“Flash Gordon: Saviour of the Earth Edition” is about as cheesy and implausible as you might expect from a 1980 movie that was pure camp even then. But that’s no reason to avoid it. On the contrary, I’d highly recommend picking it up, even if you saw it before back in the day. “Flash”’s surreal disco vibe, the dramatic Queen soundtrack and the scifi fantasy elements make it a cult classic worth remembering.
“Flash” is a hero you should know, especially if you’re into any other kind of scifi at all. He first appeared in 1936 as a comic strip penned by Alex Raymond, which means he predates just about any scifi franchise you can think of—with the exception of “Buck Rogers,” since “Flash” was created to compete with Buck. This means that Flash has influenced many later projects, from superhero comics to “Star Wars.” (George Lucas was a fan; he wanted to remake Flash himself but Dino De Laurentiis had already bought the rights. Luke and Leia were reportedly based on Flash and Dale). There have been countless movies and TV versions, counting of course the most recent version that’s airing on SciFi Channel right now.
So take Flash Gordon’s legacy seriously, but don’t come into this DVD expecting realism or logic or exceptional writing. It is meant to be tongue-in-cheek. The story starts with Dale Arden (Melody Anderson) and Jets football star Flash Gordon (Sam J. Jones) meeting on a plane. Because of a destructive, sudden solar eclipse, the plane crashes right in the realm of Dr. Hans Zarkov (Topol), who happens to need another warm body to help him pilot his homemade rocket. Zarkov is convinced the eclipse is not natural, and wants to go up to find the alien invaders he knows are behind the dastardly deed. He kidnaps Flash and Dale and they head to the planet Mongo. There, Emperor Ming the Merciless has decided Earth is a threat and wants to eradicate it. It’s now Flash’s duty to unite the rival princes of Mongo, rescue Dale and save the Earth.
One of the now-classic scenes in this movie is that of Flash playing football against Ming’s minions. But there’s a lot more than that to see and experience in this film. The costumes are brilliant, glittery, shiny and ornate, and some of them feature masks—just like you’d expect from the disco era. They’re also skimpy. The sets are amazingly colorful and fantastic. You’ll see some cool visual effects, which were certainly more impressive at the time, including an air battle featuring a whole flock of bird-men and a guy without eyes. There’s some torture (it plays more like S&M), sexual innuendo, and a very quickly-developed romance between Dale and Flash. A one-on-one battle between Flash and Prince Barin—which takes place on a moving disc, controlled by remote with spikes coming out of it, in the middle of an abyss—is typical of “Flash Gordon” over-the-top madness.
The characters are colorful, too. The deceptive Princess Aura (Ornella Muti), Ming’s daughter, has a large role to play, as does dashing Prince Barin (Timothy Dalton). Prince Vultan (Brian Blessed) of the bird-men goes through a personal transformation of sorts. Ming the Merciless is played with devilish perfection by Max von Sydow. And Ming has some sadistic underlings that provide some comic and dramatic interest as well. The acting is so-so, but there are a few funny one-liners and the dialogue could have been worse. Let’s face it—in a movie like this, acting is not really the focal point.
The movie’s been remastered, and looks pretty sharp on my HD-TV. The DVD has the now-requisite extras, of course, including an interview with screenwriter Lorenzo Semple, Jr.; and one with comic artist Alex Ross, who drew a postcard that’s included in the set. An episode from the 1936 serial is also packaged with the DVD.
Ultimately, this DVD is an immensely satisfying scifi fantasy experience, if you don’t mind style over substance. Come into it expecting to be amused and impressed by the campy sophistication of a film 27 years old, and you’ll be in just the right mindset to enjoy “Flash Gordon: Saviour of the Universe Edition.”