Monday, August 24, 2009

Movie Log: Flash Gordon

We've given up on the last decade or two of Bond movies, at least for now, but we're still watching movies as a family just about every Saturday night. Last week was Ponyo, before that was Ghostbusters, and this week we saw a massive wedge of cheese The Wife and I hadn't looked at for nearly thirty years: Flash Gordon.

There's a peculiar acting calculus going on in this movie -- Sam J. Jones (Flash) can't act at all, which is a negative. As if to counteract that, nearly all of the other roles are filled with the hammiest overactors possible, from Topol (Dr. Hans Zarkov) to Max von Sydow (Ming the Merciless) to Timothy Dalton (Prince Barin) and finally, at the height, to the irrepressible Brian Blessed (Prince Vultan of the Hawkmen). It's as if the filmmakers thought that if they put enough acting around Jones, some of it would affect him, or at least bring the average level of acting in the movie up to par. Sadly, Jones is so flat that not even Blessed can counteract him. Oh, sure, Blessed is marvelous here -- his every line is a thing of joy, and his speeches during the final battle had my sons calling them out immediately afterward with glee -- but even he can't make Jones any more than a stiff.

And that's really a pity, since Flash Gordon is enormous fun if you can ignore the giant slab of useless beefcake at its heart. The sets are gorgeous, the costumes even more so, and the spaceship designs are a marvelous '30s-esque rococo. Even the far-too-synthesizer-dependent soundtrack from Queen is fun in its own deeply silly way. (And Flash Gordon doesn't take itself too seriously -- it's not jokey, but it's light-hearted, in the old style, so silliness is just fine.)

The story is the usual one, retold a dozen times: Ming is the evil Emperor, and he's taken notice of Earth. Genius scientist Hans Zarkoff knows something is causing trouble for Earth, and has built a spaceship to go investigate. His unlikely co-pilots are Flash (in this version, a quarterback for the New York Jets football team) and the gorgeous Dale Arden (a travel agent (?!) played by Melody Anderson). They arrive on Mongo, are captured and mistreated by Ming, and eventually unite the warring princes under Ming to overthrow him and bring peace to Mongo.

It's still not a good movie, of course -- time will never improve Flash that way -- but it's an entertaining hunk of cheese that looks very good (particularly Anderson and Ornelli Muti in a succession of ridiculously over-the-top gowns with more fabric in their hair than on their bodies) and is reliably entertaining. Blessed is the biggest highlight, especially the way he caresses the word "Dive!" about a dozen times near the end and gives his every line with a huge grin that manages to stay in character.


Suzan Harden said...

Ah, Flash is one of those childhood guilty pleasures. I recommend white cheddar of your popcorn.

John D. said...

Flash! Ah-Aaaaah!

Anonymous said...

I never saw "Flash Gordon", but back in the late 80's I was visiting a friend of mine in L.A. At the time, my friend was a member of The Groundlings, the famous improvisational group. So, at the time (and bizarrely), was Sam Jones. Or maybe Jones was just taking a class there.

Anyway, I was allowed to sit in and observe one of the classes, and as my friend and I were leaving, Sam Jones struck up a conversation with us. Very nice guy, but right from the get-go obviously dumber than a fencepost. We talked about my friend's writing (he's now a writer for "The Simpsons"), and my aspirations as a writer. As Jones departed, I made a crack about me ghostwriting all of my friend's stuff. After Jones was out of range, my friend muttered, "He doesn't know what a ghostwriter is!"

In his favor, Jones was then starring on some TV show about firefighters, and at my request he later sent a signed picture to my sister.

Sorry to go on so long, but your post triggered the memory.

Jeff P.

structuregeek said...

Another reason to love the
massive time waster that is the TV Tropes Wiki is that BRIANBLESSED is something of a meme over there.

Andrew Wheeler said...

StructureGeek: And, as a matter of fact, I did mentally replace all of BRIANBLESSED's lines with "Did somebody order A LARGE HAM?!" and it worked perfectly.

Unknown said...

For a brief moment I thought you were writing about "Flesh Gordon" - then I awoke from my fevered dream.

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