Merciless Emperor Ming (Max von Sydow) decides to wreak havoc on Earth in a moment of cruel boredom. Boarding a rocket as a means of escape, star quarterback Flash Gordon (Sam J. Jones), Dale Arden (Melody Anderson) and Dr. Hans Zarkov (Topol) find themselves on Mongo. Taken prisoner Flash must save Dale from becoming Ming’s concubine, avoid the amorous intentions of Ming’s wicked daughter Aura (Ornella Muti) and unite the warring Kingdoms of Mongo.
Arrow Video presents Mike Hodge’s cult classic Flash Gordon in a 4K UHD Blu-ray limited edition, presenting the film on the first triple-layer UHD disc in the aspect ratio of 2.35:1. Sourced from StudioCanals recent 4K restoration (scanned from the 35mm original camera negative), the film is presented here with a 2160p/24hz encode. Arrow’s edition only offers a 4K version of the film. The second disc is a dual-layer Blu-ray disc, but it is dedicated to the documentary Life After Flash and does not present a 1080 high-definition version of the film. Arrow has also released separate standard and limited edition Blu-rays for the film.
I’ve never recalled this film looking particularly great on home video, and though it was obviously a bright colourful film, it always looked to be just a product of its time. This new restoration and presentation ended up changing my opinion on the look of the film: it really is a gorgeous, vivid looking film. What struck me right off were the reds. Reds are all over the film, from the palace settings to Flash’s and Ming’s respective outfits; red is the primary colour here. The reds could look a bit muted on older releases, even bleed or look pixilated, but they are so pure, bright, and vivid here, and the details found within the red objects (costumes, curtains, and such) are far clearer delivering better textures and layering. The colours never bleed and they never come off blocky. The film also has its fair share of greens (mainly in the forest settings) and these are some of the cleanest, purest looking greens I’ve seen. Whites are nice and balanced, not leaning too warm or cool, and black levels are rich and inky while still delivering shadow detail.
The digital presentation is clean, and I didn’t notice any noise or edge-enhancement or anything of the sort (I’m still figuring out the 4K format so it’s possible I’ve missed something). The film is grainy, but the grain looks clean and natural. Detail is very high, and the image always looks sharp and crisp, at least when the source materials allow it. Due to some of the film’s optical effects the quality of the image can degrade because of the layering that went into the process, impacting colour saturation, black levels, detail, and grain, the latter of which can get a bit heavier during these moments. This is all of course just a byproduct of how the film was made, but the presentation always handles these moments perfectly and the image keeps its film-like look.
Overall this is really a stunner. I never thought this film could ever possibly look anything like this and I wouldn’t be surprised if this surpasses how it looked during its initial release. After Universal’s meh Blu-ray this will be such a huge treat for fans of the film.
Screen captures added January 20, 2021
Arrow includes the films original 2.0 surround presentation and a 5.1 remix, both presented in DTS-HD Master Audio. I stuck with the 5.1 track and sampled the 2.0 one. Based on the scenes I compared I probably like the mix of the 5.1 track more, but honestly the surround mix isn’t terribly creative either way. Queen’s score is mixed nicely in the surrounds, comes off very dynamic with great bass. Most of the audio is front heavy, though, with some of the action making its way to the rears. Everything is crystal clear, though, dialogue and effects sounding sharp.
Arrow’s Limited Edition presents a wealth of supplements over two discs, the second disc devoted to the documentary Life After Flash. The first disc (the UHD disc) presents the film and the supplements pertaining to it (all video supplements are presented in 1080 high-definition). Arrow starts things off by offering three (3) audio commentaries: one featuring director Mike Hodges, the second featuring actor Brian Blessed, and the third featuring actors Sam J. Jones and Melody Anderson along with fans and collectors Bob Lindenmeyer and Kevin Schwoebel.
