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Blu-ray Review: Flash Gordon (1980)

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This year is the 30th anniversary of Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back, and while Empire is getting a lot of attention, there’s another film which, like Star Wars, has its roots in the Saturday movie serials from decades back and is also celebrating its 30th anniversary – Flash Gordon!

Flash Gordon stars Sam J. Jones as New York Jets football star Flash Gordon who, along with journalist Dale Arden (Melody Anderson), crash lands at the home of a mad scientist, Dr. Hans Zarkov (Chaim Topol), due to bad weather. The weather is being caused by evil galactic Emperor Ming the Merciless (Max von Sydow). Ming is ruler of the planet Mongo. Ming is toying with the Earth and decides to have some fun by causing ecological disasters which include hot hail. Zarkov has been aware of the planet for some time and has been building a rocket ship for some time to investigate.

Zarkov forces Flash and Dale to join him and they reach Mongo, where they are immediately brought before Ming. He wants Dale for his pleasure, Zarkov to exploit his mind, and could care less about Flash. Lucky for Flash, Ming’s daughter Aura (Ornella Muti) takes a liking to Flash and rescues him from death.

Flash must then rescue Dale and Zarkov, and defeat Ming to ensure the Earth’s safety. But Flash isn’t alone — many of Mongo’s population aren’t happy with Ming and use the situation to their advantage to take back control of their planet. Flash’s new allies include Prince Barin (Timothy Dalton) who dislikes Flash since Barin is one of Aura’s lovers and sees Flash as competition, and the Hawkmen, led by Brian Blessed.

I remember being six and sitting in the theater with my friend and his family and loving the film. It’s campy and a bit over-the-top, but it’s still fun! The movie didn’t do well in the theaters, but attained cult status once it reached home video. The movie is also joined by a kick-ass soundtrack by Queen which is probably the most memorable aspect of Flash Gordon. I would love to have seen a sequel, but alas it was not meant to be. There was a series on the Sci-Fi Channel a few years back, which was a re-imagining of Flash, and while some episodes were good, it didn’t click with audiences and ran for only one season.

Video: Flash Gordon is presented in Region 1 for the first time in anamorphic widescreen. The 2.35:1 VC-1 1080p update is both good and bad. The colors really pop, like the red of Flash’s shirt and gold of Aura’s outfit and the colors are sharp and crisp; however the matte work and grainy special effects are also highlighted here.

Audio: One of the highlights of the film is the Queen soundtrack. Here the DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio picks up each sound, while still allowing the viewer to hear each actor; the dialogue is not overpowered by the soundtrack.

The extras that were on the 2007 Flash Gordon: Savior of The Universe edition are the same on the Blu-ray. While these extras are nice, the Region 2 edition (North America is Region 1) which was released in 2005 as Flash Gordon: The Silver Anniversary Edition has not one but two commentaries, one with Hawkman Brian Blessed and a second with stars Melody Anderson and Sam Jones. It would have been great if those commentaries made it to the Blu-ray edition timed to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the film.

The extras for Flash Gordon include "Alex Ross, Renowned Comic Artist, on Flash Gordon" which has comic artist Alex Ross (known for his realistic depictions of comic characters) talking about his love for the film (he also provided the cover for the DVD), how he worshiped the film when it was first released, and how it still affects his work today.

In "Writing a Classic: Screenwriter Lorenzo Semple Jr." the film's screenwriter shares his thoughts about this cult classic. Topics include how he became involved with the film, his thoughts on the final product, and its success. He’s brutally honest about his thoughts on Sam Jones as Flash and the failure to reach the Star Wars audience.

Finally there’s "First Episode of the 'Flash Gordon' 1936 Serial." Just as the name implies, you get to see the first episode of the 1936 Flash Gordon serial which you can see influences the plot of the movie.

Flash Gordon is a fun movie that hearkens back to the serials of the 1930s where it started. While we don’t get all the extras other parts of the world have, maybe someday we’ll get another edition. If you buy this film, get it for the upgrade in sound and picture quality.

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