In my mind, there probably isn't a better sci-fi midnight movie than Flash Gordon. Perhaps that's wrong to most, but I simply can not deny the 1980 cheesefest and the amount of entertainment it's offered me. Sure, I know there are a lot of great sci-fi movies out there, but I'm just terribly partial to this kind of tongue-in-cheek intergalactic adventure. People might think I'm crazy if I say that I'm gonna take a midnight viewing of Flash Gordon over a midnight viewing of something like....well, something like Star Wars.....but I'd make that pick every single day. And I love Star Wars.
Of course, when I start my argument by talking about how Flash Gordon's opening sequence features a "Hot Hail" button, people think I'm crazy. But the opening sequence, in which the diabolical Ming - played by the undeniably cool Max von Sydow and his booming voice - "plays" with the Earth and unleashes his destruction sets the tone for the rest of the pulpy adventure perfectly. Oh, and it - like much of the film - makes me laugh hysterically at how wonderfully silly it is.
Ming the Merciless is rendered in an almost comical fashion - my last viewing of the film happened via blu-ray, which did no favors for the overuse of makeup on von Sydow - but the veteran actor is the absolute perfect choice to bring the dictator to life. The film makes sure to show Ming's power, but also gives him a devilish sense of humor that fits perfectly opposite the hero. My favorite moment might be the arranged wedding late in the film, in which Ming dictates the terms of his vows to the official presiding over the ceremony.
Ming's reign of terror wouldn't be complete without his Earthling adversaries, who hurl their bodies out into the void, without the slightest inkling of who or what is out there. They are led by the title character, accompanied by his love interest Dale Arden (the duo certainly have one of the quickest progressions from meeting to love to proposal in film history) and the scientist Hans Zarkov. Zarkov is played by the scenery-chewing Topol, whose deep voice and beardedness are matched only by one of his co-stars.
The man I speak of is the fantastic Brian Blessed, who soars through the film as Prince Vultan of the Hawkmen. The feud between Vultan and Prince Barin (future Bond Timothy Dalton) is an incredibly entertaining side-plot, and it ties in with our hero's journey well. There's a Shakespearean kind of feel to this whole "feuding clans in the same kingdom" side of the plot - though I doubt Shakespeare ever intended to be tied in to something with a soundtrack by Queen.
All of this is brought together by Sam J. Jones as Flash, who's probably the least interesting member of the cast. But something kind of amazing happens due to this. But something kind of amazing happens because Jones is so average as a hero: the supporting folks become that much more interesting. Heck, the fact that I'm just now getting to Jones goes a long way to pointing out how much of the charm of the film - which I've seen like three dozen times - comes from the things that are going on around the hero. Too many films throw a hero at you and leave the rest of the film to fill in around them, while Flash Gordon makes sure that all bases are covered with characters whose antics make sus smile and who often bail out the vanilla hero with the chiseled jaw.
Flash Gordon is spectacle at its cheesiest and cheapest, but it's the kind of pulpy family friendly sci-fi movie that I just love. It might not have the epic scope of other sci-fi franchises - but anyone who condemns it for its dialogue or silly sets or music is clearly missing the point of why those of us who love Flash Gordon love Flash Gordon. Honestly, I'm not even sure why I love Flash Gordon at this point. But there's something calming and exciting and just flat-out lovable about it that I can never deny. I know it's not cool to be the guy who goes "Man, eff Star Wars, let's watch Flash Gordon!"....but I'm that guy and I admit it. Give me cheese or give me death....that's my motto.