All of the tracks were recorded between 2005 and 2007, and I don’t believe any of them had been made available in North America prior to this, and despite comments on the Jones/Anderson group track, I can’t seem to find what prior DVD or Blu-ray said track was made available on. The commentators even say it was being recorded for a DVD, but not the Universal one. The Hodges one has appeared on a few European releases while the Blessed one appears to have been only available on the region 2 Silver Anniversary DVD.
At any rate, the tracks are all fine. The Hodges one is very technical, heavily oriented toward the production and filming. He talks about Nicolas Roeg’s involvement beforehand and where the film was at when he came in, while also speaking highly of producer Dino De Laurentiis. Blessed’s track is a fun one, more because the guy always sounds like he’s performing, even when he’s speaking so matter-of-factly. He loved the experience of the film and he’s obviously taking great joy in talking about it. While he obviously has first-hand experience as someone who worked on the film, sharing stories and talking about his co-stars, he also brings a third-party experience to the track as well, heaping praise on it as he watches, admiring its look and effects and the performances of the other actors. It’s a really joyous track.
The third one is a decent one, thought suffers from everyone constantly talking over one another. The two stars share their own stories, from being cast to how certain scenes were done (or how much costumes ended up weighing), while also recounting what it was like to work with actors like Max von Sydow, Brian Blessed, and more. There is also some discussion around the production with Lindenmeyer and Schwoebel throwing in little factoids about the film, even bringing up deleted sequences and abandoned shots. It’s an interesting track, but as I mentioned before there is quite a few moments of people talking over one another, I think because there’s an excitement for everyone to be talking about the film, which leads to comments going nowhere or just a general lack of focus.
Of the three I think the Blessed track was my favourite.
Arrow then includes a number of featurettes, new and old. There’s an archival 14-minute behind-the-scenes program, made around the time of the film’s production. Though things like this are usually pretty fluffy and done more for promotional purposes this ends up being better than most, doing a decent job covering the film’s production design and getting half-decent interviews with Topal and Max von Sydow.
New is Lost in Space: Nic Roeg’s Flash Gordon, running 28-minutes. The feature gathers together a number of people who worked on Roeg’s version (or both versions), specifically writer Michael Allin. Roeg’s version was drastically different, even more serious in nature (fascism sounds to have been a big theme in the film), and we get some insights into the script from Allin accompanied by a number of design drawings and more. Roeg and De Laurentiis had a falling out which led to the entire project being redone from the ground up and Mike Hodges coming in. I had heard about Roeg being more heavily involved in the film so getting a more direct account with actual production art and story points was a real plus.
The character of Flash Gordon has appeared on screen many times in one form or another, with the old serial films starring Buster Crabbe being one of the more notable. Though those could not be included here in any form (sadly), Arrow does provide one episode of the early 80s animated series. The episode in question has two stories, Survival Game and Gremlin’s Finest Hour. I grew up on this kind of crap (I was a Masters of the Universe kind of guy) so I got a kick out of the quick storytelling and repetitive animation so I definitely thought the inclusion was a hoot. As to quality they’re about what you would expect.
Toy creators Jason Labowitz and Jason Lenzi next pop up for 4-minutes to talk about Flash Gordon merchandise, or the original lack there-of. They recall how they were disappointed in not being able to get toys around the film as kids so they would go on to create their own line of collectible figures and merchandise years later, which actually led to Universal contacting them about any possible benefits to a DVD release at the time. Shockingly, they ended up having to recreate the film’s branding and logos because no high-resolution images existed, and in turn that material has been used on just about all Flash Gordon material since.
There are a couple of supplements around a 35th Anniversary Reunion, including about 8-minutes worth of backstage footage, which features Jones, Anderson, Hodges, and Blessed catching up after having not seen each other in so long (it’s here where I learned the serial’s star, Buster Crabbe, hated the film). The actual on-stage footage is basically an edited compilation of the event, running about 10-minutes.
