Flash Gordon – Flash Gordon is an American Football star, but when the plane that he and journalist Dale Arden are on is forced to crashland due to freak weather, they are kidnapped by disgraced scientist, Hans Zarkov, who launches them all into space in order to find the source of the mysterious and biblical weather. But none of them bargained for Mongo, a land ruled by the evil tyrant, Ming the Merciless. With the moon set to crash into Earth and wipe out life as we know it, will Flash, Dale and Dr. Zarkov be able to unite the warring factions of Mongo, team up, and defeat the cruel Ming?

Flash Gordon (1980) – Director: Mike Hodges

Flash gordon movie poster suitable for kids

Rating: PG

Running Length: 111 mins

Starring: Sam J. Jones, Melody Anderson, Max von Sydow

Genre: Fantasy, Action/Adventure

REVIEW: ‘FLASH GORDON’

It’s impossible to create a cult classic. By their nature they are largely dismissed but somehow gather in fandom and popular culture. It could be because of amusingly terrible quality, some quirk or shock factor, or because, like ‘Flash Gordon’, they are utterly, irrefutably, distinctive! 

Flash Gordon himself has a long history from a deeply influential 1930s comic strip through to a 1960s TV serial that directly led to the creation of Star Wars. This 1980s film was the first feature film adaptation but it eschewed the more serious sci-fi tone of the source material for a ‘camp’ style which ramped up the colours, gloried in the retro appeal, and – even when not trying to – produced some of the comedic gems of 20th century cinema.

The acting in ‘Flash Gordon’ is both terrible and fantastic. Jones as Flash lacks any nuance or subtlety but his thick headed charm somehow fits the character just right. Anderson’s Melody is the very definition of damsel in distress which, given the old fashioned tone, works perfectly well. Both Dalton and Blessed ham up their performances to the maximum, with Brian Blessed’s gloriously over the top delivery being the most iconic (“GORDON’S ALIVE??!” and so on). However, there is no denying that Max Von Sydow’s ‘Ming the Merciless’ is a genuinely fantastic performance full of menace, malice, coldness, and crushingly powerful presence.

Predictable plotting and larger than life characters aside, ‘Flash Gordon’ is stunning to look at. Not because of high tech SFX (the ‘Hawkmen’ are clearly men with flimsy papier-mâché wings strapped to their backs who are dangled in front of a green screen and jiggled a bit to show their ‘flight’) but precisely because of the bold and striking low-fi nature. Space is depicted with vibrant ink swooshes and swirls. Planets are huge (clearly cardboard) sets chock full of colourful touches. And we haven’t even mentioned the vast and thumping soundtrack courtesy of Queen which combines dialled up to 11 rock bombast for the action and synthesisers dripping with menace for the rest.

‘Flash Gordon’ was not a commercial success at the time but has gained huge cult following for a reason. You will never see another film even remotely like it. If another film tried to replicate the effect it would fail because such craft is as much an accident of the unintended as it is the skill of the planned out. Flash: saviour of the universe!

CONTENT: IS ‘FLASH GORDON’ SUITABLE FOR CHILDREN

During the opening sequence of the movie, Ming inflicts several ‘natural disasters’ on the Earth. These include ‘volcanoes’, ‘hot hail’, and ‘earthquakes’ etc. We see some stock footage of natural disasters interspersed with Ming laughing in voiceover. No people are shown to be hurt although some buildings are destroyed.

A character is hit in the back of the head with the butt of a gun and knocked unconscious.

Once Flash, Zarkov, and Dale are on the planet Mongo they are captured by guards. One guard’s ‘hand’ is fired off of its arm and attaches around Flash’s throat, strangling him. The hand is attached to the guard’s arm by a electrical lighting effect. The ‘choking’ is brief.

Shortly after a ‘lizard man’ character tries to flee from a robotic floating guard. The guard fires a laser at the lizard man which screeches and disintegrates in a yellow flash. The moment is quick and not lingered upon.

A character is ordered to ‘throw yourself on your sword’ to prove their loyalty. Instead they try to attack Ming with the sword but Ming uses his magic ring to paralyse the attacker who is then frozen to the spot, sword in hand. Ming takes the sword and runs through the frozen attacker. We don’t see the sword penetrate but we see the face of Ming and the face of the attacker, who winces in pain. The attacker then drops down, dead and we see the sword covered in blue blood.

Ming uses his magical ring to hypnotise Dale. She then starts to perform a ‘sexy’ dance by slowly gyrating and running her hands over her body. Ming is slightly perplexed by this reaction but also enamoured with it. When she is released from the power of the ring, Dale asks ‘what happened’ and Flash replies ‘i’m not sure but it was pretty spectacular’. Ming’s daughter, Aura, is introduced shortly after. She is wearing a very revealing outfit and is a very sensual character who seduces many male characters throughout. We will cover some more details of this later.

Flash is held in a torture chamber. He is chained up by his arms held above his head. Someone unseen whimpers in the background.

A character is led to be publically executed. They are placed in a chamber and strapped to a chair. Thick coloured gas is pumped in, quickly enveloping the character. We see a strapped in hand straining in pain and then flop, limp. Another character is distraught and cries in anguish.

One character is strapped to a device which is described as used to wipe all memories clean away. The operator is instructed not to use a setting higher than 3 as they doubt the human mind can take it. However, setting 6 is used, and the character strapped in panics briefly. Through a video screen we see the characters memories being played in reverse as they are erased. This includes, shown quickly, many emotionally charged moments such as a marriage but also a death of a loved one. Similarly, shots of World War II are shown. At one point Adolf Hitler is shown and one character remarks, “Now, HE showed promise!”.

