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Flash Gordon (Two-Disc Limited Edition) (4K Ultra HD)
Mike Hodges' 1980 camp classic Flash Gordon is a bit of an acquired taste, and, while some of my buddies grew up loving this film, it is one that I did not watch till a decade or so ago when I was in my twenties. A notorious bomb for Universal, Flash Gordon is based on the 1930s comic strip by Alex Raymond, and power producer Dino De Laurentiis originally pitched the project as a straightforward action epic. Development changed that notion, and by the time Hodges (Get Carter) began shooting from Lorenzo Semple Jr.'s screenplay, Flash Gordon had become unabashed camp. Colorful, quotable and entertaining, Flash Gordon sees its hero fighting a merciless emperor to save the world in constantly raucous fashion. Crank up the Queen soundtrack and grab a beer, as Flash Gordon looks downright fantastic on this new 4K Ultra HD release from Arrow Video!
"I'm bored, what plaything can you offer me today?" Emperor Ming the Merciless (Max von Sydow) asks his subordinate, General Klytus (Peter Wyngarde), in the film's opening scene. The general offers up Earth. "How peaceful it looks," Ming notes before sending earthquakes, floods, fires and other natural disasters across the universe to plague the planet. New York Jets football hotshot Flash Gordon (Sam J. Jones) is aboard a small plane with travel agent Dale Arden (Melody Anderson) when a meteor shower caused by Ming sends their plane crashing into the greenhouse of Dr. Hans Zarkov (Topol), who has clearly gone mad. He opines that the disasters are coming from outer space, and tricks Flash and Dale into boarding a rocket that he flies to the planet Mongo to confront Emperor Ming. Things do not go well on Mongo; Dale is enslaved for the emperor's pleasure and Flash narrowly avoids execution thanks to Ming's daughter, Princess Aura (Ornella Muti). Flash must then expertly avoid Aura's seduction and find Dale to prevent Ming from keeping his promise to completely destroy Earth.
If you are looking for a sensical narrative that unfolds logically and with subtle dramatic developments, go ahead and hit eject now. Flash Gordon is not that kind of movie. There is a bit of a Star Wars vibe here, which is not surprising since George Lucas credits the original comic strip as inspiration for his films, but Flash Gordon is wildly provocative compared to that franchise. It is hard not to be sucked into the film's colorful world of brash costumes, surreal landscapes, lush skylines and odd creatures. Sydow plays Ming like a mix of Adolf Hitler and a stereotypical Asian emperor, and the women in this film are not exactly remembered for their intellect. Buff, blonde and bronzed Jones is earnestly green in the lead, too, and had starred in only one project before this: 10 alongside Bo Derek.
Whether or not you enjoy Flash Gordon probably depends on how much 1980s camp appeals to you. There are pillow fights, munchkin-esque minions, and treehouse brawls, and the dialogue is often hilarious. But damn if there is not something charming about this film. It is hard not to enjoy Jones in the title role, and Sydow is pitch-perfect ridiculous. I do not love this film as much as its ardent fans, but I will not deny its inherent charms. Ming may believe football to be a barbaric sport, but I cannot think of another movie in which the hero uses playmaking to fight a band of soldiers. Flash Gordon gleefully unspools, seemingly at least partially aware of its camp qualities. If nothing else, no one can accuse the film of not being entertaining.
THE 4K ULTRA HD:
What a world we live in that a movie like Flash Gordon is receiving the royal treatment for this 4K Ultra HD release. According to the liner notes, the 2.35:1/2160p/HEVC/H.265, native 4K transfer was restored by Studio Canal, which took the original 35 mm camera negative, scanned it in 4K and completed a total restoration, targeting blemishes, flicker and other issues. Director Hodges supervised and approved the transfer, including the HDR10/Dolby Vision grading. The results are incredibly impressive, and I can safely say this is the best the film has ever looked on home media. Gone are the edge enhancement and noise reduction of previous releases, and in their place are a natural grain structure, abundant texture, gorgeously saturated colors and impressive depth. This transfer looks like film, and I mean that in the best way possible. Yeah, there are some softer shots thanks to the numerous optical effects, but that is expected. Hodges also made the decision to digitally touch up some of the wire work that became obvious in the 4K presentation, and he did so effectively. Skin tones are natural, highlights are kept in check, and color saturation is impressive, even for the most glaring reds. The HDR pass gives the film an even greater pop, and black levels are usually inky. Costumes and sets are now even more impressive in appearance, and fans of the film will find this 4K transfer very pleasing.
