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Come on, admit it—when you went to open this review you channeled the Freddie Mercury deep down inside and let out a little “Flash! Ah-Ahhh!” didn’t you? It’s okay to admit it, and if you didn’t belt out a bit of Queen’s signature theme from 1980’s Flash Gordon then you either haven’t seen Dino De Laurentiis’ camp classic or you’re in some serious denial and should seek professional help to overcome you inhibitions.

Flash Gordon: Silver Anniversary Edition
Taking most of its cues from the Flash Gordon serials of the 1940’s, this incarnation of the space bound superhero’s adventures finds New York Jets star quarterback Flash Gordon (Sam J. Jones) and travel agent Dale Arden (Melody Anderson) shanghaied upon Dr. Hans Zarkov’s (Topol) rocket ship so that he may journey to the planet Mongo and find the source of a force that threatens to destroy the Earth. Finding themselves in an oppressive, totalitarian society ruled by the evil Ming the Merciless (Max von Sydow), Flash and friends must convince the kingdoms of Mongo to put aside their petty differences and join together in defeating Ming and saving not only Earth, but the rest of the universe from his iron grip as well.

When it was released in December of 1980, Flash Gordon was supposed to rival George Lucas’ second installment of the Star Wars saga, The Empire Strikes Back, in terms of box office receipts for the year. Producing the film was legendary director Dino De Laurentiis, whose flare for the theatrical guaranteed that the film would be big and bold, and along with an already established built-in audience—courtesy of years of comic books, Saturday matinee serials, a popular and current Saturday morning cartoon based on the character, and a soundtrack by Queen—the picture seemed primed to rake in the cash all the way through Christmas and straight into 1981. Instead it flopped, failing to even make back its production costs from ticket sales in the United States and effectively killing any plans for relaunching the franchise based on the character and his universe.

A big budget, Hollywood studio production bombing at the box office was nothing new back in 1980 just as it’s nothing new today, but most of those films are met with poor critical response in addition to equally poor word of mouth among moviegoers and are truly deserving of their fates. Flash Gordon was seen by most major critics here in the U.S. as a fun, family-friendly, action-adventure that captured the spirit of the old Universal serials while holding its tongue firmly in cheek, but the other half of the equation, the response of the movie going public at the time, unfairly seemed to bury it a short time after its release.

Flash Gordon: Silver Anniversary Edition
So what went wrong? What happened? Well, I’ve got two words for you—‘The Force’ happened, taking theatres by storm earlier that May and laying the groundwork for a fate that even our fair-haired hero couldn’t escape. Flash Gordon’s campy delivery, though near pitch perfect for the type of film director Mike Hodges was trying to make, was seen as dumb trash by moviegoers still reeling from the much more serious in tone and operatic Empire. What’s more, the special effects, which were meant to pay homage to the original films, were seen as cheesy and not up to snuff when compared to the dazzling work pulled off by Industrial Light & Magic in making mechanical dinosaurs trample the fields of Hoth and the Millennium Falcon maneuver a hellacious asteroid field in the best of the Star Wars films. I won’t bother to compare John Williams’ score to Queen’s electric, rock and roll orchestrations—I think by now you get the idea. In the end, and rather unfairly, Flash Gordon was directly compared to The Empire Strikes Back, and Lucas’ picture pretty much Force choked the life right out of it like someone whose lack of faith disturbs the wrong kind of person.

In all fairness though, the entire blame for Flash Gordon's failure at the box office can’t be placed on the success of another film in the same genre that just happened to be released seven months earlier or the taste of the public at large. Flash Gordon is most assuredly a movie that is not without its faults and to its own detriment comes off as a big, solid piece of Wisconsin’s pride. The sheer gaudiness of every aspect of the production, whether stemming from the sets, costumes, script, acting, music, or special effects, is taken a bit too far at times, muddying the sense of what direction the film seems to lean towards—at times it gleefully plays off its origins and at others comes dangerously close to falling into parody.

The acting in the film is another hurdle that it can’t fully overcome, and even though all of the secondary characters are brought to life in memorable, enjoyable, and appropriately over the top performances, the portrayals of Flash Gordon and Dale Arden by Sam J. Jones and Melody Anderson fall completely flat off of the screen. It doesn’t help matters that in an already weak script they are given the absolute worst lines of dialogue in the entire movie, but they seem to lack the ability to elevate the material whatsoever, and in the case of the miscast Jones, seem to dumb it down even further.

There are a lot of seemingly unkind words that people have used to describe Flash Gordon over the years, many of which you have no doubt picked up on in this very review. The thing is though, I write these words not in a condescending tone, but with a certain kind of affection for a movie that takes me back to a certain time in my childhood and one that’s just as enjoyable to me today as it was back when I was five years-old. Taking all these words into consideration—cheesy, overblown, overacted, gaudy—there’s one word that you won’t have too much difficulty in finding if you read between the lines—fun.

