and, my personal favorite, in a big budget, motion picture release.
Oh, and there were toys, of course. A whole line of licensed products, in fact, including pop-up books, coloring books, a role playing game, rayguns, and toy spaceships, and all sorts of stuff.
But all that doesn’t really tell you bupkis about Flash Gordon himself, doesn’t it? Alright, let’s get to that.
The Bad-Bad Movie with a Good-Good Soundtrack
By J.B. Rockwell
The comic strip presents a dashing figure: very male, very macho, a handsome polo player and Yale University graduate. Side note: There’s some interesting social context in there, considering he’s pretty much the epitome of white, male privilege—granted, this is a character invented in the 1930’s, but still—and I could write an entire blog post around that alone, but frankly, I don’t wanna. I wanna talk about the Flash Gordon movie—a glitzy, ridiculous 1980s mess with the even more ridiculous tag line of Get Ready to Kick Some Flash. A movie I shall boldly proclaim as,
The best bad movie with a Queen soundtrack.
That’s right. Queen did the soundtrack. Including the title song. C’mon, sing it with me: Flash! A-ah! Savior of the universe!
Flash Gordon is an American football hero who is skyjacked aboard Dr. Hans Zarkov’s rocketship along with his beautiful girlfriend Dale Arden. The threesome are drawn into the influence of the planet Mongo, ruled by Emperor Ming the Merciless. The evil Ming has been testing Earth with unnatural disasters, and deeming our world a threat to his rule. He also intends to take Dale as his concubine, attempts to execute Flash and intends to destroy Earth. Flash must avoid the amorous attentions of Ming’s daughter, and unite the warring kingdoms of Mongo to rescue Dale and save our world.
Note: For the movie, Flash switched sports and (evidently) graduated from college. Or skipped college entirely since the movie makes no mention of Yale. I can only assume that was an attempt to make him better appeal to the modern day ‘every man’, since (insert sarcasm) everyone knows that only rich snobs play polo and attend Yale.
Sam J. Jones (Known for pretty much nothing else except this, a small part in Ted 2, and the fact that he looks like he could have fathered Kelso from That 70s Show) as Flash Gordon: privileged white guy, hero extraordinaire, and irresistible lady magnet. Also, a football player.
Melody Anderson (Mostly known for her one episode appearances on pretty much every popular 1980s TV show) as Dale Arden: fair maid and love interest of Flashy McBootyPants. Turn offs include being a concubine. Turn ons include getting drunk on space wine and pillow fights with scantily clad princesses.
Max von Sydow (That’s right, someone convinced Max von Sydow to be in this movie—remember, it was the 1980s and this movie was a big deal) as Ming the Merciless/The Emperor Ming: an emperor, and evil, reportedly merciless, and definitely—most definitely—out to destroy dashy Flashy and his McBootyPants. Also wants Dale as a concubine and seems strangely knowledgeable about his daughter’s sex life.
Topol (Remember this guy? Best known for Fiddler on the Roof?) as Dr. Hans Zarkov: a weird but basically good guy who builds a really spiff rocketship, only to get himself, Flashy and Daley-Poo skyjacked in it. Does nothing useful in the movie.
Ornella Muti (Another ‘stuff on her resume’ actor/actress with a laundry list of appearances no one’s ever heard of, also Italian) as Princess Aura: Ming’s sexed-up daughter who really, really, really wants Flash and his hot pants, but strings love-drunk chump Prince Barin along because, ya know, every lady needs a fall-back plan. And apparently she likes sex. A lot.
Timothy Dalton (You heard me: before he was 007, Timothy Dalton hung out with Max von Sydow wearing some very tight pants) as Prince Barin: The foil who dresses like Robin Hood—desperately in love with Princess Aura’s hotness, desperately jealous of Flashy Pants Gordon for inadvertently attracting said princess’s hotness with his dashing, football player good looks. Also, good with a whip.
Peter Wyngarde (Who seems to have blanketed British TV in the 1970s and 1980s) as Klytus: Ming’s right hand man and Number 1 baddy. Dresses like a metal Skeletor and tries terribly hard to be terribly menacing.
