The American Society of Cinematographers

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Return to Table of Contents November 2007 Return to Table of Contents
Im Not There
The Kite Runner
ASC Close-Up
DVD Playback
Body Snatchers
Flash Gordon
Flash Gordon (1980)
Saviour of the Universe Edition
2.35:1 (16x9 Enhanced)
Dolby Digital 5.1
Universal Home Entertainment, $26.98

Hulking New York Jets quarterback Flash Gordon (Sam J. Jones) is returning from vacation and boards a semi-private jet back to the city. Strange weather patterns have begun to develop in the skies, but Flash ignores this and focuses on attractive Dale Arden (Melody Anderson), his companion on the flight. He is wholly unaware that the planet is falling prey to the tyrannical Ming the Merciless (Max Von Sydow) of the planet Mongo; Ming has targeted Earth with inclement weather and natural disasters because he likes to “play with things before destroying them.”

While the jet carrying Flash and Dale heads into turbulent skies, disgraced former NASA scientist Dr. Zarkov (Topol) wakes to find his prediction of destructive moon fragments falling to Earth is coming true. As Zarkov prepares to take off in his rocket, which will hone in on the extraterrestrial source of the lunar disturbances, Flash and Dale’s jet makes an emergency landing on his property. With moments to spare, the crazed Zarkov forces Flash and Dale to accompany him to deep space. The three unlikely astronauts awake on the planet Mongo, where they are brought before Ming, who instantly orders Flash to be executed, Zarkov to be lobotomized, and Dale to be his bride. When Ming’s conniving daughter, Princess Aura (Ornella Muti), spies the handsome Flash during his public execution, she decides to resuscitate him with a mysterious serum and steal him away to a neighboring moon ruled by Prince Barin (Timothy Dalton), her former flame. Barin reluctantly agrees to help Flash rescue Zarkov and Dale and overthrow Ming the Merciless.

Alex Raymond’s comic strip Flash Gordon debuted in 1934, and its popularity quickly catapulted it onto the silver screen, where it appeared as a serial starring Buster Crabbe in the title role. After being produced as a live-action TV series in 1954 and an animated series in 1979, Flash Gordon was reinterpreted as a lush, feature-length film by prolific producer Dino De Laurentiis and director Mike Hodges. The picture, a quirky science-fiction fantasy best known for its epic score by glam-rock band Queen and the cardboard lead performance by former Playgirl model Jones, is a largely reverent and campy homage to the comics and serials. In order to conjure the film’s hyperbolic visual tone, Hodges tapped designer Donilo Donati to provide a comic-book physicality and cinematographer Gilbert Taylor, BSC (Repulsion, Star Wars, Dr. Strangelove) to give the adventure a colorful, otherworldly zeal. Composed on a vibrant anamorphic canvas, Taylor’s cinematography embraces the artifice that serves the tongue-in-cheek style of the picture and enhances it with an array of bold primary colors and high-key lighting.

Universal Home Entertainment recently re-issued Flash Gordon on DVD in a “Saviour of the Universe” special edition. The previous DVD transfer, released in 1998, lacked 16x9 enhancement and appears to have been mastered from worn source elements with inconsistent colors, but this new edition makes up for that. Remastered from what appears to be excellent source material, this new, 16x9-enhanced picture transfer is extremely accurate and faithful to Taylor’s ornate color palette, with heavily saturated hues and solid blacks. The newly remixed Dolby Digital 5.1 track is strong, giving Queen’s bass-heavy score a lot of presence and offering fun directional effects and surround-channel activity.

In spite of the film’s financially disappointing theatrical release, over the years it has garnered a faithful cult of fans. They will be pleased by some of the supplements on this DVD, which include a lively and insightful conversation with comic artist and devoted Flash Gordon fan Alex Ross, an amusing chat with Lorenzo Semple Jr., the film’s original theatrical trailer, and, best of all, the very first serial episode from 1936. Overall, though, it’s a shame more substantial supplements were not included, considering that many more were featured on the British Region 2 DVD.

Despite the limited extras, fans will rejoice at this glowing, new presentation of the film, which has never looked or sounded better on home screens. Hodges’ entertainingly corny space adventure lives on, sending its peroxide-blonde hero out to save the universe once again.

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