Release Date(s)1980 (August 10, 2020)
Studio(s)Universal Pictures (StudioCanal UK)
- Film/Program Grade: B+
- Video Grade: A-
- Audio Grade: A-
- Extras Grade: A
[Editor’s Note: The Blu-ray Discs included in this package are coded for Region B. The 4K Ultra HD disc is All Region.]
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 StudioCanal UK, 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 (additional audio options include German and French 2.0 DTS-HD MA, with subtitles available in English, French, and Spanish). It’s worth noting that the surround track is a remix (it was scanned from the original track negative and underwent restoration of its own), which corrects an issue with the LFE channel from the previous Blu-ray. 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.
StudioCanal UK’s 5-disc 40th Anniversary Collector’s Edition includes the following special features, broken down thusly:
DISC ONE – FILM (All Region – 4K Ultra HD)
- Audio Commentary with Mike Hodges
- Audio Commentary with Brian Blessed
- Lost in Space: Nicolas Roeg’s Flash Gordon (HD – 27:50)
- Behind the Scenes of Flash Gordon (SD – 14:27)
- Stills Gallery (HD – 22 images)
- Storyboard Gallery (HD – 20 images)
- Original Theatrical Trailer (HD – 1:59)
DISC TWO – FILM (Region B – Blu-ray Disc)
The same extras as Disc One are included here as well.
DISC THREE – SPECIAL FEATURES (Region B – Blu-ray Disc)
- Interview with Mike Hodges (SD – 31:47)
- Flash Gordon Animated Episode 24: The Survival Game/Gremlin’s Finest Hour (SD – 24:31)
- Sam Jones on His Acting Start (HD – 4:04)
- Entertainment Earth on Flash Gordon Merchandise (HD – 4:20)
- Bob Lindenmayer on Deleted and Alternate Scenes (HD – 2:12)
- 35th Anniversary Greenroom (HD – 8:26)
- 35th Anniversary Reunion Q&A (HD – 6:29)
- Renato Casaro Extended Interview (HD – 5:38)
- Brian Blessed Anecdotes: Brian Blessed Proves His Point (HD – 1:45)
- Brian Blessed Anecdotes: Brian Blessed Loves Dwarves (HD – 1:57)
- Brian Blessed Anecdotes: Brian Blessed’s Own Special Effects (HD – 3:44)
- Brian Blessed Anecdotes: Brian Blessed on Sam as Flash (HD – 2:07)
- Brian Blessed Anecdotes: Brian Blessed’s Raffle (HD – 1:00)
- Melody’s Musings: Melody Anderson on Her Wedding Dress (HD – 1:25)
- Melody’s Musings: Melody Anderson on Improvisation (HD – 1:50)
- Melody’s Musings: Melody Anderson on Her Hardest Scene (HD – 1:32)
- On the Soundtrack: Brian May on Dino (HD – 3:42)
- On the Soundtrack: Brian May on Recording the Soundtrack (HD – 1:11)
- On the Soundtrack: Howard Blake on Brian May and Mickey Mouse (HD – 2:37)
DISC FOUR – LIFE AFTER FLASH (Region B – Blu-ray Disc)
- Life After Flash (HD – 93:33)
DISC FIVE – QUEEN SOUNDTRACK (CD)
- Flash Gordon Original Soundtrack – 18 tracks (44.1 kHz/16-bit)
The director’s commentary is informative and interesting, with plenty of production insights, but it’s the Brian Blessed commentary that’s the star of this show. If you’ve ever seen Blessed interviewed, you know he’s a hoot and he doesn’t let you down here. Both are carried over from previous DVD editions of the film (the Blessed commentary is from a 2005 Silver Anniversary Edition DVD release in the UK).
Lost in Space: Nicholas Roeg’s Flash Gordon is a fascinating look the “art house” version of the film that might have been, featuring interviews with people involved in the aborted production (original writer Michael Allin, production designers, and the like), lots of rare storyboard and design images (including paintings by Ferdinando Scarfiotti), pre-production photos, and more. And Behind the Scenes of Flash Gordon is a vintage promotional piece from the time of the film’s release that includes footage of Jones training, the design team working, various scenes being filmed, comments by De Laurentiis, etc. The anecdotes, musings, and soundtrack cslips are essentially unused material shot for Lisa Downs’ Life After Flash (2017) documentary, which is also included here on its own disc.
The rest of the movie-based extras are essentially identical to those on the Arrow Video US 4K Ultra HD release (reviewed here). The difference is that while Arrow includes them all on the 4K disc itself, the StudioCanal UK set moves most of them to their own separate Blu-ray (it’s possible this allows the 4K video and audio data to require less compression). In terms of the overall differences between this set and the Arrow release, this set does NOT include the new commentary with Kevin Schwoebel, Melody Anderson, Sam J. Jones, and Bob Lindemayer. Nor does it include any extras related specifically to the Life After Flash documentary. On the other hand, this set DOES include the film on Region B Blu-ray remastered from the new 4K restoration, as well as the Queen soundtrack CD.
[Note: If you simply want the newly remastered film on Blu-ray, it’s available in the US from Arrow here.]
But it’s the packaging and swag where the StudioCanal UK set really differentiates itself. Not only do you have a beautiful hardshell slipcase with foil-printed artwork, there’s a substantial liner notes booklet featuring a forward by the director, a Q&A with the director, production art, and more. There’s also a 2-sided British poster reproduction, a teaser version of Titan’s new Flash Gordon: The Official Story of the Film book by John Walsh, a reproduction of Alex Raymond’s original newspaper comic strip introducing the characters, a packet of art cards, and an embroidered “Flash” patch. All of this certainly makes the StudioCanal UK version the more definitive release for fans with all-region playback. Here’s a look at the contents…
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 StudioCanal’s new 4K restoration—released in this beautiful 40th Anniversary Collector’s Edition box set in the UK—is a gem from start to finish. If you have all-region playback capability, don’t miss it.
- Bill Hunt with Tim Salmons