Norwegian Ninja DVD Review
Written and Directed by Thomas Cappelen Malling
2010, Region 2 (PAL), 77 minutes, Rated 15 (UK)
DVD released on 18th April 2010
Mads Ousdal as Kommandør Arne Treholt
Jon Øigarden as Otto Meyer
Trond-Viggo Torgersen as Kong Olav V
Linn Stokke as Ragnhild Umbraco
Amund Maarud as Humla
Martinus Grimstad Olsen as Svarte-Per
Øyvind Kjeksrud as Øystein Fjellberg
Henrik Horge as Kusken
Dean Erik Andersen as Kjettingen
Kristoffer Jørgensen as Tromsø
If someone tried to sell you an espionage story, based on the trial and conviction of a Norwegian politician during the Cold War, you’d probably yawn and think it would be a pretty dull story. And you’d be right. But filter that story through the mind of a 12 year-old, whose principle obsessions are Star Wars, ninja movies, computer games and his dad’s spy novels, and the result is an altogether different animal; Norwegian Ninja.
Writer and director Thomas Cappelen Malling obviously had a vivid imagination back when he was twelve. Politician Arne Treholt was sentenced to 20 years in prison in the mid-80s, punishment for his conviction of high treason and espionage on behalf of the Soviet Union and Iraq. Cappelen Malling, now in his 40s, has weaved a layer of childhood fantasy through an otherwise mundane story to create a bizarre world where the very real Arne Treholt wasn’t a traitor to his country, he was head of the very imaginary Ninja Force, tasked to protect Norway by King Olaf V. The ninja live on a remote island off the Norwegian mainland, where they live a simple existence as farmers. When anything threatens to derail the Norwegian way of life, King Olaf springs the team into action and they put things right.
Their rival is a shadowy organisation linked to the CIA and funded by NATO, known as “Stay Behind”. A sinister plot is uncovered that sees Stay Behind trying to effect a plot that would give overall control of the country to the USA and Treholt’s Ninja Force must leap into action to prevent it.
Norwegian Ninja is an adaptation of Cappelen Malling’s 2006 book Ninjateknikk II. Usynlighet i strid 1978 (Ninja Technique II: Invisibility in combat 1978), which was presented as a secret military manual written by Arne Treholt. He has no prior movie industry experience, yet the Norwegian Film Institute backed him with almost $2 million to make his first feature. And it has paid off.
There definitely won’t be much for the fairer sex to enjoy in this movie, but any male who had a boyhood interest in action figures and creating imaginary worlds based around what they thought was cool will love this. Secret ninja force that protects its camp with a feng shui shield? Check (We’ll gloss over the fact that feng shui is Chinese and ninja are Japanese). Smoke bombs that mask the arrival and departure of Treholt? Check. Rival evil organisation that has invisibility suits? Check. Ninja in flying rocket cars? Check. Car-boats? Check. Underwater jet-bikes? Check.
There’s an almost Ed Wood-ian approach to special effects, with scale models being obviously so and explosions being little more than a splutter of flames from unmistakable mini-diorama. To see rocket cars take off with strings attached and have the filmmakers make no attempt to hide them is both nostalgic and endearing. Forget your CGI, unless you want to count the numerous Commodore-64 generated screens that appear across various scenes. I’m not really sure if any real CGI was used in the film, if it was, it was well-hidden behind the funky retro.
When you see some of the crud that is churned out in the name of ‘bad movies that are good’, it’s refreshing to see a film that doesn’t use hokey special effects as a hook, rather as an accurate representation of movies made at the time. Although I can’t help wondering if Cappelen Malling is a one-trick pony, somehow this preposterous, boys-own adventure nonsense works and provides a perfect antidote to the remake-fuelled, idea-recycling Hollywood machine. It’s only a matter of time before they make this into American Ninja. Although they used that title already, so maybe it’s a reboot.
Video and Audio:
Not graded as this was a screener, although if the DVD presentation is accurate to the version reviewed here, then the audio and video fit the film perfectly.
A massive haul of extras to accompany the film including: Oddities and Bloopers, Home Alone With Otto, Interviews plus Fight Choreography, Music Video, Skycar and Torpedo featurettes; Bonus Scenes (Action Figures, Life On A Grassy Island, Wingsuits, Pyrotechnics).
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