4K Ultra HD Review: Flash Gordon (1980)

September 6, 2020

Written by DanXIII

Daniel XIII; the result of an arcane ritual involving a King Diamond album, a box of Count Chocula, and a copy of Swank magazine, is a screenwriter, director, producer, actor, artist, and reviewer of fright flicks…Who hates ya baby?

Before I begin jawin’ about the movie itself, I feel it appropriate to share some thoughts on Flash Gordon. If you aren’t interested in such things… or having your’s cruelly uncharacteristically lay his soul bare, just skip down a bit.

Anyway, back in December of 1980, my desire to see Flash Gordon was at an almost unbelievable level…and my parents blew my mind and agreed to drive me, and the prettiest girl in the second grade who agreed to be my date, many towns over (yes, I grew up in the literal middle of nowhere) to see the film… but mother nature had other plans; and a nor’easter (to those not in the know; Upstate New York has about 14 months of winter per year… at least it did back then) kept us in town, and Altman’s Popeye was what it had to be (and for the record, that is a charming film and a ton of fun… but it sure as hell isn’t Flash Gordon).

Flash (pun intended) forward a bit to the traditional Sunday dinner at my grandparents, and after an amazing fried fish dinner courtesy of my Nana, we all gathered around the TV to catch the HBO premier of Flash Gordon… and after my nervous stomach calmed down, I had a life changing experience…I had found the greatest cinematic joy of my life! Over the years, the film (and it’s amazing soundtrack) would be a lifesaver… an anchor if you will, while I suffered from bouts of anorexia, depression, and anxiety… and I could never, ever thank the people involved in it’s creation enough for making me feel so happy when that emotion was in short supply.

Still there? Okay here is the long and the short of Flash Gordon; New York Jets quarterback Flash Gordon (Sam Jones) find himself stranded on the distant planet Mongo, along with beautiful travel agent Dale Arden (Melody Anderson), after taking a forced ride in a rickety rocket created by the lunatic genius Hans Zarkov (Topol).

Once there they find themselves balls deep in a totalitarian regime headed by the outrageously evil Ming the Merciless (Max von Sydow), and policed by his metal masked major domo Klytus (Peter Wyngarde).

Soon it’s up to our space-faring trio to unite the various factions of Mongo and it’s surrounding moons, which include the tree dwelling Prince Baron (Timothy Dalton) and his Arborian troops and the winged Hawkmen of Prince Vultan’s (Brian Blessed) flying sky city, to overthrow Ming… if Flash can keep out of the horny clutches of Ming’s outrageously gorgeous daughter Princess Aura (Ornella Muti) that is!

Filled to the brim with colorful and ornate costumes, surreal worlds, and crazy aliens, Flash Gordon is  a major treat for the eyes (and let me tell ya, this 4K release makes an already beautiful film even more breathtaking), and that is a huge plus considering this flick is based on the colorful comic strips created by genius artist Alex Raymond. The entire picture is a non-stop phantasmagoria of hand-crafted miniatures, epic sets, and unique creatures that never fail to captivate the imagination!

While the visuals are undeniably the star of the show, the soundtrack that accompanies them is every bit up to the task thanks to the contributions of legendary rock group Queen that bring screaming guitar riffs and synthesized soundscapes to an already delightfully off-kilter space opera… plus we get two unforgettable bangers in the form of Flash’s Theme, and The Hero!

Adding to the fun… and believe you me cats n’ creeps, Flash Gordon is nothing if not loads of fun, is a campy script (courtesy of Lorenzo Semple Jr.) that never takes itself too seriously (and pays homage to the movie serial past of the late 1930’s adaptations of Flash Gordon starring Olympic swimmer Buster Crabbe… as do the various rocket ship designs present in the picture), yet remains true to the characters and situations at hand, and an amazing roster of acting talent that absolutely acts this material to the fuckin’ hilt!

So Flash Gordon is definitely a one-of-a-kind, tremendously entertaining film, and if Arrow Video (along with those frisky rascals at MVD Entertainment) were just offering the film with the 4K treatment I’d tell you to pick it up post-haste… but man you won’t even believe the amount of bonus materials they’ve slapped onto this sumbitch!