A series of interviews then follow, starting with the 2005 one with Mike Hodges, running 32-minutes. The interview is more of a general one about his career, though Flash Gordon takes up most of it. He also talks about his earlier work before Flash Gordon, which includes Get Carter, Pulp, and The Terminal Man, and then eventually Morons from Outerspace, which he thinks “could have” been good. Croupier comes up as well.
From the Universal DVD is a 9-minute interview with writer Lorenzo Semple, Jr., who came in once Hodges was brought on. From the other feature it sounds as though Roeg’s was going to be too serious and Semple touches on how the film took a drastic turn toward being more silly and fun. He picks apart issues with the film, what works and what doesn’t, at least for him, and he does feel the film did get a little too silly (he says someone should have stepped in at some point to bring it back), but it obviously found it’s fan base.
Artist Alex Ross then explains how the film inspired him to become an artist and talks about the elements of the film that just draw him in (Queen’s score apparently a big part of that). He also talks about his DVD cover design. Bob Lindenmeyer also pops up in a separate interview to talk about a deleted scene and the possible premise for a sequel.
Some newer interviews are also here, and they appear to be mostly unused footage shot for the documentary Life After Flash. Interviews with the actors start off things, Sam J. Jones first appearing for 4-minutes to talk about his initial move to L.A. There are then three short interviews with Melody Anderson who talks about a costume, her hardiest scene (which was cut) and the football sequence. Brian Blessed has a few segments as well, including one around a weekly on-set raffle he somehow got stuck doing.
Queen’s Brian May and composer Howard Blake also pop-up to talk about the film’s music, with May recounting how De Laurentiis first responded to the music. Blake’s story is rather amusing as it involves him and May, two professional musicians, whom one would expect would both have the most high-end stereo equipment, having to listen to finished music for the film on a Mickey Mouse cassette player. Poster designer Renato Casaro also explains the math and design elements that go into creating an eye-pleasing poster.
The disc then closes with a storyboard gallery and the film’s original trailer.
That would close off the standard UHD edition for the film, but Arrow’s Limited Edition also comes with a second disc, a dual-layer Blu-ray, which features Lisa Down’s 2017, 93-minute documentary Life After Flash. The documentary’s focus is, of course, Jones himself, and the actor gave full access to his life, which has taken some interesting turns (he is or was doing security for affluent people crossing into Mexico). Jones is also very open and honest, talking about the downward spiral he went through after Flash Gordon, which he attributes to his own arrogance at the time, and he explains how he got out of that. The film also follows him on various tours and Comic-Cons he visits, showing him intermingling with fans.
The film is also a rather loving tribute to Flash Gordon itself, gathering interviews with members of the cast and crew (including late actor Peter Wyngarde), who all share stories about the production, while also getting interviews with fans of the film who work in the entertainment industry in some fashion (Seth MacFarlane is missing, though), or are just hardcore collectors of memorabilia. I went into this expecting a fan documentary, and at heart that’s what it is, but it’s a well done one, affectionate towards the subject matter (including Jones’ redemption) but not in a sappy or overbearing manner.
The disc then comes with a huge selection of supplements, though most of it is very short video, all looking to be unused footage from the documentary. The only thing made exclusively as an extra for this is an interview with the film’s director, Lisa Downs. She talks about how she came up with the idea for the project (idea was born out of a conversation around the film) and then the Kickstarter campaign she set up to make the film. She then explains how everything just fell into place in regards to getting interviews, with a lot of it coming down meeting someone who knows someone who knows someone. The story behind the film proves rather interesting in and of itself. Her interview runs about 12-minutes.
The rest of the material is sort of messily listed out through the supplement menu and it was a bit frustrating to go through as the average run time for each supplement is around a few minutes. Because of the lack of organization I’m going to just group things together instead of going through them one by one.
