Flash Gordon (1980) has got everything you could ever want from a B-grade sci-fi movie. Vast, deco-inspired sets that appear to be made of cardboard. A super villain costume so heavy with bling that Max von Sydow could barely stand in it. Harems, jungles, mindless minions, oppressed planets, mad professors, evil overlords, bore worms, a cheesy script coupled with hammy delivery (making the most delicious sandwich of dialogue ever), and gloriously camp costumes. I love it.
Flash Gordon’s face is carved from granite, with a bevelled-edge jaw that would cause serious bruising should you happen to bump against it in the night. And he has the most delightfully unexpressive eyes you have ever seen; this is not a criticism, it just makes the comic-bookness of the movie EVEN BETTER. To add to the 2D effect, for much of the film Sam Jones’s voice is not his own – after a fight with the director he refused to record any further dialogue, and an unknown actor was used to complete his part.
So how awesome is this movie, really? Let me count the ways.
Bedazzled costumes, weird helmets and enormous metallic wings. Awesome.
Topol as a mad professor. Awesome.
A rotating platform for duelling with randomised axis tilting and floor spikes. Awesome.
Theme song by Queen. Awesome.
Cheesy sexual antics that are hugely inappropriate for a comic hero movie loads of children will be watching with their parents. Awesome.
Hot hail. Awesome.
Timothy Dalton and Brain Blessed having a sword fight. ONE PERSON CAN ONLY TAKE SO MUCH AWESOME MY BRAIN MIGHT BE ABOUT TO EXPLODE.
Could it have been any more amazing? Well, possibly. George Lucas originally wanted to adapt Flash Gordon, but being a small fish in Hollywood he couldn’t get the rights. So he went off and developed his own idea, and came out with this little movie called Star Wars. I hear it did pretty ok. Meanwhile, Nicolas Roeg was the director who actually started work on the film, but walked out early on due to ‘creative differences’ (you can read more about it in this interview of 1980 with Roeg). The mind reels.
Alternate actors considered for the role of Flash included Arnie (who was turned down because of his thick accent) and Kurt Russell, who decided not to go ahead due to the lack of character development. Oh, Kurt. You just missed the whole point of Flash!
Awesomeness aside, the film is genuinely creative, and for me, gets the point that comic book adaptions can and should be fun. The plot moves along quickly, there are some great action sequences (Flash using his football skills to knock down space minions is stand-out), the sets are over the top, the costumes are colourful, and it is just a rollicking good time from start to end.
The design is really interesting, and stays true to the original 1930s comic book style. The sets and backgrounds were clearly designed with Art Deco and Italian Futurism in mind – a nostalgic vision of the future. The costumes shimmer and shine, and when you look closely you can see why. They look metallic, but it can be hard to get any metallic fabric that is shiny enough to really come across on screen. So wherever you seen shine, it is actually thousands of bugle beads intricately sewn onto the costumes. Every one of them must have been hugely heavy. The draped and one-shouldered dresses on the two female leads probably owe something to the popularity of Halston at the time – which is appropriate, since Halston’s flowing goddess gowns were actually inspired by designs of the 30s.
Favourite part? When Dale picks up her shoes at one point, you get a great close-up of the label. Apparently slave girls in outer space wear shoes made by Rayne, the Queen’s shoe-maker in the 70s. Who knew!