‘Flash Gordon’ 4K UHD Blu-Ray Review – The Savior Of The Universe Shines In Miraculous 4K Presentation

The movie critique portion of this review was written by my colleague Martin Sexton as a part of his ongoing “Opinions of a Traditionalist” series. 

I recently wrote about the old television series, Buck Rogers and the 25th Century and how I was a big fan of the series. But not long after Buck Rogers was being introduced to fans as a comic strip back in 1928, King Features Syndicate went looking for a similar style hero to compete. Especially seeing as how Buck was inspiring the sale of Buck Rogers merchandise. Realizing this, King Features sought to create something similar for themselves. At first, they hoped to license Edgar Rice Burroughs John Carter from Mars. But when that deal fell through they had their own artist Alex Raymond to create a character. Thus Flash Gordon was born. And it became as popular or more so than Buck Rogers. The Flash Gordon comic strip ran from 1934 – 1992. And as one might expect, it’s popularity led to other adaptations, including a trio of serial movies that ran from 1937-1940 and starred Buster Crabbe.

By the 1970’s film producers were scrambling to adapt Flash Gordon for the big screen. Dino De Laurentiis had acquired the rights to the character for a film. At first, Federico Fellini optioned the Flash Gordon rights from De Laurentiis, but never made the film. Then George Lucas also attempted to make a Flash Gordon film in the 1970s. However, unlike Fellini, Lucas was unable to acquire the rights from De Laurentiis. Because of that he decided to create a small film called Star Wars instead. Probably a wise move.

De Laurentiis was undaunted and made more attempts to get the film made but each failed for one reason or another. Finally, De Laurentiis hired Mike Hodges to direct the Flash Gordon film. Hodges’ 1980 Flash Gordon film starred Sam J. Jones in the title role while the  film’s plot was based loosely on the first few years of the comic strip. However, they revised some of Flash’s backstory by making him the quarterback of the New York Jets instead of a polo player as he was in the original strip. They still embraced the character’s origins as creator Raymond’s drawings were featured heavily in the opening credits. But if you ask some fans what they remember most about the film and most will mention the signature theme-song “Flash!” by the rock band Queen, who composed and performed the entire musical score.

Along with Jones, Flash Gordon starred Melody Anderson as Dale Arden, Chaim Topol as Dr. Hans Zarkov, Max von Sydow as Ming, Timothy Dalton as Prince Barin, Brian Blessed as Prince Vultan, Peter Wyngarde as Klytus and Ornella Mutias as Princess Aura. The film was produced by Dino De Laurentiis, with ornate production designs and costumes by Danilo Donati. It was Donati who designed the film using the bright colors and retro effects that were inspired by the comic strip and 1930s serials.

That’s the history of the film, but if I am to be honest, I never watched the film when it was released. Mainly because I was never a big fan of Flash Gordon. There was nothing wrong with the character, I just never took an interest. What I did take an interest in was the soundtrack by Queen. I have always been a big Queen fan so when I heard that they were handling the musical soundtrack, I was all in. FLASH!! GORDON!! The fact was, if someone asked me about the film, that is what immediately came to mind. FLASH!! GORDON!! Well I guess that was something.

I eventually caught the film on Television. And it wasn’t bad. It was kind of hokey, and it’s comic strip roots were clearly evident. Which wasn’t a bad thing. All and all it was what the film was supposed to be…fun. Along with Max Von Sydow as Ming, the entire cast seemed to embrace the campiness of the production and went with it. It’s no wonder that the film has become a cult favorite. But if you were to ask me…it’s all about FLASH!! GORDON!!

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Video Quality

Flash Gordon debuts on 4K UHD Blu-Ray with a pretty miraculous 2160p Dolby Vision transfer sourced from a 4K scan of the original camera negative. When compared with the ancient Universal Blu-Ray, the 4K disc offers outstanding improvements in all respects. The gains in contrast and overall clarity are readily apparent, especially in unique details like the production design and the elaborate costumes. The UHD disc contains very nuanced, deep colors throughout including the extremely bright reds in varying shades throughout the runtime. When referring back to the old Blu-Ray, colors appear to be a lot more bland and less complex than the 4K disc. White levels are brighter and more stable without veering into blooming. Black levels are deep and allow the picture to maintain a good amount of depth and detail in darker environments. There is a good amount of natural film grain that resolves naturally and gives a lot of nice texture and detail to the transfer. Skin tones largely look great with no apparent instances where characters look a bit desaturated. The clarity of the transfer gives you a great amount of facial detail including fine droplets of perspiration and other minute details. This transfer is a god-send from Arrow Video.

Audio Quality

This 4K UHD Blu-Ray comes with a lossless DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio track that makes the film extra thrilling. Flash Gordon has a lot of great atmospheric effects that engage the surround speakers including material with the rocket and a plane crash. Dialogue comes through clear in the front channel without being overwhelmed by any sound effects or score. The track has a good sense of directionality with sounds always coming from the appropriate channels. The movie is filled with some thrilling moments of action, which puts the low end to work quite often. The music from Queen provides the perfect atmosphere for this larger-than-life story which fills the speakers well. There are no issues with fidelity or damage to the track. This audio presentation is pretty fantastic even without an upgraded audio mix to go along with the video upgrade. 

