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March 1, 2013

Movie Review: The Octagon (1980, Blu-ray)

Review By: Rob Sibley

Note: This Blu-ray is region B locked, you will need an all region player to view this.

Chuck Norris is a legend of action cinema and maybe action movies biggest joke. Go online and you can find thousands upon thousands of “Chuck Norris facts” that all are indeed quite funny. The humor is even acknowledged in Chuck's brief appearance in Expendables II. But let's face the facts, Chuck was never much of an actor. He's one helluva martial artist, the real deal. So that makes up for his lack of acting chops. But you don't watch a Chuck Norris movie for his thespian skills, you watch one for all the ass kickery that is going to be contained in the films 90 minute run time.

The plot itself is rather convoluted and headache inducing at times. Norris plays Scott James a man haunted by memories and flashbacks during both his waking and sleeping hours. The first is a childhood memory relating to his intense ninja training as a child. The second is a recollection of loss, one that has turned Scott away from his former life. But a wealthy heiress (is there any other kind?) convinces him to enter the fray once more. Scott finds himself dragged into an international terrorist group “The Octagon” consisting of ninjas (always a good thing) and a not so friendly face from Chuck's past.

Produced by American Cinema productions, who were responsible for Chucks two previous flicks. The fun “Good Guys Wear Black” and the awesome “A Force of One”. Both films were hugely successful for A.C.P. So they decided to make “The Octagon”. This time giving the filmmakers a bigger budget to work with. It was the biggest budgeted of the three films.

Directed with a steady hand by Eric Karson who later went on to direct three equally entertaining and equally cheesy action flicks. The sleazy action flick “Hell Camp” with Tom Skerritt, “Black Eagle” with a very young Van Damme and the one and only Shô Kosugi. Last but not least was 1990's “Angel Town” an underrated gritty action/drama starring world kick boxing champion Olivier Gruner.

While none of the films are classics they do have the common thread of well choreographed action. So kudos to Karson for that, he was lucky enough to work with Norris on The Octagon in 1980 when Chuck was still in his prime.

The plot is laughable is but not to Karson. Who on the making of and commentary explains “It's about terrorism and terrorists and the various points of view of how to deal with it, what to do with it and why people get in it?” Really, I thought it was about Norris and Lee Van Cleef kicking some ninja ass?

Despite my quibbles with the plot, the action does deliver. Not once during the film did I notice Norris using a stunt double. Norris is kicking ass left, right and center. It takes a little while to build, they do focus on the silly plot a bit too much. But once we reach the half hour mark the action kicks into high gear. We get to see Norris kick, shoot, punch and stab ninja's in various ways. Especially satisfying is the films final fight between Norris and Richard Norton.

The supporting cast really helps the film. Especially the casting of Lee Van Cleef who brings some much needed class and acting chops to this picture. Also be on a look out for genre fav Art Hindle (Black Christmas). Even the great Ernie Hudson (Ghost Busters) pops up for a little bit.

The score by Dick Halligan is really superb as well. It brings a grand sense of atmosphere and almost a surreal like quality to the picture. Halligan would later score Abel Ferrara's underrated classic Fear City.

Anchor Bay UK brings “The Octagon” to Blu-ray for the first time and the results are outstanding. Having seen AB UK's release of Chuck's previous film “A Force of One” I was worried that the transfer was going to contain some of the same issues. Luckily this wasn't the case with this release. The full 1080P 1.78:1 widescreen transfer is very pleasing to the eye. No edge enhancement or DNR was noticed. Contrast is perfect and skin tones look spot on, fine detail on close ups are very good. An excellent transfer.

For audio you get two choices between a DTS-HD 5.1 Master or the 2.0 track. The 5.1. track is excellent, every kick, punch and gunshot can be heard with perfect clarity and and a nice pop.

Extras are pretty impressive in quantity. First up is a commentary track with director Eric Karson. It's a bit dry and Karson has a tendency to narrate what's going on. Sadly this commentary isn't as good as Paul Aaron's was for Force Of One.

Next up is the documentary “How America Changed Hollywood Forever”. It's a solid look into American Cinema Productions. Mainly a talking head piece with clips littered throughout. This doc was carried over from the original Trinity Home Entertainment DVD release of the film.

Much more interesting is the documentary “The Making of The Octagon”. Which features interviews with virtually everyone involved... except for Norris? Everything you'd want to know and more is covered in this 30 minute or so documentary. Norris's absence is felt though but I've never seen him do that many interviews for his past films.

Lastly were treated to an HD trailer for the film, along with a radio spot.

“The Octagon” isn't a forgotten classic but it's a fun Norris flick with some kick ass action. RECOMMENDED .

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