Mimsy Were the Borogoves

Movie and DVD Reviews: The best and not-so-best movies available on DVD, and whatever else catches my eye.

Mimsy Review: Flash Gordon

Reviewed by Jerry Stratton, August 20, 2000

I love you, Flash, but we only have fourteen hours to save the Earth!

This is the best-acted campy space opera ever. With a soundtrack by Queen that kicks butt. Max von Sydow was awesomely understated in this movie. His every body movement is in character and adds depth to an otherwise simple movie. the costuming and the prop design is beautifully close to the original strip. The movie is presented in letterbox format (2.35:1), in English.

RecommendationPossible Purchase
DirectorMike Hodges
WritersMichael Allin, Alex Raymond, Lorenzo Semple, Jr.
Movie Rating7
Transfer Quality6
Overall Rating6
  • Letterbox

The video quality on this DVD is odd. The bright golds and colors of the sets and costumes show up quite nicely. Not the best transfer, but it does the design justice. But text anywhere, even on the menu, can be barely legible. The credits at the end seem to be lower resolution than the movie, and the menu selection titles seem to be even lower resolution than that.

The sound level for voices is more variable than in other movies, though I can’t say this wasn’t intentional. But some things the actors say were nearly inaudible if the volume level is kept so that other conversations are normal. And if the quieter dialogue is brought up, the rest of the dialogue is booming.

The story is pretty simple. Flash Gordon, Hans Zarkov, and Dale Arden blast off into space and confront Ming the Merciless, ruler of Mongo, who is attempting, quite successfully, to destroy the Earth. They meet Hawkmen, Treemen, Lizardmen, Blackmen, and some other men who are fairly unidentifiable. The Hawkmen have wings, the Lizardmen have scaly green skin and walk close to the ground. The Black men are… black. That’s all. You would think they get the short end of the stick, but I’d lay that one for the Treemen, led by Timothy Dalton, whose claim to being “tree” men apparently resides in the fact that they only wear green. Still, with James Bond and Riff Raff in their membership, they have to be the coolest race on Mongo.

There were a number of actors in this movie who have shown up later. Prince Barin was played by none other than temporary James Bond Timothy Dalton, and his sidekick is Fico, played by Richard O’Brien (Rocky Horror, Ever After). Brian Blessed (Phantom Menace, Hamlet) was Prince Vultan of the Hawkmen. And then there were people who just sort of disappeared, such as Melody Anderson as Dale Arden. And Sam Jones was in about six movies in 1993 alone, none of which I’ve heard of. Topol (Fiddler on the Roof) seems to have faded out of cinema. Vultan’s daughter (Adrienne Kronenberg, who looks a lot like a young Drew Barrymore) has only Flash Gordon in her IMDB listing.

The acting in this movie comes in three types: overacting, no acting, and Max von Sydow. Von Sydow was perfect. His movements are almost choreographed. His facial expressions play perfectly. The overactors, such as Brian Blessed (Hawkman), make the movie a lot of fun. Topol as the mad scientist Hans Zarkov goes over the top beautifully. Sam Jones and Melody Anderson, the lead characters, don’t seem to be having a whole lot of fun. Jones especially seems to be taking his part very seriously, but without the experience of von Sydow to pull it off.

Still, it’s a funny film with decent adventure and cool comic-book like special effects. It is the set design that really excels in “Flash Gordon”, however. The brilliant reds and golds of Ming’s court, and the very comic-book like castle and rocket ships really work. They look like someone found a way to film the comic book itself. Somebody took a lot of care and, I suspect, research, to get everything on Mongo just right.

Queen’s soundtrack is decent, vintage Queen, however, it is not their best. Something interesting, however: at one point in the movie, Prince Vultan of the Hawkmen, about to go into battle, yells “Who wants to live forever?” and it sounds a lot like Queen’s refrain in the later “Highlander” film which they also did the music for.

This DVD has no extras. Literally none. It doesn’t even have English captions for the hearing impaired. It doesn’t even have the trailer. But I got news for you: if you’re a fan of this movie, the chances of your seeing a better release are Jack and Shit, and Jack left town. If you’re a fan of the movie, or a fan of Queen, I recommend purchasing it, if you can find a decent price for it. The prices I see on the net are topping twenty dollars, and I can’t see that at all. If you’ve never seen it but you like old Flash Gordon comics, I recommend renting it. I think it’s great, and eminently rewatchable.

Recommendation: Possible Purchase

DirectorMike Hodges
WritersMichael Allin, Alex Raymond, Lorenzo Semple, Jr.
ActorsSam J. Jones, Melody Anderson, Max von Sydow, Topol, Ornella Muti, Timothy Dalton, Brian Blessed, Peter Wyngarde, Mariangela Melato, Richard O’Brien
Spoken languageEnglish
More links

If you enjoyed Flash Gordon…

For more about campy, you might also be interested in Almost Elvis.

For more about Queen, you might also be interested in Highlander.

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For more about Richard O’Brien, you might also be interested in Dark City and The Rocky Horror Picture Show.