A bunch of other people in a bunch of other roles—there’s a huge cast to this thing, though most of the rest of the characters are just set dressing and plot inventions to move the (bad, bad, really bad) story along.
Also of note, the film is produced by Dino De Laurentis of Death Wish, Conan the Barbarian, Barbarella and Dune fame (among other films). I’m telling you, guys. This movie was a big deal at the time.
Budget & Box Office Info:
- Release Date: 5 December 1980
- Budget: $20M
- Box Office Sales: $27M (that’s right, it somehow made money!)
Sequels & Crossovers:
See all the stuff I wrote earlier, plus… wait for it, wait for it… rumors of a possible all new 3D version of the film coming! That’s right. Talks started way back in 2010, but as recently as January 2016, there was news of a script in progress. So, hang in there, Flashers, and dare to dream.
Note: Rumor has it George Lucas was interested in making a Flash Gordon movie, once upon a time, but the rights were too expensive. He settled for making an obscure movie called Star Wars, instead.
The Story (in a Nutshell):
Warning: Spoilers. Proceed with caution.
Ming of Mongo is attacking Earth, having determined (for unspecified reasons) that the planet is a threat to his rule. But, unbeknownst to Ming, all-around weird guy Dr. Zarkov has a spaceship and launches it with a kidnapped Flash and hanger-on Dale (they crash landed in his lab and were promptly kidnapped at gunpoint by the good doctor—don’t ask) to ‘stop the threat’. Just how he’s supposed to do this is never clear—the spaceship has no guns and there’s just the three humans against the entire Mongolian horde (see what I did there?!)—but it doesn’t really matter because the rocketship’s passengers are promptly knocked unconscious by…something, and the ship itself is drawn to Mongo where it crashed lands, and its occupants are taken prisoner by Ming’s guards.
I should stop to note two things here: (1) that’s two crash landings already, with more to follow—evidently no one in this movie can fly well, and (2) the plot of this movie is thin as rice paper. Seriously. Mostly it’s a series of captures and threatened executions follows by dramatic escapes and a lot of references to sex-sex-sex.
Anywho, on to the rest of it…
The Rest of It:
Switch to the fortress of Ming the Merciless—ruler of Mongo and evilest of all evil bad guys.
Seriously, this guy has zero redeeming qualities.
Inside said fortress, we are introduced to a rogue’s gallery of glitzy and glamorous characters decked out in fantastical costumes reminiscent of the heyday of Studio 54. Mostly this is a junk scene used to introduce the audience to the rest of the movie’s characters en masse, setting up the whole ‘Aura loves Barin but desperately wants Flash, Flash is interested but Dale is jealous and clingy, and Barin is generally grumpy, overly macho, and working himself up to fisticuffs’ theme of the movie.
So, a whole bunch of nothing happens except we are treated to some seriously intense outfits and boobage (there are a lot of thinly veiled and not-so-thinly veiled sex references in this movie, as well as frequent pauses to ponder the awesomeness of humanity) before—gasp!—Ming drops a death sentence on Flashy-boy’s head and claims Dale as his concubine.
A seriously intense, football-based fight scene follows involving Flash, some sort of giant egg, and the world’s most incompetent guards, at the end of which Flash knocks himself unconscious and gets dragged off to a dungeon where he’s promptly clapped in irons.
Stuff, stuff, stuff (there’s a lot of sexy times fluff in this movie so just assume every time I write ‘stuff-stuff-stuff’ I’m skipping over wasted air time dedicated to someone trying to be slinky and alluring)—Flash is plunked down in a gas chamber-cum-electric chair and executed.
Or is he??!!!
Scene change: Aura busts open Flash’s casket (complete with headstone reading: ‘Flash Gordon, Earthling Executed by the Emperor Ming’) and wakes him with a kiss… and some kind of mysterious shot. A quick outfit change for Flash (outfit #3, by the way, the first being a t-shirt emblazoned with a lightning bolt and ‘Flash’, the second a skimpy loin cloth for a-executin’, this third a pretty little toy soldier outfit picked out by the princess) before Aura whisks him away, taking a yet another rocketship to Barin’s kingdom (?) of Arboria.
