The 1980 Flash Gordon film from Universal is considered to be one of the most faithful movie adaptations ever made, an impressive feat considering the large gap between the classic Flash Gordon comics and film serials and this adaptation. The keys to its success in this was simple: high glorious camp and a soundtrack by Queen. It recognised the dubious quality of the serials and their cheap and cheerful approach to storytelling and took what they pretty much would have made in the 1930s if they had had the money and technology, placed tongue firmly in cheek and got high quality theatre actors to give deliciouslyhammy performances, and had a soundtrack by Queen.Its actual financial success was pants. The only country where it really made it big was the UK, the same country that invented pantomime, wry humour and the band Queen, who did the soundtrack. But it was Vindicated by Cable in The Eighties, became a Cult Classic (to the point that it figures into the plot of Seth MacFarlane's Ted), and will probably remain the best-remembered version of Flash Gordon for a long time to come. Its appeal owes much to its sense of humour and the soundtrack by Queen.Herewith a rundown of the plot, courtesy of the dialogue sampled for the title track of the soundtrack album (by Queen):
"Seemingly there is no reason for these extraordinary intergalactic upsets. Only Dr Hans Zarkov, formerly at NASA, has provided any explanation... This morning's unprecedented solar eclipse is no cause for alarm." "What's happening, Flash?" "Strange object imaged in the Imperial Vortex." "General Kala — Flash Gordon approaching." "What do you mean, 'Flash Gordon approaching'?! ...Open fire! All weapons! ...Dispatch War Rocket Ajax to bring back his body!" "GORDON'S ALIVE?!!" ... ive...ive "Flash! Flash, I love you, but we only have fourteen hours to save the Earth!"
Ming bleeds green, although his daughter Princess Aura doesn't.
General Kala has black blood.
After Ming stabs Prince Thun, bright blue blood can be seen on the sword.
Aliens Speaking English: Apparently Mongo is an English-speaking world group. The novelization explains that the Mongian language was beamed into our heroes' heads during their trip through the vortex.
Ambiguously Jewish: Dr. Hans Zarkov is never stated outright to be Jewish, although his memories, seen when Ming's secret police attempts to erase them, and his reference to his study of the Talmud as the reason why that attempt failed, make it pretty clear. Plus, he's played by Chaim Topol. Interestingly, he is also Herr Doktor.
Monitor: Hail Flash Gordon. You saved your Earth. Have a nice day.
Flash:(tossing away his sword)YEAH!!!!!!!!
Queen soundtrack:(STAND FOR EVERY ONE OF US!)
Blatant Lies: During Princess Aura's torture/interrogation, General Kala...who's basically a Dominatrix...is whipping Aura's back while the Dr. Doom-ish Stalker with a Crush, Klytus, is grabbing Aura's hair and yelling at her. Quoth Kala, "Tell us! And we wont hurt you no more! We don't like doing this at all! ". Suuuuuuurrrrrrreeeee.....
Black Guy Dies First: Prince Thun. The only black speaking character, whose only brief scene, early on, consists of getting skewered with his sword by Ming.
Bond Villain Stupidity: Ming personally meets with Flash after he kills Klytus and, instead of dragging him off, makes him a We Can Rule Together offer if he will serve Ming or else — death. Flash refuses and Ming proceeds to leave him on the floating castle and return to his ship to bomb the castle, giving Flash time to find one of the Hawkmen's flying vehicles.
The Cameo: Richard O'Brien (Riff-Raff) shows up as one of the Arboreans. This is, presumably, how he knows about Flash Gordon being there in silver underwear.
Camp: The film's scriptwriter was Lorenzo Semple, Jr., who wrote scripts for and was Executive Script Director of the 1960s Batman TV series.
The End... Or Is It?: Played straight. The film ends with a close-up of Ming's ring, lying where it fell as he died — then a gloved hand picks it up, Ming's laughter is heard, and the words THE END? appear. HA HA HA HA HA HA!!!
As it turns out, they originally had three films planned, with a script for the second and a treatment for the third, but after the first bombed so badly at the box office, the others were never made.
