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Flash Gordon (Blu-ray Review)

14 Jun, 2010 By: Mike Clark

Street 6/15/10
$26.98 Blu-ray
Rated ‘PG.’
Stars Sam J. Jones, Melody Anderson, Max Von Sydow, Timothy Dalton.

Danilo Donati wasn’t Federico Fellini’s costume designer for nothing (not Pier Paolo Pasolini’s as well), and his duds for this onetime year-end holiday release look as if someone said, “Let’s doll up and have the damndest night at Studio 54 that anyone has ever seen.”    

This is a compliment and one reason why this good-looking lark remains a guilty pleasure for me — even though more than one person over the years has said that no one ever went to see a movie because of its sets and costumes (a statement with which I firmly disagree). What else are they going to see Flash Gordon for — lead Sam J. Jones’ title performance, whose voicings were dubbed by someone else?

Cast as a New York Jets quarterback who ends up on the planet Mongo — and why not? — Jones is one of the reasons Flash Gordon might have a greater reputation were it a silent movie. This assertion doesn’t say a whole lot for onetime TV “Batman” scribe Lorenzo Semple Jr.’s script, either, which is much less funny than the always-witty production design. Though Semple is kind of funny when being profiled on a bonus featurette (like the rest, it’s carried over from Universal’s 2007 “Saviour of the Universe” DVD edition that replaced a terrible 1998 version) where he gently puts down Flash Gordon’s status as a cult movie. This just means, he says, that people weren’t too wild about it in the first place.

Better are Melody Anderson’s good-sport presence as Flash sidekick Dale Arden (the kind of woman mom would like) — and, as Mongo’s messed-up Princess Aura, the era’s screen queen of non-pornographic Eurosex: Ornella Muti. (Dad would like her.) One senses that despite her flair for “selling” tight-fitting clothes, Aura will never be able to find the right fella with whom to settle down — and certainly she’s a handful for a father (Max Von Sydow’s Emperor Ming) who’s preoccupied with imperiling Earth by knocking its moon out its orbit. Which is why Flash and Dale and unstable scientist Dr. Zarkoff (Topol) have blasted off to Mongo in the first place.

Scenes with Flash immersed in liquid yuck and muck are fun, and there’s some whip-play involving a prince (then-future James Bond Tmothy Dalton) that pre-dated Indiana Jones’s by about six months. Best of all — or at least as beneficial as the movie’s look — is the kinetic score by Queen that gets the movie off to such a great launch that it delays our picking up on the fact that no one here can make the dialogue sound better than it is (Von Sydow perhaps excepted).

But as a massage on the senses, this one has its moments, and the Flash Gordon Blu-ray is among the most satisfying of the recent crop — basically just a format upgrade from the 2007 “Saviour” DVD but a better BD job than Universal did with Spartacus and Out of Africa.

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