Starting things off, we get three audio commentaries; archival chats with director Hodges (who takes us on a highly detailed and fascinating journey through the film’s creation) and Blessed (who is his normal, robust, completely entertaining and over-the-top self… a pure delight to listen to!), as well as an archival commentary from the “Big Kev’s Geek Stuff” radio show featuring Jones and Anderson in an energetic and hilarious conversation detailing their experiences making the film.

Following those we get a downright fuckin’ awesome archival behind-the-scenes featurette, a fascinating look at what original director Nic Roeg (Don’t Look Now, The Man Who Fell to Earth) had planned for the film, a rando episode of Filmation’s animated Flash Gordon series from the same time period (unfortunately this episode is from the second season of the show, so you have to put up with that insufferable ass of a pink dragon, Gremlin), a conversation on the film’s merchandise past and present, and a duo of archival featurettes focusing on the film’s 35th Anniversary screening.

Next comes interviews (some of which are culled from the documentary Life After Flash, which we will get to soon) with Hodges, Semple Jr. (who’s definitely no bullshitter, that’s for sure), comic book artist Alex Ross (who’s work takes inspiration from the film), Jones (giving a brief discussion on how he began his acting career), movie prop collector Bob Lindenmayer (discussing the film’s deleted scenes), Anderson (answering questions about her wedding dress costume, improvisation on set, and the hardest scene she shot for the film), Blessed (discussing a number of topics including his undying love for dwarfs… yup… ), Queen’s Brian May, Composer Howard Blake (who provided the orchestral portion of the film’s score), and the film’s poster artist, Renato Casaro.

Get ready, ‘cuz there’s more as galleries for storyboards and stills, and the film’s theatrical trailer are also included. And so ends Disc One…

Disc Two brings us the 2019 documentary Life After Flash!

While Life After Flash is presented as a look into the life of Sam J. Jones and how the legacy of Flash Gordon has affected him, what it contains is so very much more! Before we get to the nitty-gritty we are treated to a complete look into the production of Flash Gordon (filled with amazing anecdotes from the cast and crew, and great archival footage), and Jones’ clashes with producer Dino De Laurentiis… an experience he has lived and learned from… because this doesn’t candy coat the fact that Jones lived hard, partied hard, and was arrogant as all get out until he found his path in life, and re-emerged like a bleached blond phoenix from the flames that engulfed his career.

I’m not even sure how I can explain how Jones’ story affected me… no matter what he went through, and how he stumbled… he held on to the value that family is what is most important… and he always made sure his family came before whatever hell he was going through at the time… and if that isn’t the personification of a hero, I don’t know what is!

And fret not cats n’ creeps, because along with the doc you also get a whole host of bonus features here as well! Included are: an extended look at Comic Con (and Jones’ involvement in it), a surreal rap from Deep Roy (who played Aura’s “pet”, Fellini), Comedian Rich Fulcher and toy mogul Jason Lenzi discussing a favorite scene from Flash Gordon (where Fulcher woefully misses the point), the full “prayer walk” sequence, a small script read segment, an interview with director Lisa Downs, additional interview material with Topol, a piece on the film’s showing at the Boston Sci-fi Fest, more from Ross featuring closer looks at his Flash Gordon inspired art, a closer looks at Anderson’s paintings, footage from the film’s U.K. premier, the Kickstarter video used to promote the film, an extended look at Jones’ security career, an anecdote from Jones’ wife interrupted by Sam trying to start a fire in the family’s fireplace, Blessed weaving a tale of love on the set, Jones discussing the wolf he once owned, another Blessed anecdote (this time focusing on him goosing Anderson), Deep Roy discussing his audition for Eastbound and Down, footage from Dale-Con, extended interview footage from the late Wyngarde, and the film’s trailer.

Simply put; Downs and her crew have discovered what makes a hero great; their humanity… and Jones seems to exemplify that above and beyond. That alone makes this film a must see… and for Flash Gordon fans it also presents a dearth of information on the creation of the legendary picture by those that lived it!

All of the above comes in a box that also contains a collectors booklet featuring new writing on the film by critics and film historians including Neil Snowdon, Dennis Cozzalio, John-Paul Checkett, A.K. Benedict, and Kat Ellinger, a fold-out double-sided poster, six double-sided, postcard-sized lobby cards, and a reversible sleeve featuring new artwork by Adam Rabalais.

Flash Gordon is one of my all-time fav flicks, and I urge you to pick this edition up post-haste… it’s a film guaranteed to entertain, and the bonuses contained in this release make it a must for all Flash fanatics!





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