|Flash and winged Vultan lead the attack on Ming's palace|
Flash Gordon (Sam J. Jones) and Dale Arden (Melody Anderson) are shanghaied to Mongo by nutty professor Arkov (Topol of For Your Eyes Only) when Ming (Max von Sydow) begins terrorizing the earth for sport. There Flash meets Ming's daughter, the sexy Princess Aura (Ornella Muti), who has a hankering for the hunky quarterback; Prince Barin of Arboria (Timothy Dalton), who is betrothed to the unfaithful Aura; and Vultan (Brian Blessed), leader of a race of winged warriors. These disparate groups eventually become allies but will even they be able to beat the forces of Ming? While there are many things to like about this version of Flash Gordon, ultimately it's a disappointment. There's no reason to harp about its silliness, as the original serials were pretty silly (but not campy). Jones is acceptable as the heroic Flash, and Anderson isn't bad as Dale, but the acting honors go to von Sydow (although he can't erase the memory of the wonderful Charles Middleton); Dalton as the prince; Peter Wyngarde as Klytus, the masked head of the secret police (Wyngarde's face is never seen but he makes a definite impression); and Mariangela Melato as the nasty General Kala, who wields a mean whip. Muti deserves special mention for her excellent, seductive portrayal of Aura, who switches sides when her own father has her tortured by (unseen) bore worms. Flash Gordon's strength lies in its striking scenic design -- Ming's magnificent palace; the land of Arboria which consists of mile-high trees; Vultan's HQ in the sky -- and a couple of memorable scenes, chief of which is a battle between Flash and Barin atop a floating platform, miles in the air above Mongo, which begins to tilt precariously during the battle and even shoots out spikes from its surface. There's also a crab-like creature that lives below the surface of Arboria and reaches up to ensnare Flash, and an interesting sequence when Zarkov's memories are expunged and we see quick glimpses of his life as it goes backwards. A sobering scene, at odds with the rest of the movie, depicts a boy who tests his manhood in a bizarre ritual, and dies (with hardly anyone giving him a thought). A big problem with the movie is that it has no suspense or real sense of danger -- that the earth itself is about to be destroyed -- until the very final minutes. Rock group Queen's theme music is awful, but it's interesting that Wagner's wedding march from Lohengrin is played even on Mongo! The ending sets up a sequel which never materialized. One wouldn't have considered this an auspicious debut for Jones (he actually had small roles in two previous films), but the actor amassed 76 credits after this film, and starred as The Spirit on TV. Anderson mostly did TV work as well. Muti has had a long career of mostly Italian films. Peter Wyngarde was the star of Burn, Witch, Burn.
Verdict: Opulent, with some good scenes and performances, but one can see why there wasn't a sequel. **1/2.