Awesome ’80s in April: Flash Gordon (1980)

flash gordon movie poster

After moving away for college and staying away for some twenty years, I moved back to my hometown a while back and started working in the family business with my father and brother. I wasn’t exactly thrilled with either of those things. Still aren’t if I’m being honest.

However, it has been really nice to get to know my brother better. We’ve always gotten along, but he’s four years older than me. He left home just about the time I was getting interested and by the time he moved back I was gone. So it has been wonderful forming a relationship with him as an adult.

We are both movie nerds so we spend a lot of our time talking about the various films we’ve recently watched. Since moving back he has told me many times of his undying love for Flash Gordon. This usually happens when a Queen song plays over the radio (and we tend to listen to the classic rock station so a Queen song often plays over the radio.) Queen, of course, wrote the soundtrack to the film.

Flash Gordon is one of those films that I was too young to have seen in the theaters, and have never really cared to catch at home. It bombed at the box office and the general consensus was that it was a stinker. That general consensus has stuck with me which is why I never bothered with it. But my brother’s love for it finally got me to track down a copy and I recently watched it.

I kind of loved it.

It is very silly and all kinds of cheesy, but intentionally so. His has more in common with the 1960s Batman television series than anything in the MCU. Of course, 1980 was a long way from the MCU or Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight Trilogy, or even Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man movies. Christopher Reeve played Superman in 1978 but that was really the first big blockbuster superhero movie of the modern era.

At the time Comic Books were mostly kids’ stuff. Later in the 1980s, they would turn darker and grittier, but in 1980 they were still primarily for children. Flash Gordon was a newspaper comic strip that lent itself toward ridiculous situations, over-the-top villains, and general nonsense.

The movie follows in that same vein. It is bright and colorful, filled with outlandish sets, even more outlandish characters, and a plot that doesn’t pretend to be anything more than silly.

Sam J. Jones plays Flash Gordon, not a superhero but a football star. He boards his private jet and finds travel agent Dale Gordon (Melody Anderson) has snuck aboard. She’s pretty so he allows her to stay. Not long after they are in the air the plane is hit by a meteor and they crash land near mad scientist Dr. Hans Zarkov’s (Topol) laboratory.

He believes that the crazy weather they’ve been having (including massive earthquakes, volcano eruptions, and hurricanes) is part of an extra-terrestrial plot to destroy the Earth. He’s not wrong as it is Ming the Merciless (Max von Sydow – and I really would like to hear the story of how they talked him into starring in this film) who has wreaked this havoc on the planet – he gets bored easily and likes to destroy planets just to see how they react.

Zarkov has a space jet at his disposal and the three humans take off hoping to save the day (well Zarkov hopes to save the day, he pretty much kidnaps the other two). They fly through a time warp, or a wormhole, or something or other and wind up on Ming’s planet.

There they meet some men with wings, a young Timothy Dalton in a mustache, a dude in a golden Destro-looking mask, Ming’s very attractive daughter (Ornella Muti), and an assortment of other oddballs. Flash beats off Ming’s men by basically playing football with a metal ball against them. He plays a deadly game of don’t-get-bit by a deadly scorpion thingy with Timothy Dalton. He flies some cool-looking ships, gets lost in a swamp, and has all sorts of adventures.

Again, the whole thing is ridiculously silly but a whole lot of fun. And yes, that score from Queen is pretty darn great.

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