It was just a few days ago that I was reading over a wargaming blog and somebody had written an article that justified some wonky rules by trying to look at the rules through the mind of European mega-producer Dino De Laurentiis. I've always viewed De Laurentiis as the Italian version of Roger Corman and the man has had some incredible hits and some incredible misses. He certainly has a knack for making the idiotic and mundane seem heroic and cool. Poor dialogue and pointless situations are now epic and poetic when De Laurentiis has a hand in things and the little blog entry was a fun read because it mirrored some of the lesser thought out rules of the Warhammer universe and tied them into situations from De Laurentiis' storied filmography.
Out of all of the producer's motion pictures, the one I've always viewed as the perfect example of his ability to entertain an audience with a less-than-stellar product is the 1980 film "Flash Gordon." The film is intended to be quite campy and there is no denying that the poor dialogue, ridiculous situations and rubber lizardman suits doesn't keep "Flash Gordon" just a smidgeon above being laughable. There is so much about this film that gives an audience a reason to groan and there is plenty to deliver laughs and cheeky smiles. When you throw in the Queen soundtrack and its theme song and mix in the late Seventies sensibilities into the production, "Flash Gordon" is easily one of the greatest bad films of all time.
This remake of the old serials finds New York Jets quarterback Flash Gordon (Sam J. Jones) on a private flight home along with travel agent Dale Arden (Melody Anderson) as well as the pilot and co-pilot. During their flight, the crew is removed by intergalactic villain Emperor Ming (Max Von Sydow). While Flash first tried to pass off the violent weather as turbulence, he must land the plane and save the day. Unfortunately, they crash land near the secret rocket site of scientist Dr. Zarkov (Chaim Topol). Dr. Zarkov has long since predicted an alien invasion where the moon will be destroyed and Ming's attack perfectly fits what Zarkov has long believed and lost his NASA job over. He also believes that jumping on board a rocket with a small service revolver is all that is needed to save the day. The rocket just needs somebody else to push a red pedal to keep from crashing.
At this time, I want to take a small segue into the ludicrous nature of this picture. You have a scientist who managed to believe in an invasion that would happen just as it does in the film. That isn't the crazy part. The crazy part is that he believes he can jump into a home built rocket with nothing more than a .38 special and save billions of lives. No space suit. No military training. Just a gun in his pocket. De Laurentiis allows us to believe this is possible. It gets even more ridiculous when you factor in his need for a co-pilot to push down on a red foot pedal to keep the G-forces from killing everybody inside. Keep in mind that Zarkov just sits back during the flight and he could have easily pressed the pedal, but this wouldn't have provided the mechanism to kidnap Flash and Dale. Just sit back for a minute and think about this situation and you will realize the talent of Producer Dino De Laurentiis and understand how he was able to make even the most idiotic stories and plot devices seem cool.
Returning to the story, the trio of humans manages to travel through the Imperial worm hole and are allowed to safely crash on Mongo. There they are approached (please ignore the continuity errors of the soldiers looking directly into the capsules windows and then being quite some distance away) by the soldiers of General Klytus (Peter Wyngarde) and brought into the amazing and vibrant palace of Ming the Merciless. While they are delivered to the Emperor, a ceremony is taking place where the subjects of Ming are offering gifts to him and this includes Prince Barin (Timothy Dalton) of Arboria and Prince Vultan (Brian Blessed) of Sky City. Ming attempts to take Dale as a concubine and send Dr. Zarkov for brain conditioning, but Flash tries to save the day using his football skills in combat in a truly laughable action sequence. He is captured and set for execution, but Ming's daughter Princess Aura (Ornella Muti) has other plans for the blonde football stud.
