Alternate Disk-Tractions: Flash Gordon Blu-ray review

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Flash Gordon Blu-ray box art

Title: Flash Gordon Blu-ray
Format: Blu-ray
Price: $26.98
Release Date: June 15, 2010
Publisher (Distributor): Universal Studios
Rating: “PG”
Pros: Color palate and picture quality are better than ever
Cons: Painful lack of bonus material, audio transfer to DTS could’ve been better, packaging isn’t as nice the “Savior of the Universe Edition” DVD
Overall Score: One thumb up, one thumb down; 79/100; C+; * *1/2 out of five.

You should probably understand up front that Flash Gordon is my favorite movie of all time. Easily. There’s no other movie that even comes close. But that doesn’t mean I feel it’s the best movie of all time. Obviously, it’s no Ben Hur or Citizen Kane…I think. I’ve never seen those. Who has the time to bother with that nonsense when you can just watch the football fight scene again?

And now, I get to watch it in Blu-ray. Universal owes me a debt of gratitude, as I’ve now purchased the VHS, DVD, Region 2 Silver Anniversary Edition DVD, Savior of the Universe Edition DVD and Blu-ray of this movie. Why? I told you. It’s my favorite movie of all time. This is just what you do in the name of fandom.

He’s Just a Man, With a Man’s Courage

By now, you certainly know the story of Flash Gordon. The evil Ming the Merciless plans to take over the Earth. Why? It’s in his name, people, this isn’t that hard to figure out. Dr. Hans Zarkov, formerly of NASA, is the only Earthling who sees the string of natural disasters as an attack, and he kidnaps travel agent Dale Arden (“Live and let live;” that’s her motto) and Flash Gordon (“Quarterback, New York Jets”) in his home-built rocket ship to help him reach the source of the attack.

Flash Gordon Blu-ray

They crash land on the planet Mongo, and are quickly swept up into a civil war between the races that populate the planet. Flash’s only chance of saving the Earth is to unite the kingdoms of Mongo against their evil ruler.

It’s all based on the outstanding comic strip created in the 1930s by Alex Raymond. His Flash Gordon was to the comic world what the Beatles were to pop music. Especially for the time, Flash Gordon pushed the envelope on style, action, imagination and sex. This movie lovingly embraces all of that, trying to squeeze it all down to 112 minutes. For the most part, it succeeds.

This is due in large part to the actors. Veteran Shakespearean actor Brian Blessed simply embodies joy in his portrayal of Prince Vultan of the Hawkmen. He’s obviously having a blast the whole time he’s in costume, but he never once let’s that fun get in the way of his performance; he just makes it seem like Vultan is the one having a good time. Timothy Dalton may have been polarizing in his turn as James Bond, but his Prince Baron is an excellent blend of arrogance and chivalry. Ornella Muti plays Ming’s daughter, Princess Aura, as if her goal is to embarrass parents who took their 12-year-old boys to see the film. In the outfit she wears (and works) in her opening scene, she absolutely shames, shames Carrie Fisher’s “slave girl” from Return of the Jedi.

And then there’s Max Von Sydow as Ming the Merciless. You can disagree with me in my assessment that this was the most perfect casting of a villain in the history of cinema, but you would be wrong.

Flash Gordon Blu-ray

As for Flash himself, people often criticize Sam J. Jones’ acting ability. I think his portrayal of Flash was deliberate, playing him as a wide-eyed (and somewhat naive) optimist who bounces from challenge to challenge because…well, the planet Earth is at stake. What else are you going to do but fight to save it?

Oh, and watch for cameos from actors Robbie Coltrane, Deep Roy, Richard O’Brien, and others you undoubtedly recognize from many more modern movies.

Nothing But a Man, But He Can Never Fail

I have enough material and opinions on Flash Gordon that I could’ve made it my senior thesis, but I’ll try to stay focused on the Blu-ray release and what it brings to fans (and, sadly, what it leaves behind).

The 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen video presentation is fantastic, and that’s very important in this movie. The costumes and sets from two-time Oscar winning designer Danilo Donati are stunning art deco representations of the colorful comic strip. Every time I watch the movie I pick up another meticulous detail of design, of the way a background character is posed, all of which are designed to make each frame appear like a comic strip under gaseous, lava lamp-like skies.

Flash Gordon Blu-ray

The audio, however, is hit and miss. Dialogue and sound effects come through clear with the 5.1 DTS presentation, but the remastering is somewhat uninspired, pushing most elements only to the front. The soundtrack is a mixed bag, which is disappointing because Queen’s music is pretty much the first thing that comes to mind when people think of this movie. The guitar riff in “Battle Theme” and the drums in “Escape from the Swamp,” for example, are given perhaps too musch weight, and yet they don’t seem to have the same amount of attack they do in the stereo mix of the original VHS. Universal should’ve hired the same group who remastered the 5.1 DTS releases of Queen’s The Game and A Night at the Opera to work on the soundtrack.

No One but the Pure in Heart

The soundtrack is also an example of how Universal dropped the ball with extras. Take the DVD release of Highlander, for example. The Immortal Edition included a bonus CD of Queen’s songs from the movies (including a remix of “One Year of Love” that’s unavailable anywhere else, as well as music videos. The same could’ve been done here.

Still, that’s a lot of work and licensing, so it’s forgivable. What’s not forgivable is the lack of bonus material that’s already available. The Blu-ray is simply a rehash of what you get on the Savior of Universe DVD edition, minus the cool packaging and artwork from Alex Ross. There are disconnected interviews with Alex Ross on how Flash Gordon inspired him and with screenwriter Lorenzo Semple, Jr. about the thinking behind the script. There’s a movie trailer. There’s BDLive and MyScenes. That’s it.

Flash Gordon Blu-ray

This is frustrating, because better bonus material is already out there. The European Silver Anniversary Edition contains commentary from Brian Blessed and director Mike Hodges. It contains production stills, concept art and interviews. Why have they been omitted here? Sam Jones has been making the rounds in the sci-fi and comic book conventions; obviously, he’s available and willing to revisit this character…get him in the studio for some commentary.

May Find the Golden Grail

So, what you get with the Blu-ray release of Flash Gordon is pretty much just the movie. For me, that’s obviously enough. If Flash is not in your collection, you may as well go with this version. But if you already own the Savior of the Universe DVD edition, you’re pretty much only paying for the 1080p transfer, and that’s likely not worth full retail price.

Sit tight, and hopefully if Breck Eisner’s adaptation makes it to the big screen, a re-release of the 1980 movie, with added bonuses, will launch with it.

Site [Flash Gordon @ Universal Home Entertainment]

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