Maybe a year or two ago, I was told that — as a fan of all things camp and cheese — I simply had to watch Flash Gordon. So I checked out the trailer.
Good lord, this movie.
Spoilers because I care not.
When evil alien emperor Ming the Merciless (Max von Sydow) grows bored, he decides to annihilate the Earth. But first he wants to play with it, i.e., he causes earthquakes and tornadoes and such all over the world. Thankfully, Dr. Hans Zarkov (Chaim Topol), a mad scientist, tricks Flash Gordon (Sam J. Jones), a football star, and Dale Arden (Melody Anderson), a mostly useless love interest, into his rocket — not a euphemism — to save the day.
1. Ming causes worldwide chaos with the touch of a button. This is not figurative. There are literal buttons, labelled buttons.
Ming can pretend he’s never heard of Earth all he wants. I’m pretty sure he has — back in the 1960’s, when he snuck into the Bat Cave and stole Alfred’s label maker for his Buttons of Destruction. The buttons in Ming’s ship are labelled thus: Hurricane, Hot Hail, Typhoon, Meteor Storm, Tornado, Earthquake, and Volcanic Eruption.
Personally, I found Hot Hail a little disappointing.
2. Flash Gordon may present the worst case of ‘I Love You; I’ve Known You a Day’ that I’ve EVER seen.
Let’s briefly walk through the relationship of Flash and Dale, shall we?
On a Tiny Plane
Flash: Hey, I saw you at this hotel last night, and instead of coming up and introducing myself, I asked the hotel staff who you were and what you did for a living. They told me because I’m a famous football player and definitely not a creeper.
Dale: That’s . . . kind of weird. But I’m terrified of turbulence, so please talk to me and get my mind off things.
Flash: I couldn’t believe a pretty girl like you was alone, unescorted and thus single. Cause I’m from the 1800’s.
Dale: You’re just saying that to get my mind off things.
Flash: Well, that’s literally what you just told me to do. But I mean it. Seriously, why were you alone? I cannot even fathom such a possibility.
Dale: I was . . . trying to get my head together. You know?
Flash: Sure do. I’m deep. Let me impress you with my piloting know-how . . . but on second thought, maybe later because ohmyGod, the clouds are bright red.
Dale: Oh, I’m so frightened! I guess I could put on my seat belt, but instead I’ll get up so I can cower behind you in the middle of the corridor. Hold me!
The plane soon crashes into a mad scientist’s laboratory, as tiny plans are wont to do. Flash and Dale are tricked into a rocket because they are the DUMBEST PEOPLE ALIVE and then they sleep for awhile. They make it to some alien palace, where an alien princess looks all seductively at Flash. Flash looks interested.
Dale: Hey, remember me?
Flash: Um, we’ve known each other maybe twelve hours, and we’ve been asleep for eleven of them. It’s not like we’re dating, okay? But, uh, yeah. I’m ashamed. Deeply ashamed.
Ming hypnotizes Dale with his Magic Ring and makes her do a sexy dance. (Which isn’t actually all that sexy but it’s supposed to be.) He releases Dale and she runs back to Flash.
Dale: What happened to me?
Flash: I don’t know, but it was pretty sensational.
Dale: Um, I don’t think being mentally coerced into sexy dancing is very funny, you utter jackass. Unfortunately, I’m being written by a man, so I’m just going to flutter my eyelashes in confusion and hold you tighter.
Flash is taken prisoner, and Dale is turned into a concubine. They talk for a couple of minutes, hoping this is all a dream. Since it’s not, Flash is taken away to be executed — although he survives, unfortunately, because we don’t kill off our title heroes in the first thirty minutes of a movie, although I’m thinking maybe we should start.
Flash and Dale are separated for a while and only briefly speak once via telepathy. Flash is all but getting a handjob by the alien princess at the time, so it’s not exactly a romantic conversation between the two of them. They go through a couple of adventures on their own and meet up again at Vultan’s palace.
Dale: How are you? Oh, I have so many crazy stories to tell you!
Flash: Save them for our kids.
Dale: I accept! I just got engaged!
Carlie: Sweet Jesus. I think my brain just EXPLODED.
3. The best character in the whole movie is Zarkov’s assistant, Munson, who declines the opportunity to jump in a rocket to try and save the world from evil aliens. Zarkov threatens him with a gun — which seems like maybe a bit of an overreaction.
