Let’s get this straight right from the beginning: Flash Gordon is awesome. Rich in ’80s campiness, it’s a cheesy blockbuster extravaganza full of hammy acting, side-splitting special effects, glorious non-sequiturs, fantastic music and some of the most unintentionally hilarious dialogue ever written for a motion picture. Debates will rage for centuries as to whether the filmmakers set out to make a serious movie or an intentionally campy flick, but regardless of the conclusion, Flash Gordon is a bona fide classic, a lavish ’80s fantasy swashbuckler that’s effortlessly entertaining from start to end. Based on the comic strip of the same name, the picture was produced by Dino de Laurentiis, who had deep pockets at the time and was keen to cash in on the sudden resurgence of the sci-fi adventure genre. Though Flash Gordon failed at the box office and the planned trilogy never materialised (one of the most heartbreaking injustices in cinema history), we must be thankful that we have this gem.

While on a flight, all-star Jets quarterback Flash Gordon (Sam J. Jones) meets fellow traveller Dale Arden (Melody Anderson), a journalist. But catastrophe strikes and meteors begin to fall, causing the plane to crash into a greenhouse owned by mad scientist Dr. Zarkov (Topol). Subsequently, the trio launch themselves into space, causing them to get sucked into a black hole and hurled through the vortex of space. They wind up on the planet Mongo, home to Emperor Ming the Merciless (Max Von Sydow), who rules the universe and causes a lot of destruction. Ming wants to destroy Earth and make Dale his wife, compelling Flash into action. With the fate of the human race on the line, Flash sets out to defeat Ming and save his home planet from destruction.

Flash Gordon was released in 1980, the same year as The Empire Strikes Back. George Lucas won the day of course, raking in massive box office dollars whileFlash simply foundered. This is most likely because movie-goers were not prepared for the experience of Flash Gordon, and had no idea what to make of the film. Director Mike Hodges and his crew avoided creating a gritty, serious-minded sci-fi movie like Star Trek or Star Wars, instead producing a gaudy, colourful, farcical rock opera with tongue firmly planted in cheek. The purpose of the film was to replicate the tone and look of the original comic book, and simply provide a good fun time. Fortunately, home video often provides the chance for misunderstood projects to have a second life, and Flash Gordon amassed a cult audience over time who have given into the production’s countless charms. While Hodges occasionally has trouble maintaining the furious pacing over the picture’s overlong 110-minute running time, the movie has more going for it than not.

The ornate visual construction of Flash Gordon is a genuine marvel. Bright and vibrant, the movie literally explodes with a carnival of colours through its set design, matte paintings and elaborate costumes. It’s incredibly and unmistakably unique, as if we’re looking through the eyes of a madman tripping on LSD, exhibiting a phenomenal level of creativity that even George Lucas could never match in his wildest dreams. The set-pieces are equally trippy and over-the-top, with hilariously campy sound effects and half-hearted fight scenes guaranteed to have you in fits of laughter. Flash Gordon is a space opera, thus everything was pumped up to hyperbolic proportions. It’s a cheeseball film bursting with swirling colours, questionable plotting and clumsy dialogue. The icing on top is Queen’s iconic score. The rock gods were at the top of their game in the ’80s, and bestowed the film with an insanely addictive, gung-ho sonic aura. The rhythms are psychedelic and atmospheric, adding excitement and flavour. The memorable opening tune is a highlight; you’ll end up humming it for days.

Apparently, Kurt Russell and Dennis Hopper were initially in talks for Flash and Dr. Zarkov, but the roles were ultimately given to blonde newcomer Sam J. Jones and screen legend Topol. Jones has the right physique for Flash, but he’s a stilted thespian, and his lines were apparently dubbed by another actor. Nevertheless, Jones is great fun in the role, and his lack of acting talent is all part of his charm. Topol, meanwhile, is good fun as Zarkov, chewing scenery and spouting the cheesy dialogue with gusto. Accomplished thespian Max Von Sydow is present here as well, hamming it up with delicious glee as Ming the Merciless. Sydow is great fun to watch, especially as he lumbers around in elaborate outfits. Melody Anderson achieves exactly what you would expect as the token love interest, while Timothy Dalton is likeable in his Errol Flynn-esque role.

Objectively speaking, Flash Gordon is a pretty awful movie. But if you strip away critical thinking and watch the picture in good company, there are not many experiences as fun as watching this colourful cast of characters within such an overwrought sci-fi fantasy adventure backed by the rocking tunes of Queen. Its goofy charm is impossible to resist; this is a B-movie cult classic for good reason. I love this movie, and I have a lot of fun every time I watch it. It’s the perfect Friday night escapist romp. And if you watch it drunk or stoned, it enhances the viewing experience. Highly recommended.

8.2/10