| Maria Gomez |
Looking back, the character base developed in The Wizard of Oz has become the “golden standard” for some of the most iconic science fiction/fantasy plot lines that would follow its release: a brave heroine conquers the ruler of an evil kingdom with the help of friends in a far off foreign world. And while the details of such “good versus evil” stories can vary, such as the likes of Star Wars, The Wizard of Oz, and The Rocky Horror Picture Show, one thing rings true in all of them: the earth would surely perish without women.
Mike Hodges’ 1980 film, Flash Gordon, uses this same character formulation, drawing inspiration from the popular Alex Raymond comic series published in 1934. I’m not a comic book kind of person but I’ve always been fascinated by the stories and adaptations of similar comic book/films in the last 50 years. When I was a kid and the movie was originally released, I remember being mesmerized by the red color scheme and Queen’s soundtrack, which was equally tantalizing as it eagerly built the anticipation with pounding percussion. Now looking back on the film as an adult, something else occurs to me: there are a lot of really kick-ass women in this movie!
Through the key female characters like Dale Arden (yes, even her), Princess Aura, and General Kala, Hodges paints his leads as women who demand power, respect, and will do whatever needs to be done to save the world. Even in an alien world where men seem to rule with a misogynous iron fist, these women somehow always seem to have their way with them. The evolution of these female role models became more intriguing and fascinating to watch on-screen, even more so than Gordon himself, who now seems more of a decorative distraction filling in the spaces between scenes.
From Princess Aura, daughter of insidious ruler Ming, who shifts from narcissistic, entitled brat to empathetic rebel and who really shows just how high her pain threshold can go, to General Kala, who wields her authority like a sadist at a rodeo. As Gordon’s love interest, Dale Arden seems a bit annoying at first. As an unequal partner in this “power” couple, she often is drawn as the helpless victim who is always getting caught by one guard or another. But then, just when we think that we have her figured out, Arden surprises us all by slipping a roofie into a servant girl’s drink in her attempt to slip from Ming’s clutches!
On celluloid— although some of the character development may seem limited and two dimensional— Flash Gordon remains one of the most highly entertaining throw-backs of my lifetime. These women brought guts, bravery, brains, and brawn to these characters, who quite literally save the world. As in nearly all other male-dominated hero stories, it truly is the women who save the day.
Edited by Olga Tchepikova-Treon and Caitlyn Dibble
Flash Gordon plays at the Trylon starting on Sunday, June 9th. Visit the website to purchase tickets or for more information.