Special Features

  • Commentaries
    • Audio Commentary #1: Writer-Director Mike Hodges provides a really fun and honest assessment of the film in which he details his difficulty with working with a French crew when he didn’t speak French, clinging to the source material to make the movie work, finding the right actors to fill these roles and many more 
    • Audio Commentary #2: Actor Brian Blessed (Prince Vultan) brings his soothing voice to this track in which he relays his interactions with fans of the film, his appreciation for the style of the film, his memories from the production of the film and more.
    • Audio Commentary #3: A track recording in November 2007 for the “Big Kev’s Geek Stuff” radio show that featured Sam J Jones (Flash Gordon) and Melody Anderson (Dale Arden) in conversation with Bob Lindenmayer and Kevin Schwoebel. This one is loads of fun with more of a party-like atmosphere and humorous anecdotes from the production of the film. 
  • Featurettes 
    • Behind the Scenes of Flash Gordon: A nearly 15-minute archival EPK in which the cast and crew discuss the importance of the Flash Gordon character, finding the right actor for the role, constructing the epic sets and more. 
    • Lost In Space – Nic Roeg’s Flash Gordon: A new 28-minute featurette that details the Flash Gordon movie that never was from acclaimed director Nic Roeg (Don’t Look Now). The history unveiled by writer Michael Allin, Special Effects Supervisor John Richardson and Costume Designer John Bloomfield is really fascinating when coupled with some of the early proposed designs for this alternate version. 
    • Flash Gordon Animated Episode: A 25-minute episode from the 1982 animated Flash Gordon series which includes “Survival Game” and “Gremlin’s Finest Hour” is provided here. This is a fun throwback that will make you feel like a kid again. 
    • Flash Gordon Merchandise: A four-minute featurette in which Jason Labowitz from Entertainment Earth and Jason Lenzi from Bif Bang Pow! break down the merchandise that was available when Flash Gordon was released and some items they developed themselves. 
    • 35th Anniversary Greenroom: A touching eight-minute look at the cast and creative team reuniting prior to a reunion special conducted in 2015. It is lovely to hear their banter and genuine affection for one another after all of these years. 
    • 35th Anniversary Reunion: A nearly seven-minute look at this reunion special in which the cast and crew came together to reflect on their experiences with the film. The only bad thing about this is it should be much longer. 
  • Interviews
    • Mike Hodges: A 32-minute conversation with Director Mike Hodges in which he discusses getting into film, working with Dino de Laurentiis, his reflections on Flash Gordon, the comparisons to Star Wars and more. 
    • Lorenzo Semple Jr.: A 9-minute conversation with the screenwriter of the film in which discusses the film’s status as a cult classic, what steps could have been taken to make the script better and more. 
    • Alex Ross: A nearly 14-minute interview in which comic book artist Alex Ross discusses the impact Flash Gordon had on him in his youth and into adulthood. 
    • Sam J. Jones on His Move Into Acting: A four-minute interview in which Flash himself discusses what events led him to acting. 
    • Bob Lindenmayer on Deleted Scenes: A two-minute discussion of unused material from the film with movie prop collector Bob Lindenmayer. 
    • Melody Anderson: A five-minute conversation with actor Melody Anderson in which she discusses wedding dress, the improvisation in the movie and the hardest scene she had to film.
    • Brian Blessed: An eleven-minute conversation with actor Brian Blessed in which he discusses his love of dwarfs, his contributions to the special effects, working with Sam Jones and more. 
    • Brian May: A five-minute conversation in which Queen member discusses working with Dino de Laurentiis and his experience recording the soundtrack for the film. 
    • Howard Blake on Mickey Mouse: A three-minute conversation with the man who provided the orchestral score for the film. 
    • Renato Casaro: A six-minute conversation with the man who created the iconic poster art for the film. 
  • Galleries: A collection of storyboard and stills galleries are provided here. 
  • Trailers: The original two-minute trailer is provided here that does a good job of teasing the intergalactic exploits. 
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Final Thoughts

Flash Gordon is a beloved cult favorite due to the sheer amount of fun that is pouring out of every inch of the frame. The production is bold and vibrant and over the top in the best way imaginable. It is not a masterpiece of cinema, but throw it on tv on a lazy weekend afternoon and you are guaranteed to have a great time. Arrow Video has released a truly stupendous 4K UHD Blu-Ray which brings new life to the film through its impeccable A/V quality and stellar assortment of special features. If you are a fan of the film, you could not ask for a better collection. Recommended 

Flash Gordon is currently available to purchase on 4K UHD Blu-Ray and Blu-Ray. 

Note: Images presented in this review are not reflective of the image quality of the 4K UHD Blu-Ray.

Disclaimer: Arrow Video has supplied a copy of this disc free of charge for review purposes. All opinions in this review are the honest reactions of the author.

 

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