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RUNNING TIME: 112 min.
• Alex Ross, Renowned Comic Artist, on Flash Gordon
• Writing a Classic: Screenwriter Lorenzo Semple. Jr.
• 1936 Serial Episode
• Theatrical trailer
• SciFi Channel teaser
No one but the pure in heart will find the golden grail.
Sam J. Jones (My Chauffeur), Melody Anderson (Speed Zone!), Max von Sydow (The Virgin Spring), Topol (For Your Eyes Only), Ornella Muti (Oscar), Timothy Dalton (Hot Fuzz), Brian Blessed (My Family and Other Animals), Peter Wyngarde (The Innocents), Mariangela Melato (Swept Away…), Richard O’Brien (Dark City), William Hootkins (Star Wars), Deep Roy (Charlie and the Chocolate Factory)
"They say the collar can come off once I stop scratching."
Star athlete Flash Gordon (Jones) and reporter Dale Arden (Anderson) are forced to join deranged scientist Hans Zarkov (Topol) in his outer-space quest to locate a strange force that is endangering planet Earth. Arriving in the alien empire of Mongo, they encounter a formidable enemy in Ming the Merciless (von Sydow) and unlikely allies in Prince Barin of the Arboreans (Dalton), Prince Vultan of the Hawkmen (Blessed), and Ming’s own daughter Princess Aura (Muti). Assemble a military coalition, depose a dictator, destroy massive chunks of infrastructure, introduce a new form of government—sounds like a cakewalk!
None could withstand Timothy’s Quilted Armpit Stench Assault.
It’s interesting to look back to the late ‘70s and early ‘80s, and see how long it took old-school film moguls to comprehend the nature of the changes Star Wars was wreaking upon the industry. Even more fascinating is to imagine whether things would have gone the same way if, post-American Graffiti, George Lucas had gotten his first wish and been allowed to make a Flash Gordon film instead.
As far as veteran producer Dino de Laurentiis was concerned, the wild success of Lucas’ homegrown Flash substitute meant merely that fantasy films were profitable again; and having already made Barbarella he likely had his own ideas about what a film based on a sci-fi comic strip ought to look like. Re-reading Alex Raymond’s original stories from the ‘30s, what surprises me is how faithful the film is, down to the characters’ frequent half-nudity. The only major shift in the plot is the early elimination of Prince Thun, but since he’s not portrayed as a half-lion that’s just as well.
"Do not trouble me with matters of state! Doom is dressed to go out!"
Beyond its eye-splitting color and kinky costume designs, the movie’s great strength is in the casting. Jones may never have done anything else memorable in his career, but here he projects just enough sincerity and determination to avoid coming off as a slab of Studio 54-grade beef. Ms. Anderson’s passing resemblance to Judy Garland underscores the flick’s many references to The Wizard of Oz. Pre-double-O Dalton gives great swashbuckle, and the bombastic Blessed somehow makes wings, short-shorts and sandals look like the last word in absolute badass.
"THIS… IS… CINECITTA!"
This may reflect poorly on my status as an omnivorous movie lover, but Flash Gordon was my introduction to Max von Sydow. Seventh Seal, Exorcist… all those came later. Perhaps that’s why I find so much more to enjoy in his performance than the simple shock of seeing a distinguished actor in a ridiculous role. Really, we’re talking McKellen-as-Gandalf quality work here, with a voice to match. Importantly, the casting distances the character from his unfortunate Yellow Peril origin without diluting his wicked appeal. In the context of the movie, the name is freed of its Asiatic connotation; with his beard and shaven head, von Sydow comes across less like Fu Manchu and more like Anton LaVey.
And then there’s the famous music. It pumps you up, invigorating you with its passion and enthusiasm. How many times did you bang your head to We Will Rock You or Bohemian Rhapsody before it dawned on you why the band was called Queen? And did it, heh, really matter by that point? You can’t not sing along when Flash’s anthem strikes up.
There’s a reason this movie isn’t listed among CHUD’s Guiltiest Pleasures. It’s that rarest of artifacts: a shameless pleasure. He’ll save every one of us.
"I thought the invite said ‘business casual’."
We’ve been waiting a long time for this one, stateside anyway. Flash Gordon was one of the first movies Universal ever released on DVD, and that early disc was so primitive it didn’t even have a chapter menu. Region 2 (and region-free) customers have had it a little easier, with a quality release in 2002 and a Silver Anniversary edition in 2005.
So here’s the good news. This new transfer leaves those discs choking up dust—the image is so rich and clear you may have to physically restrain yourself from molesting your TV when Ms. Muti appears onscreen. The bad news? Dumped by the side of the road: virtually all previously-issued supplemental material, which at one time or another has included commentary and a long-form interview with director Mike Hodges (that’s right, the same guy who made Croupier); extensive photo galleries; French and German language tracks; a DTS mix; and an amusing bonus commentary from Blessed. If I were the suspicious sort, I’d say keep an eye out for a loaded high-definition release.
"Oompa, Loompa, dippity-doo, I’ve got a spe-cial deliv’ry for you…"
What the Savior of the Universe Edition lacks in extras it partially makes up with a unique box design and fancy new Alex Ross cover art. A preliminary sketch is included as an insert. On the disc, Ross (Kingdom Come) talks a bit about his fanatic love for the movie, and shills for an upcoming line of action figures based on his designs. Lorenzo Semple Jr. (he of ‘70s King Kong and ‘60s Batman) speaks briefly, and rather dismissively, about the film in his segment. The inclusion of Episode 1 of the old 1936 Buster Crabbe serial is a nice touch, and the feature’s original trailer remains a mini-masterpiece.
The SciFi channel ‘trailer’ for the new series is nothing more than 10 seconds of animated logo. Yawn.