There’s of course a wealth of material around Jones, including 13-minutes of unused Comic-Con footage (including talking and walking with a fan), his full “Prayer Walk,” 5-minutes’ worth of footage from a script read of Flash Gordon with fans (the notes pointing out this catches his performance with his own voice as he was dubbed over in the film), and then footage of him starting a fire at home in his fireplace as Downs talks with his wife. There’s also 10 more minutes’ worth of footage around his security work in Mexico and a 4-minute discussion around a wolf (yes, a wolf) that he had as a pet. It apparently got free and was eventually caught, though thankfully it ended up in sanctuary. He regrets the whole thing, admitting to the arrogance and vanity behind ever adopting such an animal for a pet just because he could. Extended footage (around 7-minutes’ worth) from Dale-Con in the UK is also included.
Jones also appears in footage around Life After Flash’s screenings, including one at the Boston Sci-Fi Fest and one in the West End at the Prince Charles Cinema. Down’s Kickstarter Video is also included here in its entirety.
There is also more footage from interviews with the actors that sat for Downs. Melody Anderson talks a little more about her artwork, offering a tour of some her work throughout her house, and Brian Blessed also has a few more stories to share, including one around goosing Anderson and then one on how a cast member Timothy Dalton had fallen for was actually into “cave men” like men like Blessed himself, much to Dalton’s disappointment. Deep Roy also raps about ambition and then talks about some of his other work, including his part on “Eastbound and Down.”
These are all fun but pretty much fluff, but the disc also includes 9-minutes more of material with Peter Wyngarde and then about 4 segments featuring Topol. I was surprised to see Topol didn’t appear much in the documentary and I suspect it’s because they didn’t spend too much time on the film. In this extra footage Topol talks about his charity work and shows off his artwork created for Israeli stamps. This was actually the best material to be found in all of this and I’m happy that Downs and Arrow were compelled to include it (along with footage of him showing his awards through the years, which he keeps on the top shelf of a buffet).
There is then some more footage with fans Rich Fuller and Jason Lenzi talking about the “tell me more about this Houdini” line in the film along with artist Alex Ross showing off his Flash Gordon art he made through the years, mostly to satisfy his own fan boy desires (he even went as far as sculpting his own action figure). This was particularly great as he kept some of (though not all) of the work he did as a kid.
The disc then closes with the trailer for the documentary.
It’s a good bonus disc, but there’s such a haphazard layout to the supplements I found it more frustrating to go through then fun.
Arrow’s Limited Edition then comes with a few other goodies. The two discs come in a 2-disc flipper 4K UHD case, with 6 postcards featuring promotional photos on one side (lobby cards) and then poster art of collages on the other. This is then held in a sturdy slipcase that then holds a fold-out poster featuring an original poster for the film on one side and the new artwork on the other. Arrow also includes a 59-page booklet featuring photos and articles. All of the content is new, starting with an essay by Neil Snowdon on the film’s initial release and reception (Pauline Kael “got it” he proclaims), followed by one Daniel Cozzalio, who writes about the appeal of the film through the years and the various directors who had come to the project or were approached (including Roeg and Federico Fellini). John-Paul Checkett then writes about the campiness of the film (as a plus, not a negative); A.K. Benedict writes about all of the joy he finds in the film (even if some aspects, like the sexual politics, don’t hold up); and Kat Ellinger writes about De Laurentiis’ go at the comic book films, grouping this, Danger: Diabolik and Barbarella all together and the Italian influence in them.
There’s a lot here, but I was frustrated quite a bit with the extra material for Life After Flash. But this is a stacked edition that will keep fans busy for a while.
The presentation is outstanding and I had no idea the film could look this wonderful and on that basis alone I give this release a full-hearted recommendation. As to whether one wants to fork over the extra money for the Limited Edition or just go with the standard single-disc edition, it will come down to personal preference and how badly one wants the extra material that comes with it. I enjoyed the documentary but only found some of the other bonus material to be worthwhile, and was frustrated by the layout of features. Still, in its slip case and with the extra weight, it’s a set that will make die-hard fans very happy.