Flash Gordon 1980
As I continue my venture into the great chasm of cheesy superhero movies I decided to seek out the 1980 movie of Flash Gordon. There was very little about this movie that I knew of going into it. I knew the hero was named Flash Gordon, the villain was named Ming the Merciless, Queen did the theme song which I had heard, and of all people my older sister actually gave it her endorsement. I do have a Facebook account, but I only use it for old friends and family. I posted about the poll I had on what to watch, mentioning the cheesy movies like Flash Gordon was tied with X-Men and my sister wrote “Flash Gordon isn’t cheesy, it’s awesome!” After watching it, I agree. It’s awesome, horribly horribly awesome. This movie made me laugh harder and more often than the Avengers. There was so much wrong with this movie, but it played it all so earnestly I just had to buy into it.
I’ve said this before and I’ll probably say it again, but something that all of these cheesy superhero movies I’ve been watching have going for them is the absolute conviction of all the actors. The plots are convoluted, silly, and/or over the top but everyone just throws their hearts into it and I love them for it. It’s just so hard not to join in the fun everyone seems to be having. In this movie especially all the villains are played with such vigor and enthusiasm while all the expensive yet outdated special effects go off around them, speaking lines that no one in their right minds would ever say, yet they give it their all.
The look of this movie is fairly unique. The best way I can describe it is that it looks like the most expensive low budget movie ever made. There are so many different kinds of creatures, costumes, sets, and special effects that it is amazing. The problem is that every one of these dozens of costumes looks cheaply made. From the detailed yet cardboard looking wings of the hawk people to the spaceships that are pulled along with string to the lizard men in cloth suits. I think if they had waited just a few years, or had someone else handling the special effects designs, they could have had something that looked quite special. But instead of having a small pile of gold, they had a sea of iron. It serves its purpose, but it never goes beyond that.
The plot is so convoluted I don’t think I could effectively explain it if I tried. There are so many double crosses, allegiance changes, narrow escapes and recaptures that it can be hard to keep track of who is on whose side. One thing that it does have going for it is that there is rarely a slow moment. I did think that it took a little too long to get started at the beginning, but once they got to the planet and met Ming, things took off from there. The one thing you can of course count on is that Flash plays the hero role for all its worth. Almost too much, he’s so much the hero that he often comes off as rather bland. There were only a couple moments that I really liked out of him, and that’s often when he gets out of a jam by using his wits rather than either brute force or a stroke of luck. It really felt like it was a whole bunch of shorts combined into one movie, going from one almost completely self-contained predicament to the next.
One thing that did surprise me was all the sexual themes in this movie. From Ming’s daughter who is a complete slut, using every guy she can get a hold of for her whims including Flash, to Dale who is Flash’s wholesome love interest from Earth who several times almost becomes Ming’s concubine or wife. There’s a lot of stroking of flesh, undoing of clothing, and the occasional moans of pleasure. Nothing ever goes past PG territory but it is incredibly suggestive. If there’s a drinking game for this movie, I’m sure one of the rules is to take a drink every time the princess moves onto another man.
There is a whole lot of campiness to this movie, I can’t tell for sure if it’s a sign of the time it was made or if it was intentional, or some combination of the two. But it was the campiness that made me laugh the hardest, and there is a lot of it. It starts off pretty quickly as Flash Gordon is tossed a golden egg to remind him of the football field and give him the drive to take on Ming’s guards. Another time is when things seem darkest for Dale and it suddenly cuts to Flash Gordon riding a rocket sled with a giant grin on his face, hair blowing in the wind, accompanied by the sounds of Queen’s rock music “Flash! Ooooh”. And of course at the end where the hawk men spell out “Thanks Flash” in the air.
While there are a lot of weak points in this movie, there are some strong points too. I think my favorite part of the movie was the action setpiece where Flash is fighting Timothy Dalton’s Prince Barin on a platform while the hawk king uses a remote control to tilt it and raise spikes. It’s a good fight and the hawk king made me laugh so much. He was such a fun character, even though it made little sense that in a universe where everyone has laser rifles, he fights with a big club. I think that’s probably one of the weakest points about the movie is that it just doesn’t have a believable set of rules for its universe. It complicates things with all the different races and moons, and the sci-fi geek in me has trouble overlooking all the outdated ideas of space where hawk men can fly between moons in such short amounts of time. But in the end, as it has been with all of these cheesy movies so far, I enjoyed myself watching it, and as long as you know what you’re getting into ahead of time it can be quite a fun movie. I’d love to hear suggestions for more cheesy movies to watch next, I’d like to get at least a couple more in before starting into the X-Men movies. Until next time, this has been Bubbawheat for Flights, Tights, and Movie Nights.