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Flash Gordon - Saviour of the Universe Edition
Saviour of the Universe Edition, Special Edition
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Alex Raymond's famous comic strip blasts to life in the action-packed sci-fi adventure Flash Gordon. When energy waves pull the moon out of orbit, New York Jets quarterback Flash Gordon (Sam J. Jones) unwittingly finds himself heading for the planet Mongo, where - with assistance from beautiful Dale Arden (Melody Anderson) - he'll take on Ming the Merciless (Max von Sydow) and rescue humankind. Featuring spectacular thrills, out-of-this world special effects and unforgettable music by Queen, Flash Gordon is an exciting live-action adaptation of one of the most popular characters of all time!
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The Savior of the Universe (SotU) Edition DVD lacks the very energetic commentary by Brian Blessed (plus production stills and other static extras) that the European Silver Anniversary Edition DVD and even lacks the commentary by Same Jones and Melody Anderson made for an International Edition (that of course we never saw in the U.S). In spite of that you do get a remastered film with 2.35:1 anomorphic widescreen, 5.1 Dolby Surround and the movie trailer (none of the European releases had that). While the SotU edition was remastered and looked a ton better than the previous releases it wasn't perfect. While background matte effects are noticeable they are easily forgiven considering the sharper picture, but there were certain matted special effects blocks used on the spacecraft that were painfully obvious in the remaster. Either they didn't bother to digitally clean them up or it wasn't technically possible. Audio also sounded rather thin considering this was supposed to be digitally remastered.
Another thing that bugs me is SatU DVD is set in an impressive and slightly oversized case, but when you open it up all you get is the DVD and the pencil art insert from Alex Ross. No booklet detailing any info on the movie... not even a single page chapter list. Yeah, Yeah... most of you would say "but the remastered movie is what's important" but considering the sendup (and packaging) I would expect at least something more than just a disk and a sketch. I have seen movies with far less noteriety get more in their packaging than this.
Where the Savior of the Universe Edition improves upon the previous U.S. release significantly the Blu-Ray edition really stands out heads and tails above the rest. The visual difference is breathtaking. Details and textures come out that I have never seen before (and I was one of those kids who played the VHS of this film to death). Some scenes show so much clarity you would be hard pressed to think they were done recently. I think the sets that were done to be interiors stand out more for some reason so it's not really inconsistent mastering. The special effects problems that were very obvious in the SotU Edition are still there, but the matte blocks are far less noticeable with some cleaned up entirely. Audio is stand out amazing. Don't bother looking for any noticeable surround, but then again this movie was done in stereo. Now it's in crystal clear, deep and full stereo. No more 'thin' soundtrack.
The packaging for the Flash Gordon Blu-Ray is identical to any other single disk Blu-Ray you may find. That makes it a lot easier to fit in with the rest of your collection unlike the SatU Edition's oversized box. You still get nothing special as far as any booklets or liner notes. Also you no longer get the art insert from the previous release. So still nothing really special on that front.
Both the SotU Edition and the Blu-Ray release have identical features with just a little irrelevant extras added to the Blu-Ray What you get on both is two featurettes. One is from Alex Ross (the guy who painted the DVD cover) on how much he loves the movie. He actually does a really good job of making his featurette much like an analysis of the movie and would have worked great as narration for a documentary. Instead you just get Alex in a chair with a few movie clips thrown in here and there. The other featurette is called Writing a Classic by screenwriter Lorenzo Semple Jr.
The Blu-Ray exclusives are just BDLive and some annoying streaming ticker that will give you "news" from Universal Pictures. If your Blu-Ray player isn't connected online you may be able to spare yourself the latest in invasive advertising. The movie case promises exclusive content from the BDLive features, but none of it is related to Flash Gordon. Currently all you get are more promotional tidbits for other movies. You know what guys? This would be a great place to add those freakin' commentaries you keep leaving out.
I can't for the life of me figure out why they didn't just add the European edition commentaries to the Blu-Ray release and maybe add the new things to sweeten the pot. But to have a Blu-Ray missing some cool bonus material that's already out there? Not the smartest move in my book.
So which edition should you get? If you have a Blu-Ray player definitely the Blu-Ray edition. It is the best remaster visually and sonically by far of any edition, European or otherwise. If you REALLY want that Alex Ross pencil insert exclusive to the SotU Edition then you may have to make a choice or double dip. Unfortunately there is no definitive edition for Flash Gordon, but the current winner in at least presentation of the film is Blu-Ray.