Flash Gordon: Silver Anniversary Edition
Video
Momentum Pictures Home Entertainment has provided this edition of Flash Gordon with an anamorphic widescreen transfer at the film’s theatrically exhibited aspect ratio of 2.35:1, and all things considered the results are quite good. There are a few flaws that pop up from time to time, such as a few artefacts here and there due to debris on the source print, some cross-coloration that appears in a few instances, and a picture that is at times soft and not as sharp as it really ought to be, but these flaws in the transfer are minor and do not take away from the overall enjoyment of the presentation. On the upside of things, the transfer offers a bright, colourful picture that really makes the movie’s sets, costumes, and special effects jump off the screen in vivid detail, edge enhancement, grain, pixilation, and compression artefacts are all virtually non-existent, and the anamorphic transfer is a far cry better than my old region one copy could ever hope to be. Overall, the treatment given to this ‘80s action-adventure romp is very good and a nice treat for fans.

Audio
This edition of Flash Gordon features a choice between Dolby Digital and DTS 5.1 tracks in English with optional English subtitles. I’m not a big fan of creating a newly re-mixed soundtrack on DVD in the attempt of creating an audio track that was never intended or possible for the time at which any particular movie was made, and I’m even less of a fan of discs that do so and then don’t offer the original audio as a choice. The two tracks presented here are fine and each offer near perfect clarity, but most of the audio is relegated to the front channels with little going on elsewhere so why bother with the 5.1 at all? Now that I’ve gotten that off of my chest, the audio is a lot of fun with all sorts of hokey sound effects and really rocks when the music, courtesy of Queen and composer Howard Blake, kicks into overdrive and gives the film it’s wings.

Flash Gordon: Silver Anniversary Edition
Extras
Since this release of Flash Gordon has been given the moniker ‘Silver Anniversary Edition’, you should expect at least a few special features to come with the main feature, and Momentum Pictures Home Entertainment has indeed done just that by including some very nice extras to go along with the film.

First up are a pair of audio commentaries, one featuring director Mike Hodges and another with Prince Vultan himself, Brian Blessed. You can tell from Hodges’ commentary that he still has a great love for the film twenty-five years later as he offers a lively and candid look back on the film, and, when not spouting off out of place, cheap shot political comments, divulges a lot of informative and insightful tidbits throughout the track. Brian Blessed’s commentary is a bit less informative than the director’s, but wins a lot of points just for being a very enjoyable track from an actor who obviously has a great deal of fond memories of working on the film and his experiences surrounding it.

The next major feature on the disc is episode one of the original 1940s serial Flash Gordon Conquers The Universe, which has a running time of approximately twenty minutes. The film in and of itself is of course dated, but what really interests me and why I find it fascinating that it was included has more to do with it being viewed as a comparison piece to the 1980 film featured on the disc than simply it’s entertainment value alone. I would suggest to anyone who hasn’t seen the original serials to give this a look before watching the main feature as it may give a better sense of appreciation as to what Hodges and his crew were trying to accomplish in capturing the whimsical charms of the Buster Crabbe original. If at all interested, the entire serial has fallen into public domain and is available from a number of companies on DVD, or you can download the whole shebang from www.archive.org.

The rest of the special features on the disc include a thirty minute interview with director Mike Hodges which is largely redundant once you give his commentary a listen, the film’s theatrical trailer, and a photo slideshow containing stills from the production. While there aren’t any deleted scenes to be found or an extensive making-of documentary, the extras provided are a very nice addition to the package overall—though not including an isolated score on this disc ranks right up there with George Lucas not including isolated tracks with John Williams’ legendary scores for the Star Wars films on DVD. Okay, okay, it really doesn’t, but wouldn’t that of been super cool anyway?

Flash Gordon: Silver Anniversary Edition
Overall
The character of Flash Gordon and this film were an early childhood staple of mine, and even as I finish off this review I can image an assortment of action figures from the 1979 Filmation series battling it out over the fate of whatever cardboard box they reside in up in my attic. Dino De Laurentiis’ Flash Gordon isn’t the greatest movie ever made, but I think it’s gotten a raw deal for much of the past twenty-five years since its theatrical release. Thankfully someone has finally stepped up to make a DVD that fans of the movie deserve with both a video transfer and an audio presentation that are top notch and some quality special features to round out the disc.

If you live in North America and have the means to do so (i.e. own a region free player), I highly suggest ordering a copy of this disc for yourself if you feel your collection is incomplete without it. Why waste your time waiting and turning blue for Universal to get off their collective duffs in releasing a proper version in region one when importing this readily available disc from overseas is a much better, and more importantly cheaper, option than paying upwards of $100 for a copy of the inferior, out-of-print release from Image Home Entertainment on eBay?


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