Flash Gordon (1980): Limited Edition (4K UHD Review)

  • Reviewed by: Bill Hunt
  • Review Date: Aug 13, 2020
  • Format: Blu-ray Disc
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Flash Gordon (1980): Limited Edition (4K UHD Review)

Director

Mike Hodges

Release Date(s)

1980 (August 18, 2020)

Studio(s)

Universal Pictures (Arrow Video)
  • Film/Program Grade: B+
  • Video Grade: A-
  • Audio Grade: A-
  • Extras Grade: A-

Flash Gordon (4K Ultra HD)

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Review

Based on Alex Raymond’s classic 1930s newspaper comic strip of the same name (though updated for the times), Mike Hodges’ 1980 film adaptation of Flash Gordon tells the story of its titular character, a star NFL quarterback (Sam Jones), who’s returning from his offseason vacation by small plane when the Earth is attacked by the forces of Ming the Merciless (Max von Sydow, The Seventh Seal), emperor of the planet Mongo. Also aboard is a young travel agent named Dale Arden (Melody Anderson). When their pilots are killed, Flash and Dale crash into a laboratory owned by a seemingly mad ex-NASA scientist named Hans Zarkov (Topol, Fiddler on the Roof), who’s built a rocket he intends to fly to Mongo to save the Earth. But Zarkov needs help to launch the craft, so he forces Flash and Dale to join him at gunpoint. Arriving on Mongo, the trio are quickly captured and find themselves in the middle of a power struggle between Ming and the ambitious princes of his sub-kingdoms, including Vultan of the Hawkmen (Brian Blessed, Henry V) and Barin of Arboria (Timothy Dalton, pre-The Living Daylights). Matters grow worse still when Ming decides to imprison Zarkov, take Dale as his bride… and execute Flash. But his scheming daughter, Princess Aura (Ornella Muti) has other plans for Flash. Can our hero save his friends and Earth itself… or is all hope lost?

What makes Flash Gordon so remarkable (and memorable) is that producer Dino De Laurentiis (Conan the Barbarian, Blue Velvet, Dune) intended the film to be a straight-laced dramatic epic, originally approaching Federico Fellini, Nicolas Roeg, and Sergio Leone to direct. (George Lucas at one point even tried to acquire the rights; when he failed, he turned his attention to Star Wars.) Eventually, Hodges (Get Carter) was hired to lead the production. Hodges surrounded Jones and Anderson—then newcomers—with a who’s who of great European theater actors, who fleshed out their two-dimensional characters with considerable zeal. But while Hodges and his cast played the film straight, as De Laurentiis intended, screenwriter Lorenzo Semple Jr. (also known for his work on Adam West’s Batman, and who had previously worked on the script for De Laurentiis’ King Kong remake), wrote the film as pure camp. Combined with Fellini regular Danilo Donati’s lavish production design and an iconic rock-opera soundtrack by Queen, then at the height of their fame and popularity, the resulting film became something completely unique and unexpected—a box-office bomb for Universal… and eventually one of the most beloved cult classics of the 1980s.

Flash Gordon was originally shot on 35 mm photochemical film in the Todd-AO 35 format (with anamorphic lenses) at a theatrical aspect ratio of 2.35:1, and was also blown up for 70 mm exhibition at 2.20:1. For this 40th anniversary Ultra HD release from Arrow Video, a new 16-bit 4K scan and restoration of the original camera negative was done by StudioCanal and finished as a true 4K Digital Intermediate with color grading in Dolby Vision and HDR10. Gone are the previous Blu-ray’s image issues, which included baked-in edge enhancement and excessive digital noise reduction. This is an incredibly organic presentation, ripe with fine detail in every frame. Opticals are understandably soft, translucency is still obvious, and a bit of digital wire removal has been performed. But grain is present, natural, and well controlled, allowing for high levels of detail—particularly in the shadows. Blacks are mostly deep, though a bit lacking in the optical-heavy sequences as might be expected. The added color depth enhances the film’s palette with unsurprisingly lush and vibrant reds, greens, and golds. The presentation is also stable and clean.

The audio is presented in English 5.1 and 2.0 DTS-HD Master Audio format with optional subtitles in English SDH. It’s worth noting that the surround track is a remix, which corrects an issue with the LFE channel from the previous Blu-ray (as noted in the accompanying booklet). The stereo track is even-keeled without an enormous amount of panning activity, but dialogue exchanges are clear and precise. For the 5.1 track, the dialogue sits almost entirely at the front. The score, as well as Queen’s music, is prioritized to the surrounding speakers. The music has tremendous clarity, more so than the other elements. Sound effects are also spaced out nicely, particularly in the film’s finale when Vultan and his hawkmen take flight for their final battle with Ming’s forces. LFE activity is not just limited to explosions, but also to the score, the rumble of ships, and even booming dialogue. It’s definitely an improved sonic experience—only a Dolby Atmos mix would have truly pushed this over the edge.