That’s right, the guy who dresses like Robin Hood rules a kingdom called Arboria. Sigh…
Meanwhile, Dale gets drunk on alien hooch while wearing her concubine suit, gets contacted by Flash telepathically from the escape ship, and shares a really weird Vulcan mind meld three-way with Flash and Aura (Princess Bootypants wraps herself around Flashy boy like a sexed up snake and licks him all over while he’s mind talking with Dale—Flash, of course, hates it). Elsewhere, Dr. Z is mind-wiped and turned into Agent Z—supremely loyal to Ming. Except, he’s not—having resisted through the power of The Beatles and the Talmud, among other things—and betrays his new master to help Dale escape the Emperor’s evil, concubine hoarding clutches.
Cut back to Arboria, where Flash is once again sentenced to death—this time by Barin, said death involving a cage lowered into a swamp. Out intrepid, hot ants Flashy-boy escapes, of course, only to get captured again by Barin and forced to participate in a very strange, slightly kinky test of manhood involving the two of them putting their hands into a series of holes.
Anyhow, Flash tricks Barin—supposedly there’s a poisonous monster at the bottom of these holes—into believing he’s been bitten, steals his sword and escapes yet again (that’s four escapes for Flash, three of them from Barin) only to promptly fall into some quicksand and get caught by Barin yet again.
My god. This is the most incompetent hero ever.
Luckily the Hawkmen arrive (I can’t remember their leader’s name but he reminds me of Sallah from Indiana Jones) and spirits both Flash and Barin away to their fortress in the sky, where Barin promptly cites some Mongolian law that allows him to challenge Flash to single combat, and a duel to death. But first, a rapturous reunion with clingy Dale in her concubine clothing, accompanied by a somewhat superfluous, but still hanging around Dr. Z.
Note: At one point Mongo makes some vague reference to Dr. Z being responsible for him attacking Earth—no details given—so I guess that’s the main reason he sticks around. Or maybe they just wanted to give Topol screen time.
Right. To the duel! This one’s a doozy, involving a big metal disc with an endless drop into oblivion on all sides. The weapons? A couple of whips. Kinky. And the kicker? There’s a remote control the Hawkmen’s leader uses to make the disc pitch and yaw and extrude metal spikes. So, they fight-fight-fight, and—surprise-surprise!—Princey-poo turns out to be a better whipmaster than our guy Flash. But! Spurred on by Dale’s love (and a contrived-feeling reminder that they only have 14 hours left to save the Earth—where the heck did that come from??!!), Flash battles back, knocking Barin over the edge before gallantly saving him and turning Robin Hood—err, I mean the prince into a lifelong friend.
So, this has already been a long movie, right? Well, it’s not done yet!
Enter Klytus (AKA: Metal Skeletor) who scares all the Hawkmen away before promptly getting killed by a Flash-Barin double team. Unfortunately Ming arrives a few minutes later and whisks all of Flash’s friends away—apparently, they just gave up without a fight?—blasts the Hawkmen’s fortress into oblivion, and kills Flash.
Or so everyone thinks.
In reality, Flash escaped—just in the nick of time…yet again!—on a rocket cycle: sort of a jet ski in the sky. He rallies the Hawkmen from the swamp where they’re hiding, giving them a big rah-rah speech that convinces them to attack Ming’s fortress and help free Dale.
Forget the Earth—nothing Flash does during the movie is focused on trying to save that. Forget Dr. Z, the Princey-Poo, and Princess Aura—whose own father tortured her to learn the whereabouts of Flash. Apparently only hotties are worth saving in this movie. Which reminds me: I should mention that, while all this kung fu fighting is going on, Dale is busy having a half-naked pillow fight with Aura prior to being dragged to her wedding—entering to the wailing strains of Here Comes the Bride belted out on an electric guitar.
Queen soundtrack remember—I assume they played that, too.
