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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.

Saviour of the Universe Edition (Universal Home Entertainment, 2007, R1)


Saviour of the Universe Edition (Universal Home Entertainment, 2007, R1)
Silver Anniversary Edition (Momentum Pictures Home Entertainment, 2005, R2)


Silver Anniversary Edition (Momentum Pictures Home Entertainment, 2005, R2)
Flash Gordon (Image Entertainment, 1998, R1)


Flash Gordon (Image Entertainment, 1998, R1)
Taking most of its cues from the older Flash Gordon serials starring Buster Crabbe, 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.

Saviour of the Universe Edition (Universal Home Entertainment, 2007, R1)


Flash Gordon: Saviour of the Universe Edition
Silver Anniversary Edition (Momentum Pictures Home Entertainment, 2005, R2)


Silver Anniversary Edition (Momentum Pictures Home Entertainment, 2005, R2)
Flash Gordon (Image Entertainment, 1998, R1)


Flash Gordon (Image Entertainment, 1998, R1)
So what went wrong? What happened? Well, I’ve got two words for you—‘The Force’. The Empire Strikes Back took theatres by storm earlier that May and laid 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.

Saviour of the Universe Edition (Universal Home Entertainment, 2007, R1)


Saviour of the Universe Edition (Universal Home Entertainment, 2007, R1)
Silver Anniversary Edition (Momentum Pictures Home Entertainment, 2005, R2)


Silver Anniversary Edition (Momentum Pictures Home Entertainment, 2005, R2)
Flash Gordon (Image Entertainment, 1998, R1)


Flash Gordon (Image Entertainment, 1998, R1)
Video
For Flash Gordon’s return to DVD in region one, Universal Home Entertainment has re-mastered the film and given it an anamorphic widescreen transfer at its theatrical exhibited aspect ratio of 2.35:1. Compared to the region two release from Momentum Pictures Home Entertainment, Universal’s release is a slight step up with a bit more detail and sharpness to the picture and benefits from what seems to have been a major task in colour correcting the 27-year-old film, especially when compared to any of the older DVD releases. Universal’s disc also has a much richer, darker look to it than the Momentum disc which suits the film nicely. The print for the film itself looks have had gone through some major work as there are hardly any artefacts to speak of from dirt or debris and those that do pop up occasionally easily go unnoticed. Other defects in the video such as edge enhancement, artefacting and pixilation are virtually non-existent as well. Overall Universal has done a good job in fulfilling their promise of a re-mastered Flash Gordon for this release.

Audio
Universal has also re-mastered the audio for the film and presents the disc with a Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track with optional English, French, and Spanish subtitles. The Momentum released featured a very similar Dolby Digital track in addition to a DTS 5.1 track, but the differences between the two discs are at most minimal. 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 Dolby Digital 5.1 audio presented here is good and offers 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? My own soapbox comments aside, 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 its wings.

Saviour of the Universe Edition (Universal Home Entertainment, 2007, R1)


Saviour of the Universe Edition (Universal Home Entertainment, 2007, R1)
Silver Anniversary Edition (Momentum Pictures Home Entertainment, 2005, R2)


Silver Anniversary Edition (Momentum Pictures Home Entertainment, 2005, R2)
Flash Gordon (Image Entertainment, 1998, R1)


Flash Gordon (Image Entertainment, 1998, R1)
Extras
Okay, so the video and audio on the disc are decent, but what about the extras that accompany this long awaited cult classic?

Well, first up is an interview with artist Alex Ross who goes on for around 13-minutes about how much of a Flash Gordon fan he is, what aspects of the picture draw him to watch over and over again, and what a cool thrill it was to design the upcoming action figure line based on the film. Next is a 10-minute piece with screenwriter Lorenzo Semple Jr. who discusses how he came on to the project at the behest of Dino De Laurentiis, his approach to writing the screenplay, and the reaction it received and how it has sort of changed over the years since the picture’s original release.

Also included is the first episode of the 1936 serial Planet of Peril which runs for about 20-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.

The extras are finished off with the original theatrical trailer and a teaser for the Sci-Fi Channels’ upcoming Flash Gordon series which runs for about 10-seconds and contains little more than the logo for the series.

Saviour of the Universe Edition (Universal Home Entertainment, 2007, R1)


Saviour of the Universe Edition (Universal Home Entertainment, 2007, R1)
Silver Anniversary Edition (Momentum Pictures Home Entertainment, 2005, R2)


Silver Anniversary Edition (Momentum Pictures Home Entertainment, 2005, R2)
Flash Gordon (Image Entertainment, 1998, R1)


Flash Gordon (Image Entertainment, 1998, R1)
The simplest thing to say is that I’m pretty disappointed in the special features that Universal has packaged with the movie. Alex Ross may be a great comic book artist and all, but he has as much to do with the making of the movie as the next fanboy who enjoys popping the movie in every once in a while and I gained nothing by watching his interview. Lorenzo Semple Jr.’s interview is decent enough and offers a few anecdotes on the development of the project but little else besides.

This is supposed to be the ‘Saviour of the Universe Edition’, so where are the retrospective interviews or commentaries with cast members such as Sam J. Jones and Melody Anderson or director Mike Hodges? Were there no deleted scenes or outtakes available to put on the disc? How about an isolated music track for one of the most beloved scores of the early 80s? Personally the score’s exclusion 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 it would’ve been super cool to include it.

The Momentum disc released in region two was also sparse on extras, but at least it included commentary tracks from director Mike Hodges and Brain Blessed and a lengthy interview with Hodges as well. Assuming money wasn’t an issue in importing the commentary tracks, I can understand why they might have been excluded here seeing as Hodges’ track—as lively and candid as it is—is peppered with cheap shot political comments targeted towards the United States and its sitting President and Brian Blessed is a supporting actor in the film and just isn’t as well known here as he is in the UK. Still, a track with Jones and Anderson would’ve added a lot of value to the set and would have been great to listen to.

You only need to look back two weeks prior from this disc’s release to find a DVD release for a cult classic that said it was special and lived up to its title, Lionsgate’s release of The Monster Squad. As a fan of both of these flicks, Flash Gordon deserved the same treatment and didn’t get it, which is a real shame.

Saviour of the Universe Edition (Universal Home Entertainment, 2007, R1)


Saviour of the Universe Edition (Universal Home Entertainment, 2007, R1)
Silver Anniversary Edition (Momentum Pictures Home Entertainment, 2005, R2)


Silver Anniversary Edition (Momentum Pictures Home Entertainment, 2005, R2)
Flash Gordon (Image Entertainment, 1998, R1)


Flash Gordon (Image Entertainment, 1998, R1)
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 (on a side note, BCI’s release of said cartoon series is pretty darn good). 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 27-years since its theatrical release. Universal’s Saviour of the Universe Edition presents the film with the best picture available for it on DVD and decent audio, but is sorely lacking when it comes to the extras included and a disappointment for this fan overall.

For those that already own the region two Momentum Pictures disc, you’ll have to ask yourself if the slightly improved picture is worth taking a second swing at owning Flash Gordon on DVD seeing as the video is the only thing the Universal disc has going for it over that release. In this case my suggestion would be to just stick with what you already have since the Momentum Pictures disc is better overall. On the other hand, I highly suggest to those that either picked up the region one Image release back in 1998 or paid through the nose for it on eBay that they pick up this new disc since it renders the older disc obsolete in every way.


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