The following extras are included on each disc:

DISC ONE – FILM (4K-UHD)

  • Audio Commentary with Mike Hodges
  • Audio Commentary with Brian Blessed
  • Audio Commentary with Kevin Schwoebel, Melody Anderson, Sam J. Jones, and Bob Lindemayer
  • Behind the Scenes of Flash Gordon (SD – 14:27)
  • Lost in Space: Nic Roeg’s Flash Gordon (HD – 27:50)
  • Flash Gordon Animated Episode (HD – 24:31)
  • Flash Gordon Merchandise (HD – 4:20)
  • 35th Anniversary Greenroom (HD – 8:26)
  • 35th Anniversary Reunion (HD – 6:29)
  • Flashback to Mike Hodges (HD – 31:47)
  • Lorenzo Semple, Jr. Interview (SD – 9:15)
  • Alex Ross Interview (SD – 13:27)
  • Sam J. Jones on His Move Into Acting (HD – 4:04)
  • Bob Lindemayer on Deleted Scenes (HD – 2:12)
  • Melody Anderson on Her Wedding Dress (HD – 1:25)
  • Melody Anderson on Improvisation (HD – 1:50)
  • Melody Anderson on Her Hardest Scene (HD – 1:32)
  • Brian Blessed Proves His Point (HD – 1:45)
  • Brian Blessed Loves Dwarfs (HD – 1:57)
  • Brian Blessed’s Own Special Effects (HD – 3:44)
  • Brian Blessed on Sam as Flash (HD – 2:07)
  • Brian Blessed’s Raffle (HD – 1:00)
  • Brian May on Dino (HD – 3:42)
  • Brian May on Recording the Soundtrack (HD – 1:11)
  • Howard Blake on Mickey Mouse (HD – 2:37)
  • Renato Casaro Interview (HD – 5:38)
  • Storyboards Gallery (18 images in all)
  • Stills Gallery (21 images in all)
  • Original Trailer (HD – 1:59)

DISC TWO – DOCUMENTARY (BLU-RAY)

  • Life After Flash Documentary (HD – 93:33)
  • Extended Comic-Con Sequence (HD – 13:07)
  • Deep Roy Ambition Rap (HD – 1:24)
  • Tell Me More About the This Man Houdini (HD – 1:30)
  • Sam J. Jones “Prayer Walk” in Full (HD – 2:12)
  • Chattanooga Film Festival Script Read (HD – 5:27)
  • Lisa Downs Interview (HD – 12:29)
  • Topol’s Stamps (HD – 2:14)
  • Topol’s Awards (HD – 2:03)
  • Topol’s Jordan River Village (HD – 5:59)
  • Topol’s Portraits (HD – 2:17)
  • Boston Sci-Fi Fest (HD – 4:49)
  • Alex Ross Talks Early Art (HD – 9:09)
  • Melody’s Paintings Extended (HD – 3:20)
  • Private West End Screening (HD – 1:37)
  • Kickstarter Video (HD – 2:38)
  • Mexico Sequence (HD – 10:24)
  • Flash Gordon Starts a Fire (HD – 0:50)
  • Brian, Tim, Magda Love Triangle (HD – 2:31)
  • Same and His Wolf (HD – 4:17)
  • Brian Gooses Melody (HD – 2:31)
  • Deep Roy’s Eastbound & Down (HD – 2:08)
  • Rochdale Extended (HD – 7:11)
  • The Late, Great Peter Wyngarde Uncut Excerpt (HD – 9:18)
  • Trailer (HD – 2:19)

Almost all of the previously existing extras have been carried over here, and added to them are a boatload of new items to explore. Even the extras from the second disc, which pertain to the Life After Flash documentary, spill over onto the 4K disc (as many of the new interviews are sourced from it). Newly-included is an episode the Lou Scheimer animated series, a new audio commentary—which is a lively and informative listen, a featurette about what Nicolas Roeg’s version of the film might have been, and the aforementioned feature-length documentary.

Included in the package is a 60-page booklet containing cast and crew information, as well as new essays: Flash Gordon Approaching by Neil Snowdon, A Lonely Time to Love Flash Gordon by Dennis Cozzalio, Flash Gordon and the Perils of Space Camp by John-Paul Checkett, I Was a Bare Worm Aficionado by A.K. Benedict, The Flesh and the Fantasy: Comic Books on Film, and Dino De Laurentiis’ Sexy Italian Style by Kat Ellinger. There is also restoration information and production credits. Also included is a double-sided poster with new art on one side and the theatrical poster art on the other, and 6 lobby card reproductions with alternate poster artwork and promotional images on the reverse of each card. All of this is housed inside a black Amaray case with reversible artwork (the same as the poster) with a rigid slipcase.

Note however that there’s also a few things that haven’t carried over from previous releases of the film. From the Saviour of the Universe Edition DVD released by Universal, the Flash Gordon, Chapter One: Planet of Peril 1936 serial and the Flash Gordon 2007 TV Show Teaser Trailer are absent. From the Region 2 Studio Canal DVD, the Introduction by Director Mike Hodges and the Queen Soundtrack CD are also missing in action. So you may wish to keep those discs if you have them.

[Note: If you simply want the newly remastered film on Blu-ray, it’s available in the US from Arrow here.]

Mike Hodges’ Flash Gordon is weird and wonderful cinema experience from start to finish. You Generation X fans probably already love it as much as we do here at The Bits. But if you younger folks are looking for a way into appreciating its charms, consider this: Flash Gordon is the film that Marvel’s Taika Waititi and Kevin Feige had in the back of their minds when they made Thor: Ragnarok. And Studio Canal’s new 4K restoration—released in fine form on Ultra HD here in the States by Arrow Video—is a gem from start to finish. For fans of Flash Gordon, this one is not to be missed.

- Bill Hunt with Tim Salmons

(You can follow Bill on social media at these links: Twitter and Facebook)

(You can follow Tim on social media at these links: Twitter and Facebook. And be sure to subscribe to his YouTube channel here.)

 

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