Anyway, inside it’s all sex-sex-sex, and outside it’s fight-fight-fight—a very long, very drawn out, very boring and nonsensical battle between Flash and his Hawkmen, and Ming’s many and varied forces. Twenty minutes of yawn that ends with Flash crashing—yet again!—and skewering Ming with the needle nose of his current spaceship.
Side note: do not insure this guy. He crashes everything.
The movie wraps up with Barin rushing in to tell everyone he ‘took care of the reactors’—whatever that means—and now no one has to worry about the Earth getting attacked.
Hurray! We completely forgot about that storyline since no one ever mentioned it but we’re glad the Earth is safe!
Love blooms, Dale claiming Flash, and Aura—finally!—agreeing to allow Barin to be her main squeeze. Mostly, I suspect, because Flashy-Poo wouldn’t commit, though I think they missed a huge opportunity in not putting Dale and Aura together at the end.
So, everything’s good, right? Peace reigns, Mongo and the Earth no longer caught up in the war no one knew about?
The movie ends with an image of a gloved hand plucking up Ming’s power ring—the only part of him that didn’t disappear when the evilest of allevil Emperor’s died—and as the picture fades out, the hard rockin’ power ballad of the Queen soundtrack ushers in some ominous words:
Note: I suppose this means they meant to film a sequel but it never happened. Maybe that 3D movie I mentioned earlier will finally bring this mystery to an end.
This is a long movie, and mostly it doesn’t have a plot. The costumes are amazing—in an over-the-top, completely glitzed out kind of way—and the special effects are terrible. I mean, terrible. But that terribleness is part of what makes this movie so good. Sure it’s got no plot. Sure the acting is atrocious and women are presented as sexed up, overly jealous kittens suitable only for ‘repopulating the land’. But sometimes you want a bad movie. Sometimes you want a film that tries so hard to be serious that it’s completely hilarious as a result. Sometimes you just want a Queen soundtrack that kicks in repeatedly to let you know when the heroic stuff is about to start.
When you want that, you want this movie. You want,
Flash! A-ah! Savior of the universe!
- Bad Moving Rating: 6 (out of 5)
- Regular Movie Rating: 2 (out of 5)
Barin [to Flash]: Welcome back from the grave.
Princess Aura: I knew you were up to something, though I’ll confess I never thought of necrophilla.
Flash [to Dale in her concubine outfit: You look great!
Dale: It’s the eye makeup.
Ming: Who are you?
Flash: Flash Gordon, Quarterback, New York Jets.
Dr. Zarkov: What are you doing?
Ming: Oh, nothing. Just emptying your mind.
Dr. Zarkov: Don’t take my mind! It’s all I have left!
Flash’s Theme: Complete Lyrics
Flash, a-ah, savior of the universe
Flash, a-ah, he’ll save everyone of us
Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha
Flash, a-ah, he’s a miracle
Flash, a-ah, king of the impossible
He’s for everyone of us
Stand for everyone of us
He’ll save with a mighty hand
Every man, every woman
Every child, with a mighty flash
Flash, a-ah, he’ll save everyone of us
Just a man
With a man’s courage
He knows nothing but a man
But he can never fail
No one but the pure in heart
May find the golden grail
Oh oh, oh oh
You missed out the ever-present Huge Voice: Brian Blessed as the chief Hawkman… “Gordon’s alive?!!!”
It’s a feast of over-the-top performances by some of the best British pastiche actors. Only Alan Rickman’s magnificent Sheriff of Nottingham is in the same league.
It’s wonderful. Apologies to the US (and Italian) actors relegated to pretty parts. Max von Sydow was wonderful too 🙂
Okay, yeah, I definitely need to watch this movie now 🙂
Yes-Yes! Everyone must watch this movie! It’s the best of the bad–a tour de force of over-the-top glitz!
I have a Flash Gordon T-shirt (I think I found it in a supermarket!) and it looks exactly like the things you describe. Viva beautiful trash!
*is jealous, will wrestle you for t-shirt*
Fight! Fight! Fight! Fight!
*cue Star Trek fight scene music in my head*