Approached in the right spirit, Flash Gordon is as enjoyable as it is silly,and it is the wise moviegoer who will leave his mind at home, as he would his teeth in a glass of water. The screenwriter, Lorenzo Semple Jr. (the remake of King Kong), has a knack for keeping his tongue in his cheek and still being able to talk plainly. He has hit upon the right tone for a comic strip adaptation: benign violence and campy lines delivered without the bat of an eyelash. “Prepare her for our pleasure,” intones Ming the Merciless (Max Von Sydow), a graduate of the Fu Manchu school bent upon destroying Earth from his Club Med empire in space. But first he has to deal with Flash (Sam J. Jones), a blonde, hunky lunk just dumb enough to get out of any scrape.
When Flash and Dale Arden (Melody Anderson) are whisked into outer space by mad scientist Hans Zarkov (Topol), their arrival at Ming’s Pleasure Dome (outrageously but exquisitely designed by Fellini’s set designer Danilo Donati) is greeted with mixed emotions. Ming, whose evil emanates from pure ennui, naturally wants everyone dead, but his daughter, Princess Aura, played by the svelte, almond-eyed Ornella Muti, is more interested in Flash’s flesh. Ming, too, is desirous of Dale; Zarkov gets his brain drained (“We are going to empty your mind, as we might empty your pockets”); Aura saves Flash from death and escorts him to her personal “pleasure moon”; and the palace revolt is on.
Though the special effects are on the cheesy side and the direction little more
than workmanlike, Flash Gordon has the good, giddy grace never to take itself seriously. Sexily beaded and feathered, the movie puts a dampener on the kind of mythic ponderousness so pervasive in the Star Wars saga. “Get the worms,” Aura’s torturers announce with glee. “Oh no—not the worms!” she squeals. There are swamps and monsters, Hawkmen who flap through the skies in battle, space skies that are a shifting sea of pastels and blood types that seep out of bodies in a variety of colors. Only the music by rock group Queen and the prosaic editing touch on the ordinary. As the hero, Jones is appropriately blockheaded; as the villain, Von Sydow is imposing; and everyone else, having been let in on the joke, appears to be having a ball.
The budget for Flash Gordon was one of those astronomical sums now commonplace in the industry—enough to feed a family of four for several centuries.
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