Munson doesn’t see how a gun would be any worse than getting himself killed in the rocket. Zarkov’s like, “But if you go in the rocket, you’ll die saving the world! Don’t you have any spirit at all?” Munson: “No!” And he runs away again. Heh. Bless you, man.
Unfortunately, I’m not sure if Munson lives. It kind of looks like Flash accidentally runs him over with a plane. I’ll say he makes it, though, if only because most heroes don’t accidentally kill people in movies, even if they are cowardly scientists. (On the other hand, that would make two people in this movie Flash has managed to kill with a plane.)
4. I get that you have to deal with the circumstances that were dealt to you, but I’d like to point out that Dale and Flash are both pretty chummy with the mad scientist who’s kidnapped them in his rocket and accidentally flown them straight into an evil alien’s empire. I’m not saying I wouldn’t work with him to get home and all, but I might slap him around a little first. (It’s strange: Zarkov goes from gun-wielding antagonist to nerdy sidekick with not very much in the way of transition.)
Then again, my sympathy for Dale and Flash’s plight is pretty limited. Yes, you two: I would totally believe the guy that said his telephone was in a rocket.
5. Possibly the saddest thing I have ever seen: The Football Fight
Really, it makes me die a little on the inside. Especially the part where Flash starts calling out football plays and Dale actually turns into a cheerleader on the sidelines. On the other hand, though, Brian Blessed knocking out bad guys on the sly and then turning his head and whistling, all, “Gee, did I do that?” is kind of hilarious.
6. Of course, Brian Blessed and his ridiculously deep voice is easily the best thing in this whole movie.
Blessed plays Prince Vultan, and he’s kind of hilariously awesome. He is the leader of the Hawkmen, who are basically Manly Alien Cherubs. Or flying monkeys, as they appear in masse. I’ve decided to assume that this was a deliberate homage, since our third banana — not second, we’ll get to him in a moment– sort of melts away after she is killed, prompting Mek and I to immediately and simultaneously respond:
Mek: “What a world, what a world!”
Me: “Oh, you liquidated her, eh?”
7. Klytus (Peter Wyngarde) is our second banana villain, and honestly, I was kind of rooting for him because he had a wonderfully dry delivery, and I liked him a lot more than I liked Ming. Sadly, Klytus goes the way of Shang Tsung, and I mourned him terribly. Or I would have, if I wasn’t too busy laughing at the way his eyes and tongue squeeze out of his head upon death.
8. Talking about acting seems kind of like a waste cause, you know, it’s pretty obviously bad all around. I prefer to be shallow and talk about Sam Jones’s face instead cause it’s sort of odd looking.
I’m sure he’s actually a fairly attractive guy or was considered so back in 1980, but . . . look, he’s a football player who’s clearly wearing makeup and wearing it badly, to say nothing of the hideously bleached hair that doesn’t suit him at all and is far too long for his square, manly face. Jones, you could be a contender for Worst Hair this year.
Possibly Worst Fashion too. Say it with me, Flash: we do not wear T-shirts with our names written on them in big, obnoxious letters. Also, the prison wear: it is apparently the Evil Alien Way to execute men in what can only be described as duct-tape daisy dukes.
9. And oh, the execution scene — where Dale tearfully watches Flash supposedly get killed with green smoke, and Sexy Alien Princess Aura says, “Look! Water is leaking from her eyes!” And Ming says, “It’s what they call tears. It’s a sign of their weakness!” And I say, “Ohmygod, I’m going to die.”
10. And in case we weren’t in enough pain:
A: When Flash supposedly dies, Dale faints because of course she does.
Although, in her defense, there is a brief moment when Dale suddenly and inexplicably starts kicking total ass, like she takes out four of five of these guards who try and stop her from escaping. (The guards are a little inexplicable themselves. They look like Sand People, if Sand People wore all red. I kind of want to cosplay this shit — the whole movie, really. There’s so much ridiculous material to work from — it would make a hilarious ensemble showing, especially if you could get a guy to dress up as Flash on death row.)
So, do we think that maybe Dale has turned the corner into competent heroine? HA.