The cast, first and foremost, is excellent. They work wonders with the material they're given... admittedly this isn't Shakespeare, but it plays remarkably well, with very few cringe-worthy moments. Standout performances include Max Von Sydow as the astoundingly evil Ming, Peter Wyngarde as the almost equally evil Klytus, Brian Blessed as the leader of the Hawkmen, and Topol(?) as an eccentric Dr. Zarkov. Then, of course, there's the absolutely stunning Ornelia Muti as Ming's beautiful daughter Aura... she's wonderful to look at, and has an exotic accent to boot. When I saw this film in the theater as a wee lad, I had quite the childhood crush on Miss Muti... sigh. Anyway, all of the actors seem to be having a grand time with their roles, and it definitely shows.
With all due respect to the actors, however, I really think it's the brilliant soundtrack that makes Flash Gordon stand out most in my mind. Queen, near the peak of their popularity, provided a wonderful, throbbing, highly eccentric collection of songs and instrumental bits that fit the film perfectly. I badgered my poor mother to buy me the 8-track, in fact, and then proceeded to play it at every opportunity... a very patient woman, my mother. She probably still hears "dumdumdumdumdumdumDUMDUM **FLASH!!** ah-AHH!..." in her sleep. Sorry, mom.
The special effects are actually still pretty impressive, as well... bear in mind, however, that I have a soft spot for 1980's effects. I really miss the days when the answer to "How'd they do that?" wasn't always "With computers." There's a certain mystery to these old effects, and I always respect the effort and creativity that went into making things happen with such limited technology. Sigh... Still, the film is very,very colorful, and there are a LOT of costumes, backgrounds, etc. Everything has a very shiny, surreal sort of look to it, in stark contrast to the realistic, worn-out look of the Star Wars films. It's pretty neat in its own way.
In the end, though, Flash Gordon is just plain entertaining. There's hardly ever a dull moment, and the film's almost 2 hour running time goes by in a flash (pun fully intended, with all apologies to the reader). You get a lot of action in those 2 hours... there are laser battles, lots of starships, hand to hand combat on a floating spike disk(?), catfights (in a harem, no less), flame-throwing rings, dominatrix henchladies, evil Space People, a surprising amount of implied sexuality, and the list goes on and on. Just put it in, turn off your brain, and for God's sake HAVE FUN!
On a side note, I have to say that the DVD release is a bit disappointing. The five star rating is strictly for the film itself, not for the disc. Although the video and audio quality is fine (easily the best version currently available), there is absolutely nothing in the way of extras. Zip. Zilch. Nada. Not even a trailer, for crying out loud. Here's hoping that someone, perhaps Anchor Bay (king of the cult classic), will have the good sense to release a Special Edition. I would love to see outtakes, trailers, making of bios, commentary, etc. This film certainly deserves better treatment than it's given here.
Still, this DVD is currently the best edition of Flash Gordon you're going to find (and it's WIDESCREEN!). Plus, it can be picked up pretty cheaply, if you can actually find it. I wholeheartedly recommend that you search it out, watch it over and over, and then join me in waiting patiently for a collector's edition to come along. Even with its shortcomings, Flash Gordon on DVD most definitely deserves a spot in your collection. Just file it under "Guilty Pleasures." :)
The production design on FLASH GORDON is colorful and bold. Everything is bright and shiny (including the lycra hot pants on Princess Aura!). The sets are HUGE (example: The Hawk Men's floating fortress). I am particularly fond of the Arboria sets -- nice and woodsey!
I think the performances from the actors fit the tone of the film. Melody Anderson as Dale is the best. "Go, Flash, go!" is a hilarious scene. Sam Jones is sufficiently hunky and athletic as Flash. And the Brits add a dash of class and fun (Timothy Dalton and Brian Blessed). Ornella Muti as Princess Aura has the best role: she changes from vixen to heroine and gets to vamp around in colorful, sexy costumes.
The rocket ships and sky effects are my favorite part of the film as well. There's something exciting about seeing FLASH GORDON rocket ships flying through the air.
The DVD quality is OK. I think the picture transfer could have been better -- I know this film has a lot of blue screen work, but surely it's not THAT grainy! And I wish there were more extras -- just a chapter index.
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