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Rated PG
Copyright 1980 Dino de Laurentiis
Reviewed by Andrew Borntreger on 9 March 2008 (updated)

The Characters:  

  • Flash Gordon - Football quarterback and saviour of the universe! He is the only blonde-haired male in the film. Want to find the hero? Look for the blonde meatwad.
  • Dale Arden - On the bounce from a failed relationship, she clings to Flash like a romantic barnacle.
  • Dr. Hans Zarkov - Dismissed from NASA for being slightly mad (they hit that nail on the head) and a crackpot. Author of the bestseller "How to Build a Rocket from Household Parts."
  • Prince Vultan - Brian Blessed! Leader of the Hawkmen who cares very little for Ming, but he acts like a big chicken until Flash shows him how to be more than bluster and teeth.
  • Prince Barin - Timothy Dalton! Ruler of the forest realm Arboria and Princess Aura's boy toy (well, one of them).
  • Princess Aura - Lusty daughter of Ming. She has an ugly rocketship and a secret pleasure moon (neither of those are euphemisms).
  • Luro - Hawkman, he commits the worst pun offense ever. Wounded while attacking the war rocket, Ajax, he tells Flash, "They only winged me." Bad bird, very bad bird.
  • Lizardmen - Just so you understand the boggling issues this movie presents, these are people dressed in snake suits who have eyes inside their mouths.
  • Kala - General of Ming's armies. She was apparently a highly evolved form of the fountain pen. Zapped with a lasergun.
  • Klytus - Chief of Mongo's secret police force who has a sick fascination with Aura. Ends up being a little too confident for his own good and is spiked by Flash.
  • Emperor Ming - Max Von Sydow! Bald and evil man with a nasty habit of destroying worlds. He also does this weird thing with his hand when pleased or amused. Presumed dead (a rocketship runs into him), but certain to be back for the sequel.

Buy It!

The Plot: 

Some movies leave you amazed that they were ever made. Even more perplexing is how entertaining they can be, despite (or due to) their constituent parts. "Flash Gordon" falls into this category. They must have spent millions making this film look as gaudy as possible. That sort of behavior might pay off if you are a male bird looking for a mate or the city of Las Vegas, but it usually spells trouble for movies. Not so in the case of "Flash Gordon." Sparkling and gaudy works perfectly once the cast's to-the-hilt acting is added. The film really is a comic book story come alive.

On Earth, things look bad; Ming is playing with our planet, as only a true megalomaniac is capable of doing. The intergalactic ruler uses a special control panel to orchestrate Earth's destruction. It has buttons for "Hot Hail," "Typhoon," "Earthquake," and more. Only Dr. Zarkov, with his unmatched genius and persecution complex, realizes that the disasters are really an attack carried out by the planet Mongo.

One of Ming's buttons causes flaming charcoal briquettes to fall from the sky. Between that and the "Earthquake" toggle, I think that California would be pretty well screwed. Anyway, all of the buttons blink when selected, lest the despot forget that he left the hot hail on. Can you imagine doing that? Turn on hot hail, go to dinner, then return to find out that everyone living in Europe is up to their armpits in red hot coals.

Being buried up to your armpits in hot coals is not good for you. Sorry, Europe, nothing personal, Ming just left the hot hail on by accident.

Caught in the throes of a world being torn apart is an unlikely pair: the optimistic professional football player and Dale Arden. The pair noticed each other at the hotel, but waited until they were aboard a small airplane to say hello. I think that they should have started at the hotel, because Flash and Dale are obviously attracted to each other and a hotel is a better place to explore that sort of thing (though, interestingly, the aircraft is probably flying above five thousand, two-hundred and eighty feet).

Any opportunity to really get to know each other is lost for the time being when Ming sends the Nothing to attack the charter aircraft. The malaise of Fantasia sucks the pilot and copilot away, leaving Flash to crash land the plane. He does not do a bad job, but he does plow into Dr. Zarkov's greenhouse laboratory. The rogue scientist tricks the hero and his new girlfriend into an experimental rocketship and the intergalactic birdie blasts off to save the Earth.

Great, our planet is under attack by the merciless Emperor of the Galaxy and our counterattack is comprised of one quarterback, a real estate agent, and a mentally unbalanced rocket scientist. What could go wrong?

The rocketship is spotted by Klytus' intelligence analysts and guided to Mongo. Warmhearted lug that he is, Flash tries to greet the polished samurai androids that surround the humans. He ends up shaking hands with a remote control gauntlet that throws him to the ground. Not everybody knows you, Flash, and not all of those who do are fans of the Jets (I might be stretching it to say that the Jets are looked down on elsewhere in the galaxy, but you never know).

