Friday, March 12, 2010

FLASH GORDON (1980) "Saviour of the Universe Edition" DVD

"Flash, Flash, I love you, but we only have fourteen hours to save the Earth!"

I make no apologies or excuses for this: Mike Hodge’s Flash Gordon (1980) is one of my all-time favorite movies. Based on the classic newspaper strip by Alex Raymond, the film is a gleefully silly, joyously tongue-in-cheek interplanetary fantasy that never fails to bring a dopey grin to my face. And now, finally, there’s a home video edition that does the movie justice.

When an unknown force from space threatens the Earth, a pro football quarterback named Flash Gordon (Sam J. Jones, One Man Force, The Highwayman) and a pretty travel agent by the name of Dale Arden (Melody Anderson, Firewalker), find themselves kidnapped by slightly unhinged ex-NASA scientist Hans Zarkov (Topol, For Your Eyes Only), and taken to the alien world of Mongo. There they meet merciless dictator Ming (Max Von Sydow, Needfull Things), who rules the fantastic world with an iron fist, keeping its various kingdoms constantly warring and thus unable to unite against him. Faced with Earth’s imminent destruction, Flash must find a way to bring the tyrant’s enemies together in rebellion and save his home world.

The film story follows the original strip continuity fairly closely, although screenwriter Lorenzo Semple Jr. (1976 King Kong) obviously can’t take the material very seriously. But that’s all right, because this is one film where a tongue-in-cheek approach actually works. Under the guiding hand of versatile British director Mike Hodges (the original Get Carter, Croupier), the colorful, fetishistic fantasy embraces its campy nature and plays out with infectious good humor.

For Flash, the producers assembled a prestigious supporting cast of Brit and Euro thespians that includes a pre-Bond Timothy Dalton, Brian Blessed, Peter Wyngarde, Richard O’Brien, and the gorgeous Ornella Muti, but it’s really Danilo Donati’s set designs and costumes that are the stars of the picture. Blindingly colorful, overly elaborate and utterly decadent, the movie looks exactly like an Alex Raymond or Al Williamson Flash Gordon comic strip come to life. Even the odd choice to get rock gods QUEEN to provide the film’s score works surprisingly well, with their pounding beat giving the film its pulse, electric guitars underlying the excitement of the movie’s various chases and battles.

I saw this film in the theater four times when it was released and have owned it on VHS, laserdisc, and the previously-issued Image DVD, and this 30-year-old production has never, ever looked as good as it does here, on Universal’s "Saviour of the Universe Edition." The studio has given this release an incredibly sharp, perfectly color calibrated, 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer, newly remastered and restored. The film’s colors have never been so vibrant. Special effects scenes have been cleaned up, removing virtually all of the era’s telltale matte lines and compositing artifacts. Detail is astounding: I’ve seen this movie dozens of times, and yet, there were a number of background elements, objects and sight gags that I had never before noticed until watching this new transfer. The audio has been pumped up, too, with a new Dolby Digital 5.1 mix that finally does justice to QUEEN’s triumphant score and the flick’s innovative sound design.

The extra features are a bit disappointing. One would have hoped for a nice, comprehensive retrospective documentary with cast & crew interviews and behind-the-scenes anecdotes, but the closest we get to that is a brief interview with screenwriter Semple, who admits that he never really read the comic strip before writing the script, and thought the whole enterprise was a lark. Fortunately, this is counterbalanced by an interview with acclaimed comics artist Alex Ross (Marvels, Kingdom Come, etc.), who is, quite possibly, the world’s biggest Flash Gordon fan. He speaks with adult eloquence and adolescent enthusiasm about the film, its impact on him and his art, and the pure joy he derives from it. Ross also provides the new cover art for this edition, and a collectible art card by Ross is included in the package. The disc also includes the original theatrical trailer, the first complete chapter of the 1936 Flash Gordon movie serial with Buster Crabbe, and an amazingly lame promo for the short-lived SciFi Channel Flash television series.

Aside from the (only slightly) underwhelming extras, this is the definitive DVD edition of the beloved cult classic. Highly recommended.


  1. Yes!!! Awesome movie! Picked up this edition last year and watch it often. Play this baby with some serious surround and you will have the neighbors on your case. Too bad for them!

  2. I love this movie! I was able to pick it up for a mere $10 a few months ago. I remember seeing the TV spots when I was a kid and getting really excited about the movie.

  3. A fun, fun movie that I'm proud to own on DVD.

  4. Good news. And there can be only one word:


  5. there were a number of background elements, objects and sight gags that I had never before noticed until watching this new transfer.

    Can you give a few examples? I adore this movie as well, but was hesitant to buy the new edition just for the sake of a new edition. Your review has sorely tempted me...

  6. No apology needed for this film. It is gorgeous.

    It is amazing how well Queen's music works here.

  7. Joseph;

    It's been a while since I watched it (this review was originally written in'07, when the disc came out), but I recall things like grafitti on the walls of Ming's palace after Flash takes him out that was just indecipherable on my old Image DVD and Universal laserdisc. There were other things throughout the film, too.

    But you definitely should upgrade, if you can. The new transfer is from the original negative and has been completely cleaned up and color-corrected. Earlier transfers were from faded distribution prints. Also, the effects shots appear to have been digitally cleaned up, too.

    Like I said above: the movie has never looked as good as it does in this edition. And considering how long it took Universal to get this edition out, I'm not holding my breath for a Blu-Ray version.

  8. I believe that there is a "Silver Anniversary Edition" or somesuch that was released in PAL format. Not available in the US but carries it. It has the same transfer as the US version BUT this one has commentary by Brian "King Vultan" Blessed! Can't really think of anything more perfect for a DVD extra for this movie!
    Brian Blessed of course also played the father of "Maya" the shapeshifter on the premier episode of Space: 1999's often lamented 2nd season.

  9. Apparently my pessimism was misplaced; Universal has announced a Blu-Ray edition of FLASH GORDON for June.

  10. That release may be the tipping-point where I need to finally go buy a Blu-Ray player.

  11. Hm. I found Flesh Gordon as appealing as this version. Which is to say, funny but not anything to buy on disc. I also watched the Buster Crabbe versions on PBS back in the seventies I think. Fun for a lark, but wouldn't watch again.

  12. This was the retro movie of the 1980’s. A movie that embraces all the cheese from the 50’s sci-fi movies, with the ropes being seen, the miniature space ships with smoke coming out the tail to the obnoxiously cool wardrobes. That Queen soundtrack was one of my favorite records as a kid, but of course I was Flash Gordon, so it didn’t matter. I don’t think there has been a movie I have seen that was as much fun as this movie was and that I can remember so vividly in my head from when I saw it in theaters. Even the move geek I work with at DISH can’t get enough of this movie; he told me how he had just watched it the other day as well. Although you don’t know I took a five minute break to look on my blockbuster @home movie channels to se if it is playing, and even though its not playing on those, it is available on their DVD by mail, so I can Flash out in a day or so, woot!