Flash Gordon (Blu-Ray)
September 1, 2010
Starring: Sam J. Jones, Melody Anderson, Max von Sydow, Topol, Ornella Muti, Timothy Dalton, Brian Blessed, Peter Wyngarde, Mariangela Melato, John Osborne, Richard O'Brien, John Hallam, Philip Stone, Suzanne Danielle, William Hootkins,
There are certain films that mean a lot to me, and I’ll buy them on any format, no matter whether the visual or sound quality is any better or not, or whether there are any additional features or not. I have to have them.
Ghostbusters (1986) is one such film. I bought that on DVD before I had a DVD player when I imported it from the USA. It was my first Blu-Ray purchase and even bought a Laserdisc player all those years ago just because of it.
Flash Gordon (1980) is another of those films. I already own two different DVD versions and the Laserdisc version. Its release on Blu-Ray was circled in my diary (or at least it would have been had I owned a diary, but you get the idea). Flash Gordon and I go way back, back to a time when I still believed in Father Christmas. I first saw Flash Gordon one Christmas Eve on my black and white portable (if only I knew the spectacle of colour that I was missing) while I was looking out of my bedroom window to see if Father Christmas was coming. This must have been around 1985, and to this day Flash Gordon brings back memories of my childhood and makes me feel like no other film does.
I have even met both of the film’s leads, Sam J. Jones and Melody Anderson. They’re both very nice people, and were more than happy to talk for far longer than any normal person would have been comfortable with. Meeting them in person only helped my opinion of the film, and allowed me to slip further under its spell.
So what is it about Flash Gordon that makes it such a classic of modern cinema, when many critics would (and have) simply dismiss it as hokum?
Firstly, the film is unashamedly camp. Ranging from the garish colours that dominate the picture, to Flash Gordon’s tiny leather trunks that he wears when he’s being executed (naturally, when going to your death a little pear of black leather trunks would be more than adequate, no?). Then of course there’s the music. How could we possibly review this film without mentioning the soundtrack? When you want portray an image of camp in your film, there’s really only one band to pull that off – Queen, fronted by the most outlandishly camp lead singer in history. Queen’s soundtrack is quite simply breathtaking, both as a soundtrack as an album in its own right. It’s also something I own, but that didn’t stop me getting the Flash Gordon Special Tin Edition on Blu-Ray, that comes with the Queen Soundtrack again.
Had to be done.
Once we’ve gotten over the camp nature of Flash Gordon – and I’m not quite sure we have yet – you have to move onto the scenery chewing nature of its cast. Topol, perhaps best known for his role in Fiddler on the Roof (1971), gets the ham going early in the film by pointing dramatically and declaring in his best Shakespearian voice ‘It’s an Attack!’ – but of course that’s not the hammiest line in the film – it’s not even close.
Helping Topol devour the garishly fabulous sets are such acting luminaries as Max von Sydow as Ming the Merciless. Max was born to play Ming as even looks like the character before the costume and make-up have been applied. His finest point in the film is probably during the wedding scene with Dale Arden (Melody Anderson), when he’s asked if he’ll take Dale to be his mistress of the hour, before replying ‘of the hour, yes’.
We should also mention, as it sometimes gets lost amid all of the colour, music and ham, that former James Bond actor Timothy Dalton is also present, playing Prince Barin. Another Shakespearean actor, Dalton delivers his aggressive lines with real vigour, referring to Princess Aurora (Ornella Muti) as a ‘lying bitch’ and ordering the operatives in Ming’s palace to ‘Freeze yer bloody bastards!’.
Now don’t panic, every fan of Flash Gordon knows there’s only one winner in terms of most over the top performance in this film. That prize goes to Brian Blessed in the role of Vultan. Blessed delivers his lines with the subtlety of a train crashing through the window of Mothercare, screaming classic lines of dialogue such as ‘Gordon’s Alive???’, and of course ‘DIIIIIVE!!!’.
The film is unashamed escapism, and allows you to remember what it was like when you were a child and the plot of a film was secondary to how many space battles it had, how many aliens were in it and how many times the bad guys thought they’d killed the hero.
Flash Gordon is a triumph of cinema, and one that could never be repeated or bettered – so don’t even try Hollywood, you have been warned.
Sadly the film hasn’t received 100% from me (as it would normally have done) due to the special features. All that exists on the Blu-Ray is an old interview with Director Mike Hodges, and a commentary from him. This film could have had so much more, such as old poster art, interviews with the cast, deleted scenes (oh how I’d have loved that) and maybe even an old episode of the original series of Flash Gordon?
There’s a lot they could have done, but didn’t. Despite that, this is Flash Gordon on Blu-Ray – get it now.