Aura and another character are flying a ship to get help. Aura is very seductive during this time. She points out a ‘pleasure moon’. She undoes some of her clothes as well as some of the other characters’, sits on his lap, and kisses him even though he trying to concentrate on flying. The scene cuts but when it returns there is more of the same. The male character is strapped to a device that can transmit his thoughts and he accidentally thinks, “Oh my god, this girl is really turning me on.”

Dale is held prisoner in Ming’s private chambers with his other ‘concubines’. It is implied that Ming will soon arrive to forcefully sleep with Dale, and a girl offers Dale a drink saying it will make the experience ‘more agreeable’. Dale asks it if will help her forget, and the girl replies, ‘No, but it will make you not mind remembering’. When Ming later arrives he leers over the woman on his bed and unbuckles his belt before the circumstances change shortly after he does so.

One character tries to escape and playful escape / suspense music is playing in the score. The guards are all in body long costumes and face masks. Several guards are shot and screams are heard as steam pours out of the impact points.

On the planet of Arboria there are several characters clustered around a large tree stump with many hollows around it. They thump at the stump with sticks in order to wake and anger a large scorpion like creature that lives inside. It is shown that this is a right of passage for adult men, who must place their hands inside the hollows as a form of Russian Roulette and avoid being stung by the creature. One young character is stung, and it is revealed that ‘death is certain’ and that before death comes pain and madness. The character begs another to ‘spare them the madness’, and so he is ‘mercy’ killed by being run through with a sword, although the camera cuts away and doesn’t show this. The person killing them is sad at having to do so but not overly effected and this character was not seen before nor mourned after.

A female character is captured and strapped down on her front. We see large welts from whip marks on her back. She is distraught with tears streaming from her eyes. She expects to be let free but is betrayed and screams “No, damn you!” Later, when we return to this scene, one character remarks that they think “she found it rather enjoyable”.

Dale has her bottom slapped by a male character who laughs heartily even though she is disgusted by this.

A character escapes capture but is caught by quicksand. They are seen to submerge entirely before pulling themselves free. Once they lay, exhausted, a creature bursts out of the ground and surrounds the character with it’s ‘jaws’, much like a Venus Fly Trap. The character panics but is shortly rescued. This latter part lasts only a few seconds.

Two characters are forced to battle to the death. They fight on a floating platform with a death drop on all sides. They fight with whips which leave large bloody marks each time they hit. Large spikes rise out of the platform also, though these never cause any injury during the fight (but one character nearly has their head forced onto a spike by the other). However, later an antagonist character is picked up and thrown bodily onto the platform and onto the spikes. We don’t see any penetration detail, but the character struggles, writhes and quickly dies. The shot pans out and spikes are seen sticking out of their back.

Ming arrives shortly after the scene above. When he is detailing the fates of each character he says of Dale that he will ‘breed’ with her.

One character pleads with another to poison Ming as he always drinks ‘a power potion before making love’. The other character refuses.

A large scale battle for Ming’s fortress takes place. Most of the fighters are ‘birdmen’ who are frequently shot down mid flight and are shown to plummet into nothingness. They attack Ming’s guards who are also killed in large numbers. One is impaled with a weapon and forced into the air before the shot cuts. If your child has been ok with the violence up to this point though, it continues in the same vein and is no worse than normally seen in a large scale battle in such films.

Several background characters have large computerised goggles covering their eyes. Another character rips a pair off and there is a close up shot of the character’s face screaming. Instead of eyes there are several multi-coloured wires protruding from the sockets. The screaming character then quickly dies. A female General is shot and killed and lies face down on the floor. She slowly liquidates inside her clothes and hot steaming liquid is seen to stream out around her body.

During Ming’s forced wedding ceremony to Dale as part of the vows, the ‘vicar’ instructs Ming to state that he will ‘use her as you will’.

A character is impaled with a very large spike. We don’t see the point of impalement but the camera pans out and shows the spike has fully gone through their body. They pull themselves off the spike and blood is seen to cover the point.

CAN I SEE A CLIP?
VERDICT: IS ‘FLASH GORDON’ FOR KIDS?

‘Flash Gordon’ has quite a lot of violence and sexual suggestion, but the scenes above described as literal events may detract from the overall ‘action / adventure / tongue in cheek’ approach of the film. Tonally, the violence is not anything more than seen in most PG movies and is taken in the film’s ‘hero adventure’ stride. The sexual content is the sort that a knowing adult may squirm at occasionally but is subtle enough that children are unlikely to pick up on the greater context much. Whilst the movie is not aimed at children specifically, we would recommend that it would be a great fun movie for children aged 7 and up.

  • Violence: 3/5 (there is a lot of violence in the movie but the general tone is excitement and action rather than realistic pain or suffering)
  • Emotional Distress: 2/5 (Dale is frequently upset and distraught. Zarkov’s memories being erased are quite touching)
  • Fear Factor: 2/5
  • Sexual Content: 3/5 (innuendo and past references to sexual relations. Aura is shown to have at least two lovers and is implied to have had more. Ming spends the film intending to have sex with Dale whether she submits to it or not)
  • Bad Language: 1/5
  • Dialogue: 3/5 (Lots of references to violence or casual murder although, again, due to the exciting tone of the movie this dialogue is often throw away: like Ming wondering whether the guards’ trainer should be executed due to their poor performance. Aura is describing her torture and says that they ‘put the boreworms’ on her. Zarkov is told in passing that he will be ‘liquidated’.
  • Other Notes: Deals with themes of tyrants, fighting for survival, using sexuality to manipulate others, inspiring others to put aside their differences and fight for the greater good, genocide, prejudice blinding against action, and the power of Queen soundtracks.

 

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