There are films out there that can be described as a guilty pleasure - you know they're quite bad, but somewhere deep down in your heart you can't bring yourself to admit it. Flash Gordon is, in my opinion, the guiltiest pleasure of them all. Cardboard characters, lunatic script, embarrassing dialogue, trashy performances (apart from Max Von Sydow), and hilarious special effects... yet the one thing that comes out in the film's favour is that, despite its seemingly countless faults, it is still irresistibly entertaining.
American football legend Flash Gordon (Sam J. Jones) and sexy babe Dale Arden (Melody Anderson) are aboard a private flight when a weird red-storm forces them to perform an emergency landing. They crash into the back garden of wacky ex-NASA scientist Hans Zarkov (Topol), an eccentric madman who believes the world is under attack from alien forces and who has built his own spaceship to do battle with the enemy. Astonishingly, it turns out that Zarkov was right - and pretty soon, Flash, Dale and Zarkov find themselves on the planet Mongo, battling against its tyrannical emperor Ming the Merciless (Max Von Sydow), with a little help from Ming's treacherous daughter (Ornella Muti), her lover Barin (Timothy Dalton), and the winged warrior Vultan (Brian Blessed).
Flash Gordon is an absolutely insane film. The set design is remarkable, as is the costume design, and a pounding rock soundtrack is provided by the group Queen. Performance-wise, everyone seems to be camping it up like an end-of-term pantomime, though Von Sydow somehow seems to give his villain a deliciously sinister edge. Some of the dialogue is so awful that it becomes eminently quotable by virtue of its badness (a few samples: "This Ming is a psycho!"; "That must be some planet you come from!"; and - my favourite - "Freeze! You bloody bastards!") Flash Gordon should be a total disaster - an awful shambles of a film with no redeeming qualities. It isn't. Perhaps we'll never know how or why it works, but it does. So let the dissection of Flash Gordon the movie end here - analyze it no more, just enjoy it!