The Emperor Ming: “Klytus, I’m bored. What plaything can you offer me today?”
Klytus: “An obscure body in the S-K System, Your Majesty. The Inhabitants refer to it as the planet… “Earth.”
The Emperor Ming: “How peaceful it looks… I like to play with a thing for a while before annihilation!”
Evil intergalactic warlord, Emperor Ming the Merciless has set his sights on destroying our planet and the only one who can save every one of us is a quarterback for the New York Jets. So begins Director Mike Hodges and Producer Dino De Laurentiis’ cult classic “Flash Gordon” (1980) featured this month on MGM HD.
Shortly after Ming (Max Von Sydow) sets his fiendish plot in motion, our titular hero, Flash (Sam Jones) along with sidekick Dale Arden (Melody Anderson), and scientist Dr. Hans Zarkov (Topol) launches into space to save the Earth. Once on Ming’s ship, our trio encounter other planetary races who live under Ming’s oppressive thumb. This includes Prince Barin (a pre-James Bond Timothy Dalton) leader of the kingdom of Arboria and Prince Vultan (Brian Blessed), leader of a race of winged hawk men. And then… well, frankly, what happens next doesn’t make a whole lot of sense but that isn’t the point. With a screenplay by Lorenzo Semple Jr., the creative force behind the mid-sixties “Batman” series, “Flash Gordon” is pitched to full camp mode with its tongue planted firmly in cheek throughout.
The pleasures of “Flash Gordon” are to be found in fantastically garish production design, relentless goodwill, giddy sense of goofiness, and of course, it’s soundtrack. The movie’s aesthetic is pure disco: the interior of Ming’s ship looks like the Death Star by way of Las Vegas, and most of the people there seem to have made a wrong turn on their way to Studio 54. Which suits Von Sydow’s Ming who, when not destroying worlds and torturing their inhabitants, seems to be intent on having a 1980-style good time.
The other main actors play their parts without a trace of cynicism. Sam Jones’s Flash is a paragon of courageous virtue, played with forthright innocence. Melody Anderson, as a travel agent on a trip she never booked, brought humor, sexiness, and bravery to her Dale Arden. Veteran Shakespearian actor Brian Blessed’s utterance of “Gordon’s Alive?” has become one of the most recognizable quotes of his long career.
The movie does have its share of excitement. A sequence showing an Arborian ritual of bravery involving a tree stump and a scorpion will keep you on the edge of your seat as will a two-man battle on a pivoting stage with retractable spikes.
But perhaps the most enduring charms of “Flash Gordon” is the soundtrack by legendary rock group, Queen. Brian May’s electric guitar propels the story to interstellar heights and Freddie Mercury’s operatic vocals lends some cheeky fun.
“Flash! He’ll save every one of us,” indeed. Catch “Flash Gordon” airing November on MGM HD.