It's at this point I'm going to abandon describing the film and its plot as plot doesn't truly matter in a movie such as "Flash Gordon." This is a movie that is all about fun and all about campiness. It is a production of excess and a masterpiece of folly that manages to pull together to create a film that somehow feels genuine and honest regardless of its flaws. De Laurentiis is a master of making shyte smell like roses and he does this with "Flash Gordon." This is one of the most flawed pictures I can remember from my childhood and the perfect bookmark for De Laurentiis other sci-fi picture of similar quality, "Barbarella." You don't watch this film for its story. You don't watch this film for its performances. You watch this film because it is completely asinine, but also completely entertaining.
Here is a small list of ten things I find absolutely comical about "Flash Gordon" and contributes to my enjoyment of the film:
1.The lizardmen costumes are some of the worst rubber suits in Hollywood history. They are absolutely horrendous, but so funny.
2.At the beginning of the film when the plane is crashing, the sound is a looping of a plane in a dive as if Flash and Dale were listening to planes falling out of the sky all around them and not the constant sound of their plane diving.
3.When Dale escapes, she does an amazing cartwheel to kill a guard and shoots a few to gain her freedom, but she quickly puts the gun down instead of keeping it with her.
4.How smooth every crash landing is in this film.
5.Dr. Zarkov's ability to calculate the moon's destruction and its angle and how confident he is in this very unscientific synopsis.
6.When Ming is finally defeated, everybody in the entire room safely evacuates, but he finds himself standing in the middle of the room like a deer in headlights.
7.The constant oversight of not killing Flash immediately and giving him more than enough time to escape and survive. Villains never do understand the need for an immediate summary execution.
8.The primitive nature of everybody's outfits and the Arborian tree village in an extremely high tech world.
9.Just why is it that Flash throws the eggs into the armored plates of his attackers instead of beaning them in the head?
10.There is no consistency to the level of talent and lethality of Ming's forces. The weapons range in power and the skill of guards greatly varies. It seems the floating robotic drone is the most lethal, but Ming still uses the horrible pig guards instead of them.
Star Sam J. Jones had a supporting role in the 1979 film "10" and the former United States Marine earned his first and only notable leading role with "Flash Gordon." Since this De Laurentiis production, Jones has been relegated to B-movie and television roles, but his lone moment in the starlight will always be memorable after the actor earned kudos for his poor performance. It is purported that much of Jones' dialogue was re-dubbed by another actor in post production, but the actor certainly does ham it up onscreen. Jones' may only be remembered for his role in "Flash Gordon," but I can't imagine anybody else riding a jet ski through the atmosphere while Freddy Mercury belts out "FLASH!"
The rest of the cast features Max Von Sydow, Timothy Daulton and a number of people you have likely never seen anything from since. Movie buffs may recognize Deep Roy in a very small bit part (no offense to his stature) as the pet of Princess Aura and if you look really quick you can see a very early role for veteran actor Robbie Coltrane. Peter Wyngarde and Brian Blessed are familiar for their voices and have appeared in films here and there. Co-star Chaim Topol was wonderful in the 1971 film "Fiddler on the Roof," but aside from a villainous role in "For Your Eyes Only," Topol has not been a familiar face and Melody Anderson has seen only minor work in film after her debut in "Flash Gordon" with the "Cannonball Run" sequel "Speed Zone!" being her only other highlight.
Director Mike Hodges' next project after "Flash Gordon" was titled "Morons from Outer Space." I'm not going to make any jokes of how that would be a worthy sequel to this picture if Ming and company were to invade Earth. I'm not going to critic the direction of this film as it is reported that Hodges, De Laurentiis and Jones had disagreements that caused problems in post-production and the touch of De Laurentiis is felt throughout this entire film. I would assume Hodges handled the technical duties of production while De Laurentiis let his creativity fly. The two have succeeded in creating one of the ultimate science fiction / camp films and while I'm sure "Flash Gordon" didn't find the success they had hoped for and they would have wanted the film to be taken just a little more seriously, they have created a picture that will last for generations more.
