Saturday, July 26, 2014

Flash Gordon

I have been enjoying a nostalgic rage over the last few weeks regarding music and movies.  Fortunately for you, I do not review music.  Unfortunately for you, I do review films.  Particularly campy science fiction favorites from my youth best kept to myself.  So have aged well, some have not.  Flash Gordon is that is every bit as cheesy and disturbing as it was during its release 34 years ago, but that makes it so much fun to watch again.
 
Ming the Merciless, played marvelously over the top by Max von Sydow, is the cruel ruler of Mongo.  Ming has recently discovered earth and has been having fun tormenting our beleaguered world by slowly drawing the moon towards it.  A former NASA scientist, Dr. Hans Zarkov, is the only one on earth who believes the strange natural disasters Earth is suffering are an alien attack.  He plans to use a personal space ship--just go with it, folks--to find the source of the attack.  Zarkov is played by Topol, who visibly spends the entire film wondering how he could have fallen so far from starring in Fiddler on the Roof a few years prior.
 
During an unpredicted eclipse/bombardment of natural space debris, Zarkov’s assistant chickens out on taking the flight with him.  Fortunately, the bombardment causes a commuter plane to crash into Zarkov’s observatory.  The plane is carrying Flash Gordon, New York Jets’ quart back, and dale Arden, a travel agent.  The two are played by Sam J. Jones and Melody Anderson.  The characters survive the crash unscathed.  Their careers do not survive the film, however.  Zarkov shanghais the two into his ship.  Off to Mongo they go.
 
Thus begins one of the strangest combinations of silliness and inappropriate subject matter to which I have ever bore witness.  Hardly anything can be taken seriously. From Zarkov building his on space ship to Flash utilizing football plays to battle Ming’s minions, the film is simply absurd fun.  The silliness to which I have just referred does not include the psychodelic backgrounds, uneven production values, or the fact Dale is considered the most beautiful woman anyone has ever seen even though she looks like your average fourth grade teacher from Nebraska.  
 
Then there is the inappropriate elements.  I am certain I do not have to remind anyone of the famous scene in which Ming’s daughter, Aura, endures a bareback whipping for interrogation while her father eats popcorn and gleefully watches.  This scene, along with Princess leia chained to a giant slug while wearing a metal bikini, created an entire generation of perverts with terribly warped views on women.  Speaking of terribly warped, there is also plenty of other instances of light bondage, implied sexual slavery, and even the presumably unintended hint of an incestuous relationship between aura and Prince Barin, who becomes Ming’s successor because he is the ‘rightful” heir.  Tell me that does not mean he is Ming’s son! 
 
Aside from the kink, there is plenty of cringing moments of terror.  We witness Zarkov’s birth from a first person perspective during a torturous memory drain.  If you are eager to know what it is like to be shot out a birth canal, look no further.  If you have ever had a fear of reaching into a dark hole and being bitten by some nasty critter, they have that covered, as well as an attack from a giant, under the ground dwelling spider.  You might not sleep too well for a while after watching this film.
   
Amd all the bondage, weird sexual situations, and bad acid trip sequences, flash manages to untie the princes of Mongo against Ming, save the earth, and win dale’s heart.  All this in spite of his room temperature IQ.  I suspect he has been playing football without his helmet.

 I am not down on Flash Gordon.   It is a guilty pleasure favorite I must watch every few years solely to remind myself someone thought it was a good idea to make the crazy thing.  Hiring queen to record the score only adds to the fun.  The band definitely came up with some stirring music.  I defy you to keep the theme some from rattling around your mind after you have heard it. 

Rating: *** (out of 5) 

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