Words: Jonathan Wroot
FLASH! AA-AH! Saviour of the universe!
Not only is this one of the most recognisable of Queen tracks, but it signifies one of the few times when they composed the majority of a film’s soundtrack (the only other other time would be for Highlander). So, yes, my nostalgic film is from the eighties, showing my age – but this was one that I re-watched more on VHS and TV than at the cinema (though the sooner I can get to a theatrical re-screening of this, the better!). Therefore, Flash Gordon also falls in with other childhood faves such as Labyrinth, Neverending Story and Star Wars.
Flash Gordon is also a film that I now watch on DVD, as there have been several special editions released over the years for various anniversaries (the one I have is the 25th anniversary edition, though there was also a 30th in 2010). And this can bring up some of the perils of re-watching films that you loved as a kid. We’re talking over 30 years ago in regards to Flash Gordon, and so things can look horribly dated. The sets and effects, while impressive at the time, leave a lot to be desired now. Sam J Jones’ infamously dubbed lines are now instantly noticeable. No-one also seemed to want to take the story (or their acting) seriously at all. This may be a bit of a shame as the DVD also contextualises the history of Flash Gordon as one of the 20th century’s most popular comic-book and film serial characters.
The eternal charm of this film, though, is also found in these negative aspects (for me at least – and a few others that reminisce over this film – you know who you are!). You do not get films like this made anymore (arguably). Queen’s music gives life to the actions onscreen, and punctuates the moments of clunky dialogue that regular viewers will happily quote until their dying days – e.g. “Flash, I love you! But we only have fourteen hours to save the Earth!” Because there are both intentional, and unintentional, moments of hilarity on-screen, Flash Gordon is likely to remain a favourite for fans for years to come, as well as those who specially seek out “trashy” films. This is unlike another favourite film from my past, Labyrinth – which I hate to say, looks a bit shakier every time I see it (and not in a good way).
There are, of course, problems with re-watching films such as Flash Gordon. If you’re trying to watch it with someone else, or a group of friends who have not seen it before, they are likely to see only its flaws before they realise why you love it so. This means you often end up re-watching it on your own, or if you gave the TV to yourself and you catch the last half while scrolling through the channels. Although, for every group of people of a similar age that you try to watch it with, there are bound to be one or two who are likely to get why Flash Gordon is so good and bad at the same time.
The most irksome problem I found of late was trying to watch it a bit differently – as in sitting through the commentaries on the 25th anniversary DVD. Brian Blessed’s was sadly nothing more than a jabbering monologue, trying to elevate the story and make it out to be something more than it is (e.g. every other sentence is about Flash being a ‘pure hero’). Thankfully, director Mike Hodges happily provided a much more informative and entertaining commentary, as he reminisces on contending with not only the cast and the dodgy sets, but also producer Dino De Laurentiis’ decisions relating to both of these. His dry and blunt anecdotes are often as hilarious as the film itself.
But no matter if you end up re-watching it on your own, or with the choice few friends who similarly love it – “GORDON’S ALIVE!” – and should be for very many years to come.