Under guard, Flash, Zarkov, and Dale are brought to Ming's throne room to witness Mongo politics. Princes Vultan and Barin are at one another's throats, and a third Prince of Mongo is ordered to fall on his sword. None of these human rights abuses sit well with Flash. The heroic quarterback causes a fracas in the throne room, right in front of Ming. When Flash is finally subdued by the armored guards, he is sentenced to be executed for "Making the Emperor look silly in front of his subjects" (a tailor was the only man previously put to death under said law). Later that day, the earthman is sealed in a glass room and the room filled with poison gas. Flash does the funky chicken. The end.

Yes, I'm kidding. Flash is not dead. He is just sleeping. He has not ceased to be, because Aura wants a piece of the hunky earthman (guess which piece) and has convinced the royal surgeon to commit treason. In case you were wondering, Aura has a few methods of convincing men to do what she wants. All of them involve her body, most of them involve at least part of the man's body, and several require a level of flexibility that is envied by circus performers. Not to get off track, but Aura's scheming libido knows no bounds.

So, where was I? Oh, Aura's, wait...Flash resurrected and smuggled out of the fortress by Aura. Meanwhile, Zarkov is strapped down on a table to have his brain reprogrammed. First, all of the scientist's memories are sucked out, then Mongo secret police programming is stuffed back in. Sounds a lot like what we do to a pumpkin as it becomes a jack-o-lantern, doesn't it? I have nightmares that I am a pumpkin and Halloween is right around the corner. I wake up, screaming at my wife, "Get your hands out of my head! I need that! Get your hands out of my head! Aiiiieeee!" Katie usually freaks out and goes downstairs to sleep on the couch.

You mean I'm the only one who has that dream?

Determined not to be "just another concubine of the ruler of the universe," Dale escapes. She gets her hands on a lasergun, but, instead of shooting the guards, Dale insists on beating them to death with it. Personally, I think that I would prefer the quick and humane death by laser. Some frantic woman flailing at me with a lasergun until my skull caves in is not how I want to go. Whatever her inclination for inflicting blunt trauma, Dale flees from Ming's palace with the help of the newly reprogrammed Agent Zarkov. The brilliant scientist was not turned into a brainwashed member of Klytus' secret police; his superior mind was able to withstand the suck effect of the machine. Before the ecstatic humans get very far, they are taken prisoner by a Hawkman patrol.

The Hawkman capturing people is a commmon theme; if anyone gets too far from the main plot, a patrol rounds them up.

Aura takes Flash to Arboria, a moon covered by a massive cypress swamp, and makes Barin promise not to kill his romantic rival. The angry prince finds a loophole in the promise; he imprisons Flash and some other undesirables in a wooden cage and lowers the whole lot of them into the swamp. Now, I would have attempted to chew through the vines that held the cage together (and probably found them to be poison ivy); our hero spends his time bobbing around in the brackish water like a blonde teabag and giving pep talks to a faltering Hawkman. After a few hours, Flash is tricked into escaping the cage and then entering the Temple of Arbor. Any man who enters the sacred temple of their own free will must submit to the test of manhood and that is how Barin intends to kill Gordon.

On Arboria, there is an extremely nasty little creature called a wood beast. As natural selection would have it, the animal is a nothing more than a lump of flesh with a long tail tipped by a poisonous stinger. Wood beasts are not cuddly and even their own mothers do not love them. As a result, they are exceedingly foul-tempered. The warriors of Arboria keep one inside a hollow stump in the temple. After the priest beats on the stump with a stick (just to make sure the inhabiting wood beast is plenty pissed off), you play Arborian Roulette by choosing a hole and sticking your arm in. Pick the wrong hole and you get a handful of wood beast. The wood beast does not like to be touched any more than a rational person wants to grab something that is slimy and equipped with a scorpion's tail. The point of the game is not to find the wood beast.

The blonde bomber is man enough; he plays along until the rules are unfairly changed by the prince, then flees into the swamp with Barin in pursuit. Both of them are captured by Hawkmen and taken to Prince Vultan's aerial city. Once there, Barin demands a duel to the death, not with Vultan, but against Flash Gordon. The two men battle it out on a floating platform that tilts and randomly grows spikes. Flash gets the upper hand, but saves Barin from falling into the abyss below. Most of the Hawkmen, Vultan included, think that the earthman has gone cuckoo. Barin pledges his sword to Flash.

