Flash Gordon


Beginning with Max Von Sydow’s now-familiar delivery of “Klytus, I’m booooooored” as images of earth’s destruction flicker across the screen, Flash Gordon might be the best example of when comic-book-turned-movie works by remaining true to the spirit of the comic.  Filled with enough straight-delivered camp and cheese to smother a baseball park hot dog, director Mike Hodges and company deliver a classic feature that gets hilariously better with each passing year.

Flash Gordon, the comic panel, was introduced in 1934 by Alex Raymond and, by 1936 its first foray into cinema was established with the serials starring Buster Crabbe, but nothing beats the highs of the 1980 rock opera (courtesy of some fabulous songs by Queen) and a rather silly performance by Sam J. Jones, a former Playgirl centerfold, as the universe’s savior.  With a delivery as dry and stilted as a board, Jones’s earnestness in the title role is a brilliant reading.  Sydow, supported by Peter Wyngarde as Klytus, is dripping with an evil energy as the ever arching-eyebrowed Ming the Merciless.  Joining forces with Flash and Dale Arden (Melody Anderson) are Prince Barin (Timothy Dalton), Prince Vultan (Brian Blessed), and Princess Aura (the simply stunning Ornella Muti).  Also along for the rocket ride off of earth is Dr. Hanz Zarcov (Chaim Topol), who might just suffer the most hilarious of fates (note the “now, he showed promise” line as Hitler flashes across the screen) as his memory is “erased” by Ming.

Screenwriter Lorenzo Semple, Jr is a serious master of camp.  A one-time writer for the 1960’s Batman television show, Semple’s handling of the story and dialogue in Flash Gordon is a serious matter; this is beautifully silly writing – understated and earnest – with a high intelligence that understands the camp factor.  In all seriousness, this is highly quotable material here, but only if you understand what makes it funny.  Sure, there will be those who mistakenly dismiss it as dumb entertainment, but what’s not to love with seriously funny exchanges like:

Flash Gordon: This Ming is a psycho!
Robot: This Ming is a psycho.

Klytus: Who said that?
Robot: The fair-haired prisoner.

Klytus: Who are you?

Flash: Flash Gordon. Quarterback. New York Jets.

Dale: Dale Arden, your highness. Live and let live, that's my motto.

The other thing most notable about this sci-fi production is the costume and set design of Danilo Donati.  High-glossed and simply out-of-this-world, Donati’s artistry throughout the film cannot be understated.  Sexy, shimmering, and never dated, Donati’s multi-dimensional work just might be the secret ingredient that keeps this movie so fresh and fantastically fun.

Much beloved - and deservedly so - by its legion of fans, Flash Gordon is a seriously enjoyable romp through the synthesized stylings of space circa 1980.  The film is purposefully over dramatic in dialogue and design and performs splendidly despite the passage of time.  While aiming mostly for the financial success of Star Wars (and mostly failing), Mike Hodge’s space-rock opera is note-for-note absolutely perfectly pitched…and, if soap opera theatrics was Lucas’s aim, much better.

Component Grades
4 stars
4 stars
DVD Experience
4 stars


Blu-ray Details:

Available on Blu-ray and DVD - June 15, 2010
Screen Formats: 2.40:1
: English SDH, French, Spanish
English: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1

This is one of the finest looking Blu-rays in existence; HD fully compliments the neon artistry and colors of the production design.  More specific details are revealed due to the upgrade and color work.  Bleeding with layered colors, Flash Gordon is a tasty, visual treat.  Sound specifics aren’t too far behind either, the DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio does a phenomenal job and thundering in the call of Queen.

Unfortunately, the extras on the Blu-ray are recycled leftovers from the “Savior of the Universe” DVD edition that came out a couple of years ago.  No commentary from a film historian (and we need one, believe me) and no deleted scenes.  The features are as follows:

Alex Ross, Renowned Comic Artist, On Flash Gordon: Besides contributing new cover art for the release, Ross sits down to discuss his love for the film, fun but unnecessary

Writing A Classic: Screenwriter Lorenzo Semple, Jr: In a hilariously charming and frank interview, Semple discusses the script and provides information on how some of the classic scenes came to be, very fun and informative

First episode of the Flash Gordon 1936 Serial: A great addition to the disc, but seemingly incomplete due to the fact that it is the first episode and not the entire serial, historically significant, but probably for die-hards only

Theatrical Trailer