The soundtrack is available in 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio and 2.0 DTS-HD Master Audio variants, with optional English SDH subtitles. The stereo mix is effective, though largely front-loaded, and the remixed surround mix is quite immersive. While the dialogue is delivered largely from the center channels, effects travel the entire sound field, and the Queen score is given appropriate backing. The LFE is utilized frequently for both effects and the score, and all elements are layered appropriately. I noticed absolutely no issues with hiss or distortion.
PACKAGING AND EXTRAS:
This two-disc Limited Edition release is one of several editions of this film Arrow Video released this fall. Those looking for the film in 1080p will need to seek out the dedicated Blu-ray edition. This version contains the film in 4K alongside copious bonus materials, plus a second Blu-ray disc with more features. The discs are packed in a back 4K case that slides into a sturdy slipbox alongside a multi-page booklet, six lobby cards and a double-sided poster. The interior case artwork is also reversible. To save space, and because no one will read it, I have not detailed the content of each bonus item, but rest assured they cover the film's production and legacy thoroughly!
Disc 1 - 4K Ultra HD:
On the 4K disc you get an absolute f**k-ton of material, which kicks off with an Audio Commentary by Director Mike Hodges; an Audio Commentary by Actor Brian Blessed; and a "Big Kev's Greek Stuff" Audio Commentary by Sam J. Jones, Melody Anderson, Bobo Lindenmayer and Kevin Schwoebel. Next up are featurettes Behind the Scenes of Flash Gordon (14:27/SD); Lost in Space: Nicolas Roeg's Flash Gordon (27:50/HD); Flash Gordon Animated Episode 24: The Survival Game/Gremlin's Finest Hour (24:31/HD); Flash Gordon Merchandise (4:20/HD); 35th Anniversary Greenroom (8:26/HD); and 35th Anniversary Reunion (6:29/HD). Then there are Interviews with Mike Hodges (31:47/HD); Lorenzo Semple Jr. (9:15/HD); Alex Ross (13:27/HD); Sam Jones (4:04/HD); Bob Lindenmayer (2:12/HD); Brian Blessed (11:33 total/HD); Melody Anderson (4:47 total/HD); and Brian May (13:08 total/HD). This disc wraps up with a Storyboard Gallery; Stills Gallery; and the Theatrical Trailer (1:59/HD).
Disc 2 - Blu-ray:
The main extra on this second disc is Life After Flash (93:33/HD), a solid and lengthy documentary from 2017. You also get an Extended Comic Con Sequence (13:07/HD); Deep Roy Ambition Rap (1:24/HD); Tell Me More About this Man Houdini (1:30/HD); Sam J. Jones "Prayer Walk" in Full (2:12/HD); Chattanooga Film Festival Script Read (5:27/HD); Lisa Downs Interview (12:29/HD); Topol's Stamps (2:14/HD); Topol's Awards (2:03/HD); Topol's Jordan River Village (5:59/HD); Topol's Portraits (2:17/HD); Boston Sci-Fi Fest (4:49/HD); Alex Ross Talks Early Art (9:09/HD); Melody's Paintings Extended (3:20/HD); Private West End Screening (1:37/HD); Kickstarter Video (2:38/HD); Mexico Sequence (10:24/HD); Flash Gordon Starts a Fire (0:50/HD); Brian, Tim, Magda Love Triangle (2:31/HD); Sam and his Wolf (4:17/HD); Brian Goose's Melody (2:31/HD); Deep Roy's Eastbound and Down (2:08/HD); Rochdale Extended (7:11/HD); The Late, Great Peter Wyngarde Uncut Excerpt (9:18/HD); and, finally, another Trailer (2:19/HD).
If you like the movie or love it, if you miss the damn ‘80s, then buy Arrow Video's limited-edition release of Flash Gordon on 4K Ultra HD right now. The movie is a ton of fun, and it looks and sounds amazing here. To say the bonus content is extensive is an understatement. Plus, the replay value is high with this one. DVD Talk Collector Series.
William lives in Burlington, North Carolina, and looks forward to a Friday-afternoon matinee.