Getting all warm and fuzzy? Well, cut it out, because Klytus crashes the "Gosh, isn't Flash Gordon a swell guy" party. The black-robed creep knows everything, having tortured Aura to elicit a confession. What Klytus does not understand is Flash Gordon; the quarterback blitzes Ming's agent and kills him. Vultan immediately panics, he orders the floating citadel evacuated before the Imperial Fleet arrives to blast it to atoms. The non-flying visitors are left to their doom. In short order, Ming's personal rocketship arrives. Barin, Zarkov, and Dale are taken aboard, but Ming parlays with the remarkable earthman. He wants Flash to rule the Earth as a kingdom of Mongo! Of course the hero refuses and is left inside Vultan's abandoned fortress as Ming's ship opens fire. Still refusing to die (he is harder to kill than a cockroach), Flash escapes on a rocket cycle.

Prince Vultan rallies behind Flash when he finds out that the blonde earthman is still alive. The two of them hatch a desperate plan to save their friends. First order of business, they need to capture the most powerful war rocket in Ming's fleet: the Ajax. The Hawkmen's weapons are inferior to the imperial's (their blasters can only fire one shot, but are so large and primitive as to be effective clubs) and Vultan's tactics are strictly civil war in their level of sophistication. However, Flash charges in on his rocket cycle and ensures that the Ajax is taken. The only thing that stands between Gordon and Ming's wedding is a gauntlet of laser defense batteries and the city's lightning field. Piece of cake.

Come on, he plays for the Jets and people like him. How much trouble could a lightning field be for a hero like Flash Gordon? Something I love about the climactic battle is that Flash is at the controls of the mightiest war machine ever built. What does he do with it? Spears Ming in the center of the back! No blasters, no electric death ray, no plasma arcs - Flash Gordon skewers Ming the Merciless as if the emperor were a lowly insect. Then the emperor's drone congratulates Flash for saving the Earth and tells him to have a nice day, at which point the film turns into a Toyota commercial. I kid you not.

The End?

In closing, I have always enjoyed this film, but it really grew on me over the last few years. The dynamic music, especially the theme song, must be part of that magic. Shoot, the montage that plays during the opening credits (also set to the theme song) is a great little way of paying homage to the comics and setting the mood for the rest of the film.

Flash! Aaaaaaahhhhhhhhhhhhhhh!

Things I Learned From This Movie: 

  • Queen made at least one pact with the devil.
  • Having a skylight is bad when it rains burning coals.
  • Aircraft windshields are not made of safety glass.
  • Don't annoy someone whose last name is "Merciless."
  • Never discuss your secret assassination plans in mixed company.
  • Diamonds are a girl's best friend, but rubies make them horny.
  • Quarterbacks are invulnerable when given a football or similar object.
  • Funeral parlors are inhabited by reclusive midgets. When nobody is around, they clean and polish everything.
  • The ability to fly a rocketship is inversely related to the hotness of the girl who is sitting in your lap.
  • Liquid passion tastes fantastic, but it will give you a wicked hangover.
  • Women use pillows when dueling to the death.

Stuff To Watch For: 

  • 8 mins - The pilot's last name is "Aldrin," by the way.
  • 16 mins - Um, is that a hurricane over Missouri?
  • 18 mins - In one shot the evil troopers are peering through a window, in the next they are ten yards away.
  • 32 mins - That is an awkward sort of contraption to wear on your head.
  • 40 mins - Your god is a prescription medication?
  • 73 mins - The LEXX was so cute when it was a baby!
  • 82 mins - How many kids does Ming plan on having with Dale?
  • 103 mins - Notice that the high winds do not affect the flames in front of Flash.
  • 104 mins - Only nineteen seconds to save the Earth! Oddly, it is fifty-four seconds later when the timer runs out.

 Audio clips in wav formatSOUNDSStarving actors speak out 

Green Music Note flashgordon1.wav Zarkov: "What do you find? The moon out of orbit?"
Assistant: "By more than twelve degrees. This must be a mistake."
Zarkov: "That's no mistake; it's an attack! I've been right, all these years!"
Green Music Note flashgordon2.wav Dale: "Ming's not unbeatable. With all his men he couldn't even kill Flash."
Vultan: "Gordon's alive!"
Green Music Note flashgordon3.wav Kala: "Confess and we won't hurt you anymore. We don't like doing this at all."
Aura: "Never!"
Klytus: "Bring me the bore worms."
Aura: "No! Not the bore worms!"
Green Music Note flashgordon4.wav Ming's wedding vows. These are great!
Green Music NoteTheme Song Listen to a clip from the soundtrack.

 Click for a larger imageIMAGESScenes from the movie 


 Watch a sceneVIDEOMPEG video files 

Video Clipflashgordon1.mpg - 4.6m
Flash had been getting his butt whipped. Now that he has a metal, football-like object, the star quarterback is unstoppable.

Oh yeah, and Dale turns into a goofy cheerleader.

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