Does Flash Gordon (1980) try too hard to be funny?
Flash Gordon (1980) could be the biggest cult hit of the 80s, and I think it’s as popular as Escape From New York or They Live. It could be close. Flash Gordon has action, likeable cheesy stars, and quotable lines, just like Escape From New York and They Live, plus twice the color and vibrant sets. It has good pace and a comic-style story, just like Escape and They Live, except those two might be a little darker in comparison. Best of all, it has Queen. The score blows its competition out of the water. But then there’s the comedy.
The comedy is not for everyone. It has a campy plot and dialogue to match, which sorta fits what the movie is trying to do. It’s not hyper realistic, as in some of these remakes, and it seems like it was pulled right from the source material, which I like. There’s no philosophical overtones from things like The Force, as in Star Wars, with their pseudo-science that doubles as a morality lesson. Flash Gordon is just an adventure story and it’s fun to see the actors have fun with their roles. Brian Blessed is especially awesome as the flying Prince Vulcan.
It’s all sorta ridiculous. Everyone has stylized outfits with boots and capes and way-too-elaborate head-dresses. It’s great. Timothy Dalton even combs his moustache as he lampoons Errol Flynn, shooting bad-guys, while trading barbs with Flash Gordon. It’s true to the original serials. Ming’s court is especially over-the-top, and the flight of the Hawk-Men is grand in camp-scope, making it the perfect climax. Is it a comedy or just really, really campy? Maybe both. It doesn’t bother me. Not that much anyway. I think maybe the problem with this movie is that it doesn’t know it’s a comedy, which gives us a campy farce because the material is just too over-the-top.
Overall, anytime I think of Flash Gordon today, I think of Sam Jones or Buster Crabbe. Yeah, it’s campy and silly and the dialogue is dumb, it’s still fun. This is one of those classics from my youth that I still don’t own and I don’t know why. Published on DVD in 2012, did you know you can get Flash Gordon, The Last Starfighter, a couple episodes of the original Battlestar Gallactica, and the crappy Dune move by David Lynch. What a collection. 80s camp at it’s best.