Enemy Mine: Princes Barin and Vultan hate each other at first. Only Flash is able to convince them to team up and fight Ming.
Future Spandex: Both General Kala and Princess Aura wear lycra/spandex costumes.
Galactic Conqueror: Ming the Merciless' reveal that he threatens whole star systems with destruction definitely places him on this level. He is also referred to as the Emperor of the Universe and the Galaxy.
Zarkov intends to kill Ming with his pistol ("One life for billions? A fair trade."), but Ming's security bot vaporizes it while in his pocket.
Flash intends one, piloting War Rocket Ajax into Ming's ceremony. Even Vultan thinks Flash will be a martyr, pronouncing that today would forever be known as Flash Gordon's Day. Flash quotes Zarkov's earlier line about one life for billions.
It's Up to You: "Flash! I love you, but we only have fourteen hours to save the Earth!"
Join or Die: Emperor Ming offers to let Flash join him and rule the Earth under Ming's control. If he refuses, he will be killed.
Just in Time: To save the Earth — down to the second! Apparently a little impalement did the trick.
Labcoat of Science and Medicine: Zarkov and Munson both have one of these. Given that the science they're engaged in mainly requires looking at radar screens and printouts — except whenever they assembled that rather nifty rocket, which would have been better done wearing overalls — there can be no other reason for their labcoats than to visually label them "scientists."
Large Ham: Enough ham to end hunger in a medium sized third world nation. Special mention goes out to BRIAN BLESSED's Prince Vultan.
Last Request: Klytus asks if Flash has "any final requests" before his execution.
Moral Event Horizoninvoked: In-universe. Aura states that she never truly understood how evil her father was til he allowed Klytus to torture her, especially considering Klytus was Aura's Stalker with a Crush who was getting some petty revenge for her sleeping with everyone but him.
The real tipping point appears to be Ming allowing Klytus to use creatures called "Bore Worms" on her. Until that point, she was more angry than frightened about the whole incident.
Ming claims to only destroy planets that are advanced enough to realize his attacks aren't natural disasters...hence, it's Zarkov's own attempt to contact whoever was launching the attacks that nearly dooms the Earth.
Likely a subversion. Ming claimed to be performing a periodic test, but the opening of the film demonstrates he was really just tormenting the population of Earth because he was bored.
Flash during his Wood Beast test. Had he not pulled what he did, Barin would have likely accepted Flash as an ally (albeit a little more begrudgingly than he ultimately did), since he clearly passed the test.
Nice Job Fixing It, Villain: General Kala orders Zarkov to be programmed with high-level information about Mongo's technology and security systems despite being warned that it's probably more than the human mind can take, thus equipping him with all the knowledge he'll need to assist the revolution.
Psychic Static: Dr. Zarkov uses this tactic to resist memory draining.
Zarkov: As I was going under, I started to recite Shakespeare, The Talmud, the formulas of Einstein, anything I could remember, even a song from The Beatles. It armored me, girl. They couldn't wipe those things away. You can't beat the human spirit.
Trapped in Another World: Dale, Flash and Zarkov are brought to Mongo where they save the Earth. In the end, they are still in Mongo and Dale asks if they'll ever get home. "I don't know but we'll try," says Zarkov. Barin instead offers for them to stay.
Values Dissonance: Flash tricking, and then threatening Barin's life during the test of the Wood Beast. This after insisting several times that Barin should team up with him to fight Ming. Doubles as a Nice Job Breaking It, Hero moment.
Villainous Rescue: Barin saves Flash from being eaten by a swamp creature so he can off him.
Watching the Reflection Undress: In the scene after Flash is revived, Princess Aura tells him to change into a noble's uniform and turns around. However, she uses a mirror to watch Flash while he undresses.
Aura's torture before the bore worms got in on the action.
What Is This Thing You Call Love?: Basic human emotions have been driven out of Mongo by Ming, where honor, justice, even crying have been forgotten and replaced by constant violent bickering and infighting, stirred up by Ming.
Aura: Look! Water is leaking from her eyes!
Ming: It's what they call "tears". It's a sign of their weakness.