Ahh, the space opera. This is a genre I have a deep love for, even the kinda shitty entries. A good space opera takes us to all sorts of weird and wondrous places, pits the best of the good versus the worst of the evil. They have larger than life characters (and actors), and little to no attention is paid to the laws of physics.
I don't know how I'd never seen Flash Gordon before. Based on the classic comic strip and serial shorts, Mike Hodges' Flash Gordon movie was one of many similar (but inferior) space operas made in the wake of Star Wars. The title character, played by Sam J. Jones, is a football star, who along with a plucky journalist and a mad scientist, are transported to the world of the malicious space dictator, Ming the Merciless, and must lead a rebellion and save the earth from his tyranny. It's campy and silly from the very premise, but entirely watchable, made so by some pretty decent filmmaking, and a cast of actors playing their characters with earnest conviction.
I especially liked Timothy Dalton as Prince Barin, a rival who Flash must form an unsteady alliance with to defeat Ming, who is played by Max von Sydow. You've also got the boistrous Brian Blessed, as Prince Vultan, a Hawk Man who has never heard of the concept of indoor voices.
Sam J. Jones doesn't speak very much in the lead role, but he looks the part. I assume they casted him for his looks and not his ability to get inside a character. Or perhaps there's not a good deal of character to get inside. It's ok, though, because the rest of the cast elevates him. There's a ridiculous but enjoyable sequence early on where he takes down a bunch of Ming's evil guards by using his football skills.
The most famous and enduring part of the Flash Gordon movie is, of course, the score, composed by the legendary rock band, Queen. In fact, I owned the soundtrack long before I ever saw the movie. The theme song is a Queen classic (FLASH! AHHHAHH...SAVIOR OF THE UNIVERSE!). I wish there were actually more pop songs mixed in with the synthesized score, they would have fit into the movie just fine, and nobody wrote pop songs like Queen.
Flash Gordon is a pretty fun movie, if you don't mind the goofiness. Which I don't. I liked the universe it was set in, which was imaginative and rich, and weird. The cheese just adds to the overall craziness of the thing. It's kind of like male Barbarella with significantly less sex stuff. On a Space Opera scale with Star Wars Prequels as the low and the original Star Wars flicks as the high, Flash Gordon would be nestled comfortably somewhere in the middle.