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Universal Studios Home Video presents

Flash Gordon: Saviour of the Universe Edition (1980)

Klytus: Who are you?
Flash Gordon: Flash Gordon. Quarterback. New York Jets.- Peter Wyngarde, Sam J. Jones

Stars: Sam J. Jones, Melody Anderson, Max von Sydow, Topol, Ornella Muti, Timothy Dalton, Brian Blessed
Other Stars: Peter Wyngarde, Mariangela Melato, John Osborne, Richard O'Brien, John Hallam, Philip Stone
Director: Mike Hodges

MPAA Rating: PG for (mild violence)
Run Time: 01h:51m:16s
Release Date: 2007-08-07
Genre: fantasy

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Style
Grade
Substance
Grade
Image Transfer
Grade
Audio Transfer
Grade
Extras
Grade
A- B-B+B+ C

 

DVD Review

“Flash! A-ah! Saviour of the universe!
Flash! A-ah! He'll save everyone of us!
Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha!
Flash! A-ah! He’s a miracle!
Flash! A-ah! King of the impossible!”
— from Flash’s Theme by Queen

The Flash Gordon comic strip originated in 1934 and has appeared in numerous film incarnations, but many viewers remember just one version of the popular fantasy. Directed by veteran British filmmaker Mike Hodges (Croupier), Flash Gordon was released in 1980 and received a mixed response. Many audiences didn’t know what to make of the extremely campy dialogue, strange locations and over-the-top acting. As a young kid in the early ‘80s, I couldn’t get enough of the silly, energetic action sequences. Supported by a rousing soundtrack from Queen, this outer-space adventure has thrilled cult audiences for more than 25 years. The music is direct and bombastic, but it’s hard not to sing along and pump your fist during the upbeat finale. I’m embarrassed to admit that I’ve caught myself singing Flash’s Theme multiple times in the past few days. Queen’s soundtrack might not win any awards for artistic excellence, but it works perfectly for the light-hearted material.

The basic plot involves an attack on Earth by Ming the Merciless (Max von Sydow) that involves all types of natural disasters. Flying aboard a small plane after a vacation, football star Flash Gordon (Sam J. Jones) and travel agent Dale Arden (Melody Anderson) face a nasty crash. By chance, they land in the lab of the slightly crazed Dr. Hans Zarkov (Topol), who forces them to join him on a rocket flight into space. They arrive in the strange planet of Mongo and battle Ming and his forces to save the Earth. This story includes numerous cliffhanger moments that place everyone’s lives in peril. The pace is quick and light, with the bland American hero fighting for our freedom. In a very silly early moment, Flash battles Ming’s henchmen in a football-style game that you have to see to believe. It’s almost worth a viewing just to see this ridiculous sequence with Flash using a metal vase as the football and smacking the baddies with all types of football moves. Criticism of this scene is almost meaningless because it defies any logic, but it remains highly entertaining.

”Do you want to live forever? Hawkmen... DIIIIIIVVE!” — Prince Vultan

Sam J. Jones has the physical presence to play Flash Gordon but exudes almost no personality in this role. It’s hard to be too harsh on the actor, though, because his character's lines are often bland and straightforward. Playing the straight man to more over-the-top roles, Jones does get surpassed by several flashier performances. The best is not Max von Sydow’s villainous Ming but instead comes from Brian Blessed as Prince Vultan, leader of the Hawkmen. The long-time actor has done Shakespeare and other serious work, but his pure exuberance as Vultan perfectly matches the film’s tone. Blessed understands the genre and doesn’t try to craft a more believable character. When you’re playing a winged warrior, this is the only approach that doesn’t invite ridicule. Timothy Dalton also brings a good presence to Prince Barim, though he does get a little too dramatic in a few speeches. Italian actress Omella Muti’s line readings aren’t great, but she does ooze sensuality, thanks partially to some inventive costumes. Her work is pretty steamy for a PG movie, and it’s far from the only instance of this kind.

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

Flash Gordon differs considerably from the recent big-budget, more serious comic-book movies that have earned huge box-office receipts. The Spiderman and X-men films were creatively successful and exist in a different stratosphere from this movie. Hodges and writer Lorenzo Semple Jr. realized they were making a campy romp and took it to the extreme. I can’t argue with anyone who derides this work for the bad dialogue, insensible plotting and hammy acting. However, it’s hard to deny the pure enjoyment of taking this ride. The effects fall well short of contemporaries like Star Wars or Alien, but that adds to the charm. A more-polished film would have felt much too serious and failed miserably. If you still long for the days of the campy serials with simpler heroes, you can’t go wrong with this film. I expect that it will live on with viewing parties and midnight-movie showings for a long time.

Rating for Style: A-
Rating for Substance: B-

 

Image Transfer

 One
Aspect Ratio2.35:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes
Anamorphicyes


Image Transfer Review: Flash Gordon is such a strange film visually, and the goofy bright colors do shine from this 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer. There are some noticeable defects, which are probably due to the original print. However, these flaws do not seriously detract from the overall experience. They do keep me from offering a higher recommendation, but this transfer still provides a colorful image that should please most fans.

Image Transfer Grade: B+
 

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
Dolby Digital
5.1
Englishno


Audio Transfer Review: The most recognizable aspect of this film is Queen's over-the-top music, and it springs well from this 5.1-channel Dolby Digital transfer. The loud "Flash! Oh!" chorus exhibits decent power during the opening credits and at key moments in the film. I wouldn't call this track very complex, and some of the dialogue is a bit too quiet, but the overall audio is worthwhile. I promise you'll be singing that Queen tune for days and annoying everyone around you, which offers an example of this transfer's success.

Audio Transfer Grade: B+ 

Disc Extras

Animated menu with music
Scene Access with 15 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, Spanish, French with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
1 Other Trailer(s) featuring Flash Gordon TV Series teaser
2 Featurette(s)
Packaging: unmarked keepcase
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extra Extras:
  1. Original 1936 serial episode
Extras Review: Flash Gordon has been out of print in the states for a while, so hopes were high for this "Saviour of the Universe" edition. Last year, a Silver Anniversary Edition was released in Europe, and it included several commentaries, interviews and concept art. Unfortunately, this release contains just two featurettes and an old episode of the 1936 serial. The first entry is a 13-minute interview with Comic Artist Alex Ross about his love for this film. He calls it a rock opera and "pure fun" and provides a brief history of the character's influence. Ross makes some good points, but his adoration is so high that it makes this extra less interesting. The other main inclusion is a nine-minute conversation with Writer Lorenzo Semple, Jr., who likes the movie but offers some negatives. He describes the unwieldy creation process and the lack of critical feedback, which would have improved the story. We also hear about his relationship with unconventional Producer Dino De Laurentis and the film's unique look.

The remaining extras include The Planet of Peril—the first episode of the 1936 serial. The audio and black-and-white visuals are poor, and the 20-minute story is limited, but certain aspects closely resemble the 1980 film. The best moments involve shots of people rioting throughout the world, which include a country called "Arabia" and some unfortunate shots of African tribesman, and the iguanas dressed up as giant creatures. This disc also contains the original theatrical trailer, which is filled with Queen's theme song, and a pointless teaser for the new Sci-fi series. This extremely short ad simply contains the Flash Gordon logo and nothing else, which makes it a worthless inclusion.

Extras Grade: C
 

Final Comments

Flash Gordon is a campy delight for many fans who will be thrilled to get their hands on this new Region 1 release. However, the missing commentaries and only a few minor extras make this DVD a less-exciting commodity. The film looks and sounds fine, but I expected more from this over-hyped edition.

Dan Heaton 2007-08-14