BluRay/DVD Reviews

FLASH GORDON CONQUERS THE UNIVERSE

By • Aug 27th, 2002 •

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Delta Music Plc. (In the US by Image Entertainment), 1940

A long time ago in a Hollywood far, far away, a great adventure took place…

The heroic theme music strikes up, the chapter number and the ‘story so far’ prologue scroll up the screen and into the distance, and we are thrust into a new adventure where our hero and his companion, now disguised as Imperial Guards, having entered the stronghold of their enemy by spaceship, are about to rescue the beautiful Princess from his evil clutches! Elsewhere in the complex our hero’s elderly mentor, dressed in his hooded wizard-like robes, also works to thwart the villain’s dastardly plans…

Sound familiar?

Yes. Of course it does, for this is FLASH GORDON CONQUERS THE UNIVERSE (actually clunkily titled in all the opening credits as FLASH GORDON SPACE SOLDIERS CONQUER THE UNIVERSE) and is, of course, along with FLASH GORDON (’36) and FLASH GORDON’S TRIP TO MARS (’38), the inspiration for Mr. Lucas’s other famous space opera, the name of which escapes me for the moment. We even have Imperial Spaceships bombarding our heroes on an Ice Planet (imaginatively called ‘Frigia’) and a battle on a Forest Moon (‘Arboria’ – Wow! Who dreams up all this stuff?), where friendly Prince Barin and his ‘Merry Men’ are bow and arrow wielding precursors to the Ewoks of Endor. There are many other elements too that eventually made their way into George’s epic saga, but you’ll have to watch it to see how many you can spot.

The acting is dreadful, the costumes ridiculous, the ‘special effects’ laughable and the plot (using the term very loosely) has holes in it big enough to fly an Imperial Battle Cruiser through – but enough about STAR WARS (ah, that was it!). Seriously though, FLASH GORDON may be ropey but I challenge anyone to fault their enthusiasm and the whole is weirdly compelling and great fun.

Shamelessly grabbing any spare backlot sets, props, sound effects and costumes available, a trend the much later STAR TREK original series, and others, continued, we are treated to such sights as Imperial officer’s uniforms that appear to have been delivered by mail order direct from Ruritania; Prince Barin’s ‘treemen’ clad in medieval castellated Lincoln Green (we assume) skirts and tights straight out of THE ADVENTURES OF ROBIN HOOD (’38), and backstreets of Mongo that could have equally been trod, and no doubt were, by both Errol Flynn and Frankenstein’s Monster. Even the music is stock, the most noticeable being Franz Waxman’s ‘Birth of the Bride’ from his score to BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN (’35), which is plundered repeatedly. Fin-accessorised bullet shaped spaceships buzz around (again to a FRANKENSTEIN laboratory’s electrical hum) with sparks falling downwards and smoke drifting up (an amazing thing the vacuum of space), and, no matter the destination, they always land, spirally, in the same scenic valley.

All ‘dynamic’ twelve chapters are presented in this boxed set with irresistible titles like ‘The Purple Death’, ‘The Palace of Terror’, ‘Freezing Torture’, ‘The Destroying Ray’ and ‘Walking Bombs’ (these particularly are a hoot), complete with the necessary cliff-hanger endings and opening and closing credits for each, but sadly, and a bad oversight, there are no special features. I know that perhaps this is difficult given the age of the material, but some accompanying old movie newsreels, as on the DVD release of THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL, might have put it into some kind of historical perspective.

In this age of CGI effects where anything is possible, it’s nice to look back and see where it all began, and I’ve no doubt that in 1940 it was equally as enthralling as any SFX blockbuster claims to be today.

Get some beers in, some friends around and have some fun as FLASH GORDON CONQUERS THE UNIVERSE!

Trivia Note: Although FGCTU was Buster Crabbe’s final appearance as Flash in the old Universal serials, he did make one final cameo appearance as the character in Season One of the 1979 TV series BUCK ROGERS IN THE 25TH CENTURY which starred Gil Gerard as Buck, a character Crabbe had also played 40 years earlier in 1939. In the two-part episode ‘Planet of the Slave Girls’ (a typical old Gordon/Rogers chapter title in itself) Crabbe appeared as ‘Brigadier Gordon’, a former space fighter pilot called out of retirement, and there’s a pointed piece of dialogue toward the end of the episode where the new Buck (Gerard) is, in fact, talking to the old (Crabbe):

Buck: That’s pretty good shooting.
Gordon: Son, I’ve been doing this since before you were born.
Buck (the character of course thinking he was born five centuries earlier): You think so?
Gordon: Colonel, I know so.

Only four years later Clarence Linden ‘Buster’ Crabbe had passed away, making this a nice and timely touch in an otherwise unmemorable series.


Cast:
Directed by Ford Beebe & Roy Taylor
Produced by Henry MacRae

Cast:
Flash Gordon – Larry ‘Buster’ Crabbe
Dale Arden – Carol Hughes
Emperor Ming – Charles Middleton
Dr. Zarkov – Frank Shannon

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