Science-fiction cinema had a pretty rollercoaster year in 1980. On the one hand, there were future classics like The Empire Strikes Back, Altered States and Superman II. And there was also forgettable trash like Galaxina and The Final Countdown.
And then there was Flash Gordon.
As a 15 year old, I had high hopes for this movie. I used to enjoy the old black and white Buster Crabbe serials that they ran on TV during school holidays. Starlog magazine ran some production art and photos that kept my interest up. However, after finally seeing it at our local ABC, I stomped out of the cinema hating it - bad acting, clumsy script, rotten special effects. In the year of The Empire Strikes Back, this was unforgiveable. Ironically, George Lucas had originally wanted to make his own Flash Gordon movie back in the '70s but he couldn't get the rights So he went and wrote Star Wars instead. Just think - if he had been been granted the right to make a Flash movie, they'd have been no Luke Skywalker, no Han Solo...but on the upside, no Jar-Jar. Time, though, has a funny way of changing your opinion. Over the years, I've actually grown quite affectionate about Flash Gordon. The very worst things about it still remain the same - Sam J Jones is unforgiveably wooden as the title character and whilst Melody Anderson looks great, she simply can't act to save her life. However, I do now realise there are several redeeming features. The garish costumes and Art Deco-influenced set design by Danilo Donati are simply astonishing. Max Von Sydow is perfectly cast as Ming The Merciless, brilliantly supported by a silky-voiced Peter Wyngarde as his sadistic henchman Klytus. Future 007 Timothy Dalton is great as Prince Barin, playing it dead straight against the enjoyably over-the-top pantomime of Brian Blessed's Prince Vultan. The setpiece duel, with Flash and Barin duking it out with whips on a bucking platform, complete with razor-sharp stakes, is terrific. And the Queen soundtrack, even with its dated synth sound, is still surprisingly effective.
To celebrate 30 years since its release, Optimum Home Entertainment has just released the film in the UK on Blu-ray. This high-definition version looks sensational, with a pin-sharp transfer finally doing justice to the elaborate, exotic sets, with the colours popping off the screen. Extras are unfortunately thin on the ground - just a short introduction an rueful film commentary by its director, Mike Hodges. Hodges does go some way to explain how the film ended up as it did - he took over late in the day from original director Nic Roeg and admits to essentially improvising most of the film as they went along. The film flopped badly everywhere on its release (except in the UK) and this probably explains why there's been no interest in spending money on a retrospective documentary.
Diehard fans of the film should note that there's a limited edition Steelbook of the Blu-ray, which comes with a CD of the Queen soundtrack.