Written by Warren C. Bennett
Though I lived through half of the 70′s, memories of that time are short and fleeting. I have a vague recollection of my first half decade of life but there is nothing concrete. All I remember is glimpses and colors, fleeting images and half images until around my fifth birthday in 1980. I can’t say that the first five years of my life didn’t touch me, in fact they helped shape my world view as much as any of the years that followed. Like the movie Flash Gordon, I was a product of one era that was forced to navigate the explosive beginning of another. Unlike this campy science fiction romp, I went on to successfully embrace the 80s in all the synth pop and pastel colored grandeur.
The plot is fairly simple. A hero, the indomitable Gordon, is rocketed into space along with the mad scientist Hans Zarkov and the beautiful Dale Arden. They crash-land in the domain of the malevolent Ming the Merciless and are soon captured. Despite the best football moves of superstar Flash, the trio are soon split up and bound to their own fates. The three eventually come back together after many adventures to help overthrow the evil Emperor while saving the world of Mongo.
Flash Gordon is campy and rude with a small dose of vulgarity sprinkled throughout. It has a great soundtrack with a supporting cast that is more memorable than the main hero and heroine. This is not a serious recreation of the Flash Gordon universe. If a fan comes in to this movie expecting a lovingly crafted take on the venerable comic, that fan will be sorely disappointed. This is more a last gasp of 70′s glam cinema more than serious take on Science Fiction. It is essentially a rock opera set to the melodious guitar rhythms of Queen a bright red overtones of the Flash Gordon visuals. Flash Gordon belongs on a midnight double bill with “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” while Meat Loaf does the opening gig.
That is what makes Flash Gordon enjoyable because it certainly isn’t the plot or the acting. The real star of the show is great soundtrack by one of most entertaining rock bands of all time. The bombastic vocals and great guitar riffs turns this movie into a classic rock opera. It it is a spoof of a science fiction flick and one that expects the viewers to be in on the joke.
Yet, as a child, I did take this movie very seriously. The more adult oriented aspects of the movie did not even register in my mind. What I saw was a brightly colored comic come to life. I saw hero and heroines, rocket ships, vast unexplored moons, winged hawk-men, feats of daring do and an all American male fighting for what is right. It is only in viewing the movie as an adult that I even noticed the gratuitous amount of innuendo and not so subtle sexual overtones. As I matured so did my interpretation of the movie. This shows that the movie is a bit more layered than it appears at first glance. A movie that can be appreciated on different levels by different age groups is not something that is easily produced.
Flash Gordon is fun to watch. Don’t take it seriously, remember the era which birthed it and regale yourself in the campy kitsch glamor of late 70′s rock mixed with the eternal heroism. Looking at this movie with a serious eye, one that can be offended by the changes heaped upon the story, will turn a brilliant romp into a major disappointment. Flash Gordon is a concept that should be remade with a bit more serious undertone. Yet, this particular product should never again be attempted. We are far beyond the era that could produce such a product.