B: Dale makes a vow to marry Ming in order to save her friends. Now, she doesn’t have a lot of options here. I don’t blame her for making the vow. But when Sexy Alien Princess Aura gives Dale a bottle of poison, Dale refuses to use it against Ming. Because she’s scared of being caught? No. Because she disapproves of murder? No.
Dale: “I gave your father my word of honor.”
Aura: “What word?”
Dale: “To try and be a good wife if he’d spare Zarkov and Barin. I thought he would.”
Aura: “My father has never kept a vow in his life!”
Dale: “I can’t help that. Keeping our word is one of the things that make us better than you.”
WOW. First, Aura gets treated like crap throughout this movie, and she really doesn’t deserve any of it. Without Aura, Flash Gordon wouldn’t even be alive. But let’s move past that to focus on the fact that Dale would rather marry an evil emperor who is almost certainly going to kill her friends than try and kill said evil emperor and save her friends because that would mean breaking her word. And somehow this skewed sense of honor is what makes her and humanity better than Aura and her meanie-mean alien pals.
As of today, I think I’m disavowing humanity.
C. Also, these two have a pillow fight. *Sigh*
D. But let’s leave Dale for a minute, shall we? Let’s check in with Dr. Zarkov.
Oh noes! Zarkov is getting all of his memories wiped away, so the bad guys can brainwash him into being a loyal meanie-mean alien. Thankfully, if you’re strapped to a machine that’s about to rip your whole self from you, there’s no need to worry. All you have to do is recite Shakespeare in your head, and the Talmud, and the Beatles! Your memories of your family and your experiences won’t save you, but the lyrics to “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da” will! You can’t beat the human spirit! Brainwashing can be fought off by art!
E. While attempting to eradicate Zarkov’s memories, Klytus witnesses a glimpse of Hitler and says, “Now, he showed promise!”
11. Any initiation rite that says, “Stick your arm in one of these holes and hope that the Alien Scorpion of Doom isn’t inside of it?” It’s a bullshit ritual. Manhood isn’t worth it, kid.
12. You can’t speak telepathically if you don’t hold your hands to your head.
Mekaela, Bring me home chocolate. I need CHOCOLATE.
13. This bit of dialogue just tickles me:
“Flash Gordon is approaching.”
“What do you mean, Flash Gordon is approaching?”
14. Flash Gordon crashes his space ship and impales Ming the Merciless with it.
This sounds like it could be cool. But is not. It is infinitely lame. Also: when Ming dies, Max von Sydow goes for — and nails — a serious death face, and I’m like, “Wait . . . wait, are you acting? What movie do you think you’re in right now?”
15. Finally, Queen just keeps getting more and more awesome.
Queen did the score for Flash Gordon, see, which you’ll realize if you watch the movie: they use the theme song approximately eight bazillion times. Now all I have to hear is, “Flash! Ahhhh!” and I’ve got the godamned song stuck in my head for the rest of the day. It’s so cheesy and ridiculous and yet? It makes me smile almost immediately.
Princess Aura: “No! Not the bore worms!”
Priest: “Do you, Ming the Merciless, Ruler of the Universe, take this Earthling, Dale Arden, to be your Empress of the Hour?”
Ming: “Of the hour, yes.”
Priest: “Do you promise to use her as you will?”
Priest: “Not to blast her into space?”
(Ming glares at the priest.)
Priest: “Uh, until such time as you grow weary of her.”
Ming: “I do.”
Prince Vultan: “Gordon’s alive?!”
Flash: “I can hardly breathe in this thing!”
Klytus: “Yes, you don’t look well. And I’m told you refused your final meal. The chef will be upset . . .”
Ming: “Are your men on the right pills? Maybe we should execute their trainer.”
Banner: “All creatures must make merry . . . under pain of death.”
My brain has melted due to an excess of costuming and cheese.
No. I can’t. I just can’t.
Don’t bother ever learning a second language — assuming English is your first — because it’s clearly all you need. Even aliens from outer space speak English without computer translation or Babel fish.
You are genetically predisposed to evil, at least if specist and all around terrible person Dale is to be believed.
Keeping our word — no matter how stupid and damaging our word is — makes humanity the most superior species.
You can take the mad scientist out of the rocket, but you can’t take the poetry from his soul!
Superheroes and supervillains alike cannot function without a label maker.