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.
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 battle 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 glide 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 with DVD are many special features. The three deleted scenes are 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, including 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.