I've always considered "Flash Gordon" as an absolute stinker of a film that I cannot find myself ever disliking. The film is too much fun in its silliness and its absurdities to not love. The outfits are so outlandish and the sets are so colorful that "Flash Gordon" does look like it jumped from the pages of a comic book and this is a landmark film in visual presentation from 1980. There is more cheese between the opening credits and end crawl than Green Bay. If you try to take this movie seriously, you will be repulsed, but I've always been able to enjoy the picture as a campy exercise in excessive moviemaking. This is a movie you can have fun watching if you can just roll with the punches and laugh at everything wrong as Max Von Sydow tries his hardest to act seriously through. There is something alluring to this production that makes "Flash Gordon" memorable and this horrible film has earned a very good score on review aggregators. That magical element is producer Dino De Laurentiis.
"Flash Gordon" is now thirty years old. That is a long time, but I can guarantee that after watching the 2.35:1 framed Blu-ray release that you will be hard pressed to believe the film is that old after witnessing this absolutely amazing transfer. The coloring and detail of this thirty year old mix is top notch and textures and the fantastical world created by De Laurentiis look fantastic. Universal has cleaned up the film and had remastered the title for a previous DVD version and that master is used here. This removed a lot of the original film grain and the print was cleaned up as well. The result is that the film looks decades newer, though I'm sure purists will be up in arms over the remastering. There may be a small drop in some detail, but the coloring rivals anything else out there. There are no digital artifacts and the print appears pristine. Any film of this vintage is defying logic when it is this clean, colorful and detailed.
While I was utterly blown away by the visuals of this Blu-ray release, the DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix doesn't exactly thrill me. It is harsh, flat and unexciting. The audio comes almost exclusively from the front channels and only a few minor sounds can be heard in the rear channels during some of the heavier action sequences. The score by Howard Blake and rock soundtrack supplied by Queen do not sound half bad, but they come across as stereo mixes and "Flash Gordon" certainly sounds thirty years old. Bass response is flat as well and the explosions lack much rumble from either the .1 LFE channel or the main left and right speakers. Sound effects have come a long way in three decades and that is apparent. The film's dialogue was looped in post production and its very clean sounding. The audio is passable, but it doesn't excite like the visuals.
I'll start the discussion of the bonus content by pointing out that some of the very nice supplements (arguably the best parts) of a previous Region 2 release are missing. It appears there were two commentary tracks on that DVD release and they were not ported over for this new high definition release. On track included the amazing voice of Brian Blessed and it is a shame it was not delivered here. The high definition release does get a few ‘exclusives' in the form of BD-Live pushed advertisements when the disc boots as well as the Ticker, BD-Live Center access for more promotional content and the always familiar My Scenes bookmarking.
"Flash Gordon" itself doesn't have terribly many bonus materials for the film, but some of them are actually quite good and nice inclusions. The first is Alex Ross, Renowned Comic Artist, on Flash Gordon (13:27). This is unique in that Ross is a familiar name in the comic industry and he talks about how much he loves this film. It's a fun interview. Writing a Classic: Screenwriter Lorenzo Semple, Jr. (9:14) admits he was just a guy wanting to have fun with a story and this short feature has some good insight into the film's absurd story that left me feeling even better about the production. The best feature is the First Episode of the Flash Gordon 1936 Serial (20:42). This is "Chapter One: Planet of Peril!" and I loved the inclusion of this and just wish there were more on the disc. I'd pay for a 2-disc set that had all of these great serials. Finally, the film's Theatrical Trailer constitutes the "And More!" content mentioned on the box packaging.
"Flash Gordon" is a movie I have loved, enjoyed and laughed my arse off with every viewing ever since I was a kid. The film is now thirty years old and on Blu-ray it looks better than it ever did. I would have wanted a little more in the way of supplements, but the included serial made me quite happy. As a filmmaker, Dino De Laurentiis has created some absolute gems and while he will never be mentioned with the likes of Hitchcock and Speilberg, he is a wonderful filmmaker that had a way of making the most absurd concepts seem epic and enjoyable. Nobody will remember Sam J. Jones as an actor, but everybody will always remember this film. This film was part of my childhood and on Blu-ray, I'm happy to have it as part of my adulthood.