Junkfood Cinema: Flash Gordon

By  · Published on November 5th, 2010

Welcome back to Junkfood Cinema; it’s a miracle! This is the weekly column wherein I gleefully besmirch the good name of Film School Rejects by loving up a truly terrible film right before the innocent, impressionable eyes of their readers. I will pick apart exactly what makes the film so stinky and also why I would gladly bask in its pungent aroma. Sound appetizing yet? Well wait until you get to act three! That’s where I pair the film with an appropriate snack food designed to unfavorably affect your physique in the same fashion in which the film affects your brain.

Today’s film is the universally awful Flash Gordon.

What Makes It Bad

This is one of the great bad films of the 80s. But the great thing about being a bad film in the 80s is that 9 times out of 10 it will be charming enough to garner a cult following. Though many of us love Flash Gordon, myself obviously included, its faults are damn near immeasurable. To say its special effects are dated is to say your grandfather who keeps asking you for a buffalo nickel so he can procure a sarsaparilla soda is slightly out of touch. The obvious miniatures, the matte backgrounds, and the horrendous lasers all collide ungracefully to lock Flash Gordon in a time capsule that really should have stayed buried. But at least the shots of the hawk men flying don’t look shitty at all. Not at all.

Let’s look at our hero for a moment. A quarterback who couldn’t be less on-the-ball seems a poor choice for a SAVIOR OF THE UNIVERSE until one learns that in the original comic strip, Flash was a polo player. Sure, because when one thinks of the paradigm of heroism and manliness, one immediately thinks of…a polo player? This film does it self no favors by casting former Playgirl centerfold Sam Jones in the lead. His brazenly bad line delivery is matched only by the ridiculousness of a grown man walking around with his own first name plastered across his shirt. That scene at the beginning where he “fights” a group of guards in Ming’s palace is painful to watch. Not only is he demonstrating his failures as a warrior but also his grave misconceptions of the game of football.

There are so many things about Flash Gordon that are just plain weird. First of all, the whole thing plays out like a flamboyantly gay rock opera. So many men in leather, so many fabulous costumes, a whip fight between a male centerfold and a mustachioed Timothy Dalton, and the royal guards who look remarkably like gimps. Also, the inciting action of the film is Ming bitchily whining, “Klytus, I’m bored. What plaything can you offer me?” Oh boy. There is also a weird machine that makes you regress slowly to the moment of your birth, rites of passage involving space scorpions, and lizard men who look as if they are wearing Costco Halloween costumes from the late 60s. The sheer amounts of hallucinogenic drugs being passed around that writer’s room had to have been enough to startle Hunter S. Thompson.

Ultimately this comes off less the Sci-Fi masterpiece they were shooting for and more…stupid. Really, really stupid. Flash Gordon is among the dopier science-fiction films ever made. I’m not sure if it was the inflatable butt-shaped monsters in the swamp, the cheesy as all hell “advanced technology,” or perhaps the plethora of established actors shamelessly hamming it up in an effort to out overact one another, but at some point you start to come to terms with Flash Gordon being snubbed at the Oscars. Oh, and don’t forget the ending that leaves the door open for…nothing.

Why I Love It!

First and foremost, Flash Gordon has the greatest fucking score known to man! If you didn’t already love Queen – firstly, kindly refrain from telling me as my “people to murder” list is long enough as it is – you will definitely be a fan after this film. The main theme pulses with awesomeness and I can’t help but raise my fist and sound off with the chorus. The music that underscores the final battle also manages to rock my face right off. I tried, and failed, to get my wife to agree to walk down the aisle to Queen’s rendition of “Here Comes the Bride” at our wedding. The fact that she still married me after I legitimately made that request really speaks to her character. Or at least to her masochism.

Despite my earlier jokes, Flash Gordon does have an amazing cast. Sure, the hero is a beefy doorknob and the female lead is a plank of wood in an evening gown, but Ming the Merciless is played by none other than Max Von Sydow. He may be overdoing it a bit, but he is phenomenal as the evil ruler of Mongo. We also have Brian “stop calling me John Rhys-Davies” Blessed as Prince Vultan, the leader of the hawk men. He brings a bellowing voice and a rotund charm to the part, as well as the biggest mouth this side of Tony Robbins. Timothy Dalton and Topol round out the cast to provide the all-too-important James Bond/Fiddler on the Roof counterbalance.

Flash Gordon is geek crack. It offers so many flavors to tantalize even the geekiest of palates. There are spaceships, monsters, evil bastard tyrants who look super cool, badass space fights featuring lasers and winged warriors, and smoking hot chicks. It’s no wonder that a prepubescent Junkfoodologist once made a habit out of watching this film every Saturday morning over bowl after bowl of Cocoa Puffs. My mouth agape, cereal tumbling out, I would marvel at the images on the screen in a wide-eyed sugar stupor wondering what god I had pleased to have received such a gift. To this day, I can’t turn off this movie whenever it’s on TV; it has its own gravitational pull. It’s a movie that just plain gets me, I don’t know how else to say it. But from the following it has, I’m sure I’m not alone.

Junkfood Pairing: Starburst Candies

This cosmic-sounding treat obviously calls to mind the intergalactic mishaps of one Quincy “Flash” Gordon, but this snack is more apt than a simple pun would suggest. They are irresistible, unique, and a little fruity. Any one of those adjectives could be readily applied to this film. And yes, I know Quincy is not Flash’s real name. What is it, like Humberto or something?

Stop pretending you’ve had your fill, and shove your face into more Junkfood Cinema

Longtime FSR columnist, current host of FSR’s Junkfood Cinema podcast. President of the Austin Film Critics Association.