The science fiction films of 1980 fit a variety of needs. For those looking for an existential experience there was Ken Russell's Altered States; for the sequel lovers in all of us, there was The Empire Strikes Back and Superman II (two of the best); for a more real world feel you could turn to The Final Countdown for your fix.
There was one title that stood apart from all of those. It wasn't an original outing nor was it a sequel, in fact it was anything but a serious movie. Flash Gordon exploded onto the screen in a blast of candy-colored campiness in December of 1980. Now, nearly 27 years later, Flash Gordon has gotten a DVD release worthy of its technicolor insanity.
The character of Flash Gordon has been a mainstay of science fiction since his first appearance back in 1936. Comic books, theatrical serials, cartoons — he's influenced all manner of media. With the massive impact that Star Wars had in 1977, it was only a matter of time before Flash was resurrected for the big screen. Whether or not Flash Gordon is what the fans wanted is probably up for debate. What isn't up for debate is the fact that it is a lot of goofy fun.
I will admit to not being well versed in Flash Gordon lore, so I am not certain how closely this mirrors any of the prior incarnations. Despite that (a fact that I plan on correcting), this movie feels right, like a tribute to the old Buster Crabbe serials. It embraces its roots, using camp to its advantage.
The story is simple. Ming the Merciless (Max von Sydow), ruler of Mongo, decides to cheer himself up by picking on Earth. He causes all manner of natural disasters, before sending the moon out of its orbit and on a collision course for Earth. On the surface, scientists are rubbishing the thought of any danger following a surprise lunar eclipse. Nope, no problems here. Leave it to the mad scientist, Dr. Hans Zarkov (Topol), to figure it out.
Fortunately, Dr. Zarkov has a plan to save the Earth. The problem lies in him being crazy, and his assistant has no desire to head off into space in Zarkov's personal space rocket. It just so happens that New York Jets quarterback Flash Gordon (Sam J. Jones), and the lovely Dale Arden (Melody Anderson), happen to be crash landing on top of his remote lair. This dynamic duo will prove the perfect helpers to get his ship off the ground. A quick kidnapping later, and the three are headed off into the swirling colors of space.