DVD Review: Norwegian Ninja

Hi all…

First, let me say that I usually love parody and films that are over the top. When I saw Dead Snow last year, I was overjoyed. Nazis and zombies in the snow seemed a perfect fit, and Norweigian director Tommy Wirkola treated that combination with the humor it so richly deserved.

So when I saw a press release for Norwegian Ninja from the producers of Dead Snow, I hoped it might have the same energy and humor of the Nazi zombie movie. I was very wrong. And I won’t say that it was a bad film, because it wasn’t. It just wasn’t at all what I expected.

Norwegian Ninja promotional shot, showing Jon ...
Image via Wikipedia

In 1984, Arne Treholt – a high-ranking Norwegian diplomat – was tried and convicted as a spy for the Soviet Union. This much appears to be true. Norwegian Ninja takes this premise and explores a bizarre “What if?” scenario that shows Treholt as a hero, not a traitor. And in this bizarre alternate universe he was the leader of a secret group of ninjas working for Norway’s King Olav. And to top it all off, there’s a secret CIA-led group running around the world performing terrorist acts and blaming them on the Soviets to encourage the eventual destruction of the USSR.

Though I found certain scenes funny, I’m honestly not sure how much of the film is meant to be amusing. Some parts hit me in the vein of the James Bond film The Spy Who Loved Me while others hit me like the old action movies of the 1970s like Death Wish with Charles Bronson. The use of ninja abilities (like appearing and disappearing in a cloud of smoke), feng shui (as a magical shield to keep unwanted visitors from their island) and enlightenment (shown by an absurd inner light glowing from the person’s head) were mixed with eastern philosophy, explosives, and a bizarre ideological battle between hidden para-military operations…

As icing on this strange cake, the whole film is tinted to make it look like it was made in the 1970s or 1980s, with the early washed out colors in every scene. There were multiple scenes that used obvious models (for the ninja island and their mountain hideaway), which might have been meant in homage to those 1970s action films but I just found them obvious and a bit jarring.

I can’t say I really enjoyed the film as a whole all that much, but I did enjoy certain scenes. The use of kite-suits as two ninja apprentices battled while climbing majestic mountains to gain the right to the title of “ninja” was amazing. Other than the scenes from Transformers: Dark of the Moon where squadrons of soldiers glided out of the sky, I’d not seen these suits used anywhere. But it was fun to see the final scenes in Norwegian Ninja as well as the raw footage in the extras to get a sense of the speed they were traveling at and how close they were to rugged mountain cliffs.

Included along with the film on the DVD are many special features. The three deleted scenes were definitely unnecessary and a bit verbose in spots, so I could see why they were cut. The bonus scenes include quite a bit of extra footage that didn’t make it into the film, including the kite-suits and footage of the explosions done. I actually preferred the clean footage to the tinted footage used in the film for most of these. Also included are six featurettes, featuring interviews with actor Mads Ousal (who plays Arne Treholt in the film), writer-director Thomas Capplen Malling, and producer Eric Vogel.

I anticipate that Norwegian Ninjas will become a cult classic to some people, especially if those folks like bizarre alternate histories. Perhaps if the writer-director Thomas Cappelen Malling had added a bit more obvious humor it would have stuck, but this film didn’t do anything for me. Maybe next time.

Instead, I recommend you take another look at Dead Snow. 🙂

This article first appeared on BlogCritics.org here.

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DVD Review: Dead Snow

Hi all!

It’s not a secret. I like zombies. Maybe not if one tried to gnaw on me like a piece of fried chicken, but I like stories about zombies whether they’re on TV, in print, or on the big screen. So when I heard about Dead Snow last year after Sundance, I knew it had to go on my “To See” list. It finally comes to DVD on February 23, 2010 and I got a sneak peek!

What’s it about? Take one part traditional horror plot with teenagers or 20-somethings, add a vacation cabin in the Norweigian Alps, and… Nazi zombies? Really!? Yes, Nazi zombies. And these guys aren’t messing around…

As the movie starts, we see a girl running through the trees and snow being chased by something or several somethings. It’s not clear what the “somethings” are, but you know they can’t be good. The music used for the opening sequence was an inspired choice and I only wish I knew what it was, but I can’t seem to find the soundtrack anywhere. We’re then introduced to the
beautiful people – four guys and three girls – heading up into the Alps for some skiing, snowmobiling, and fun. And yes, there’s a girl missing – one of the guys’ girlfriends was meeting them up there.

Everything is happy and cheerful until the obligatory weird local guy comes to the door in the middle of the night one night and regales them with stories of the Nazis and locals who had clashed 60 years before. During World War II, a Nazi company occupying the area were driven deep into the mountains and presumed to have frozen to death. He even has the gall to complain about the coffee he’s given as a guest. Once he leaves, everything gets rolling pretty quickly.

Honestly, I think this zombie movie has everything I could have wanted in a horror movie. Cute girls, humor, a bit of T&A, and zombies with a lot of personality. It even includes a zombie attack in the outhouse. Not only is it a gory, bloody mess, but it pays homage to some of the great horror movies of the past, including two of my favorites – Evil Dead and Evil Dead 2. When I saw the chainsaw come out of the shed, I burst out laughing.

Let’s talk about the zombies a bit. These aren’t your usual slow, brainless variety. For 60+ year old zombies, these guys are darn fast. The makeup artist did an amazing job providing unique faces for each zombie and I felt like each zombie actor provided a bit of personality to their characters which was awesome.

If you’re not into blood and guts, I would recommend staying away from Dead Snow. But I was constantly amazed at the variety of ways that zombies and campers could be killed or mutilated. Until this movie, I have never seen a man’s head get ripped apart. In one scene, they actually had a girl awake as a group of zombies pulled out her intestines. Fake blood was used aplenty in this film, liberally splattered across the landscape and the actors.

Also, I have to say that the subtitles didn’t detract from the film at all for me. Usually the actors weren’t talking during the fiercest action scenes, so you weren’t constantly bobbing your head up and down as you tried to keep track of what they were saying and what was happening on screen.

In my new order of zombie favorites, I’ll have to put Dead Snow in my top 5, along with Shaun of the Dead, Zombieland, Resident Evil, and Army of Darkness. Be sure to check it out at your favorite retailer or rental store when it hit shelves February 23!

–Fitz

p.s. Pick up these monsters at Amazon!

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