The Octagon Blu-ray & DVD

Sunday, 05 August 2012 00:00 Written by 

 

The Octagon - out now on Blu-ray and DVDAfter Chuck Norris’ success in “A Force of One”, the American Cinema Group decided to take risks with “The Octagon”. The budget and scope were dialled up to create a much more ambitious vehicle for the karate king. Scott James (Norris) gets entangled in an epic battle against the titular organisation that operates a ‘no questions asked’ ninja training base for terrorists and mercenaries.

Co-star Karen Carlson (“The Candidate”, Dallas) is a scheming publishing heir who is being blackmailed by The Octagon. Lee Van Cleef (“The Good, The Bad and The Ugly”, “Escape from New York”) is McCarn, a grizzled mercenary associate of Scott’s, and Tadashi Tamashita (“American Ninja”) plays Seikura, the renegade head of the terrorist organisation and coincidentally a man Scott used to consider his brother.

If you are a fan of ninja films then – quantitatively at least – “The Octagon” might tickle your fancy. The fabled stealth-killers crop up in most of the action scenes, jumping out of the shadows, scaling vertical walls and startling their prey like trapdoor spiders from concealed pits in the ground. They start out in groups of three or four but by the end, when their base is under attack, they form an army of fleet-footed warriors.

Despite their intensive, punishing training regime, these ninjas are sadly found wanting when they come up against Chuck Norris. Once or twice they score with a sneaky punch or kick, but most of the time he, as Scott, flaws them with a couple of blows, despite being heavily outnumbered. To me this seriously devalues and demystifies the ninja, and is part of the reason I did not find this movie very exciting.

Things do start promisingly enough when, in a shocking sequence, our hero is outwitted by his shady opponents and loses someone in the process. After that, however, the audience is never really concerned for Scott’s safety, and any semblance of tension slowly ebbs away.

The acting and dialog are pretty ropey, too. Norris cannot match his role in “A Force of One”, and his one-dimensional character imposes inescapable restrictions on his performance. Carlson is admittedly okay, but Van Cleef chews the scenery to bits without capturing the same sly, subtle and menacing aura he is fondly remembered for in the aforementioned classics.

The fight scenes are competent enough but they feel too staged and lack a flowing rhythm. You can almost sense the actors waiting in line for their moment to walk up to Scott and get a pummelling. As is often the case in kung fu movies, the baddies surround the hero but do not take advantage of the situation, comically opting instead to attack him one at a time. The action is also too irregular to keep the film moving along at a satisfactory pace, with most of it lumped towards the end.

The final nail in the coffin is the ‘Echoplex’ inner monologue gimmick utilised by director Eric Carson (“Black Eagle”). We learn of Scott’s rather obvious thoughts by hearing them aloud, through the medium of a whispery echo. The first couple of times it crops up I was prepared to let it go because it just about suited the scene. Half a dozen times later and I was getting quite annoyed. ‘Tedious’ is the best way I can describe it.

At the end of the day we are left with a fairly ambitious independent film that fails to captivate or capitalise on its ninja theme, and unfortunately verges on boring for long stretches. Go for partner release “A Force of One” instead if you need a quality Chuck Norris fix. Even the mighty Chuck cannot win them all, I guess!

Special features included in both versions are:

  • Making Of Featurette
  • How America Changed Hollywood Forever
  • Trailer
  • TV Spot
  • Director’s Commentary

The ‘How America’ featurette is the same content that is included with “A Force of One”, so if you happen to pick up both releases, you do not need to watch it twice. This movie’s making-of is more substantial, and the makers throw in plenty of interesting and occasionally funny or alarming anecdotes.

For instance, there’s the time Norris accidentally almost drowned an extra, and the fact that Richard Norton (“City Hunter” and the forthcoming “Mad Max: Fury Road”) played the mysterious, masked henchman Kyo (as well as another role), and that the other actors were so taken by the character’s powerful aura that they backed away whenever he approached them!

The picture quality in the Blu-ray version reviewed is commendable, bringing out good detail even in the many night scenes.

“The Octagon” (1980) is out now, courtesy of Anchor Bay Entertainment. The main feature has a running time of 103 minutes approx, carries a ‘15’ certificate and retails for £9.99 on DVD, £12.99 on Blu-ray, or less from www.culttvstore.com

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