Horribly Awesome: FLASH GORDON
Oh, Horribly Awesome. It’s been so long.
There are movies out there that challenge us. These cinematic works hold a mirror to our own hubris and force the critical analysis of the human psyche. Through a strong narrative with relatable yet flawed characters, they better us by deconstructing our views on the world and of life itself. Then there are movies like Flash Gordon. It’s mindless, cheesy, and wonderful.
Come, my friends, as I regale you with the story of Flash Gordon, king of the impossible. Just a man with a man’s courage. He’s for every one of us, stands for every one of us. Oh, and did I mention that he has a badass theme song by Queen? Yes, THAT Queen.
Flash Gordon is the hero of a sci-fi action-adventure comic strip serial from the 1930s. He’s a handsome polo player and Yale graduate, who woos all the women with his winning smile. He has a friend named Hans Zarkov who is all about science. You could think of him as a proto-Bill Nye. Planet Earth is currently getting pulverized by space rocks and Zarkov invents a rocket ship to figure out where the meteors are coming from. Mildly insane (and possibly on crack), he kidnaps Flash and his companion Dale Arden and the three travel to planet ‘Mongo.’ Mongo is a scary place under the dictatorship of Ming the Merciless. The rest of the strip is dedicated to their many adventures on Mongo. They are thrown into many life-or-death situations, make some new friends, and eventually scale a revolt against Ming.
Eventually, this strip was adapted into a series of films in the 1930s and 40s. They were all received well and did the original strip justice. As such, we’re not going to talk about them today.
1980’s Flash Gordon is loosely based on the first few years of the original comic strip. This time, Flash would be a quarterback of the New York Jets instead of a polo player and former Yale graduate. Oh, and he would be portrayed by former Playgirl-centerfold Sam Jones. Yes, you read that right – Flash Gordon, Defender of the Universe got his start in a nudey mag for horny ladies.
“Flash, Flash, I love you, but we only have fourteen hours to save the Earth!”
Flash Gordon is an absolutely insane film. The plot takes a backseat to the banging Queen soundtrack and the movie flows like a pantomime. Acting and dialogue are both fairly campy, but all of the parts are played in earnest. Even former glamor model Sam Jones, who is likeable in spite of also being wooden as a tree. Production values certainly don’t match earlier sci-fi movies like Star Wars, but there is definitely a vision to the flashy sets and costumes. Finally, the special effects are hilariously atrocious – even by 1980s standards.
Flash Gordon should be a total disaster, but the film actually works on several levels. Don’t ask me how, but the film savants itself into being a satire of law, marriage, adult life, religion, and Communism. Sex is also a dominant theme, as the dialogue makes dozens of inadvertent references to both heterosexual and homosexual encounters. Sam Jones is actively terrible as the titular hero, and yet it works because of the certain idiocy required for the character. Hell, the man has the word “Flash” on his tee-shirt. It’s almost as if he Flash would have forgotten his name had it not been plastered on his chest. The whole thing seems to have been rushed into production, but I also think it benefits from the low-budget, tacky feel. I honestly can’t recommend it enough. If you and your friends are looking for the ultimate sci-fi so bad it is good movie, you’ve found it with Flash Gordon. He’s king of the impossible.