Universal Home Video
Cast: Sam Jones, Melody Anderson, Ornella Muti, Max Von Sydow, Topol, Timothy Dalton
Extras: Interviews, Flash Gordon 1936 Serial Episode
Most people would probably refer to "Flash Gordon: Saviour Of The Universe" as a guilty pleasure, but not me. I love the film and I'm proud of it. It is a true comic book fantasy springing to life and one of the most colorful retro-films you will ever see. Universal has finally prepared a decent release of this "cult classic," even adding a few supplements to the eagerly awaited release.
Based on a 1930s comic strip series which was followed by a highly successful series of continuous short films, which used to be shown in theaters in front of feature films at the time, "Flash Gordon" is in many ways the granddaddy of all superheores. The character paved the way for the Marvel and DC Comics heroes and villains that would follow in his wake during the 50s, and although it may seem somewhat outdated by today's standards, one should never forget that Flash Gordon did it first.
The story of the movie revolves around the evil emperor Ming (Max Von Sydow) attacking the Earth. Rocking the planet with earthquakes, hot hail and other natural disasters, he also changes the moon's orbit, making sure it will crash into Earth shortly. The only way to stop it is to travel to Ming's home world and defeat the evil potestate. Dr. Zarkov (Topol) has the rocket, Flash Gordon ( Sam J. Jones) has the brawn and Dale Arden (Melody Anderson) has the beauty to accomplish the feat as they race through space to Mongo, the strange world of emperor Ming.
Once there, they are captured, brainwashed, attacked, released, on the run, attacked some more, eaten by swamp plants, rescued, vexed, attacked again until all hell breaks lose. Ming is not one to give up easily and Flash Gordon has to pull all the strings and combine forces with local tribes to make a successful stand that would have any chance of defeating Ming.
What unfolds before you eyes in this movie is not some serious science fiction action adventure. Nor is it a serious comic book adaptation as the current crop making it to the screen – many of which take themselves way too seriously in my opinion. Instead, "Flash Gordon" is a fun ride where absurdity and campy humor is part of the mix. Spiced up with some ham acting and really bad lines of dialogue, the film has a charm that goes well beyond a movie that's good because it's so bad. The reason is that it's not bad at all. It is really good, just in a way that was previously not accepted. After all it is a comic strip adaptation. The source is a series of flat images with limited dialogue, torn apart in weekly or daily segments without a back story, without real depth, without any ambition other than to entertain and maybe put a smile on people's face. It is exactly that formula that has been carried over in to this 1980 movie. Everything is dialed into fun. The costumes are so colorful and over-the-top that they are fun to see. The worlds are somewhat mythical places that defy physics but make great backdrops. The skies or awash in psychedelic colors that are hypnotic and … fun. The characters are weird creatures that are intriguing and fun to watch, while the story is simple enough to cash in on the straight good guys defeat the evil forces and save mankind formula without any distractions. Add to it the remarkable sound track by British rock band Queen and the movie has "classic" written all over it.
Although some the lead characters have been cast using unknown actors, some of the supplemental parts feature some well-known faces. Max Von Sydow as Ming is just a classic and his joy playing this evildoer oozes from every frame he is in. Timothy Dalton plays a prince under Ming's thumb. Ornella Muti was – and still is – a big European star at the time and her portrayal of Ming's vixen daughter Aura is lascivious and tempting, and even "Rocky Horror Picture Show" creator Richard O'Brien makes an appearance.
Universal has remastered the film for this DVD release and it looks pretty awesome. However, the film does show its technical limitations and shortcomings quite a bit. Hard matte lines, bad blue-screening, visible wires and other special effect issues are clearly evident in the transfer as the images flicker across your screen. Absolutely clean and clear of defects and blemishes, the picture is almost too good for its own good. Colors are every bit as bold and rich as you could possible wish for, making the film a feast for the eyes. Details are well rendered, giving not only depth to the image but also allowing your eyes to take in the intricate costumes and settings. With its strong black levels the image has very good visual depth and solid shadows. All in all, this is a wonderful transfer that makes "Flash Gordon" a joy to experience.
In the audio department the release also shines with a newly remastered and remixed 5.1 channel Dolby Digital track. The track is a bit thin with a somewhat weak bass extension but other than that it's nicely complementing the images on the screen and their almost orgiastic nature, throwing in surround effects for good measure. Dialogues are well integrated and always understandable.
The Queen soundtrack is, of course, one of the film's highlights and it is presented here in all its glory and clarity. Layered harmonies and super-fat guitar riffs go hand in hand with Freddie Mercury's searing vocals and the constantly driving synth drum beat.
As extras, Universal has added to small interview featurettes on the release. The first one features comic artist Alex Ross as he talks about the influence Flash Gordon has had on him. Ross, who also created the beautiful cover artwork for this DVD release, goes on to discuss the influence Flash Gordon has had on the comic genre, as well how he feels about the movie itself.
The second interview is with screenwriter Lorenzo Semple, Jr.. Funny and entertaining Semple's excursion into the production of the film, his work with Dino De Laurentiis and members of the crew is wonderful to hear and just adds even more charm to the film as a whole. From bad Italian translators to production designers who never read the script, he is telling many anecdotes from the movie that will warm your heart and make you chuckle in disbelief at times.
The release also contains the 1936 pilot episode of the "Flash Gordon" serials. "Planet Of Peril" touches upon the same subject of the movie – Mongo trying to destroy the Earth – and has long become part of the collective TV conscious. It is simply fun to revisit this episode with its 30s special effects and bullish acting -everything the movie managed to capture as well.
A teaser for the upcoming new SciFi channel "Flash Gordon" TV series is also included but it is in reality just a 5-second clip of the logo flying into the screen. Barely worth mentioning and certainly not worth the bulletpoint on the packaging.
It had been a long time since I had seen "Flash Gordon: Saviour Of The Universe" and I loved every minute revisiting it. The film looks glorious on this new DVD with its rich anamorphic transfer, and it is every bit as entertaining and over-the-top as I remembered it. For fans, this DVD is a must-have, for those of you who have never seen this film, forget about the Batmans, Spidermans, Hellboys, Ghostriders, Fantastic Fours and Superman's of this day and age and give yourself a real retro-kick for a change.