Scientists have worked tirelessly since the invention of Blu-ray looking for a way to capture the essence of Chuck Norris onto a high-definition disc. No matter how hard they tried though his fists, jaw and body hair refused to be contained long enough for the transfer to take. But finally, in the year of our Lord 2012, six years after the format’s debut… they’ve succeeded.
Seven of Chuck Norris’ classics are now available in HD.
The Octagon (1980) was always one of my favorite Chuck Norris movies growing up, and that’s probably because it’s filled with ninjas. My Saturday afternoons often included airings of martial arts movies, both international and domestic. Anyone who did the same knows the former were always far more entertaining than the homegrown variety. Which is why Norris’ films, and this one in particular, hold such fond memories.
Scott James (Norris) is an ex-martial arts champion with memories of intense physical training he received as a young boy alongside his slightly more Asian step brother, but he’s also haunted by the death of a friend at the hands of ninja terrorists. (But aren’t we all?) When he gets word that a terrorist training camp is operating south of the border and that they’re dispatching modern day ninjas out into the world he’s forced into action.
“I like the way you incorporated the martial arts into your dance tonight.”
James is a complicated man, and that fact is nowhere more evident than in the conversations he has with himself. Not only does he whisper to himself while staring into the air around him, but he does it with a reverb. Is he worried about messing someone up with his inner thoughts? Before we can ponder this mystery any longer we’re introduced to a truckload of international terror recruits looking like Benetton ad of hobos arriving at the titular geometric shape for training. They’ve come from the Middle East, the IRA and the Bronx to become ninjas.
An assassination in Europe causes a ripple effect back in Los Angeles, and James finds his way smack in the middle of it all. He escorts a woman home after a date, but as he enters her house he senses something is amiss. A few minutes of brawling later and James sees the carnage of the dead woman and her family. “Oh my god,” he reverb-whispers to himself. “Ninja. It has to be. But they don’t exist anymore.”
Or do they?!?
Anyway, next thing you know James is at war with an army of woefully inept ninjas. He tries to avoid the conflict, but when his good friend AJ (Art Hindle) rushes out to be a hero in his place James realizes it’s time to enter the Octagon. Lee Van Cleef is also on hand as the head of an elite-ish anti-terrorism squad. He’s not integral to the plot, but he’s Lee Van Frickin Cleef.
The Octagon is a goofy ass movie. Plainly visible ninjas hide in trees and are defeated with single punches or kicks to the head. Supposedly tough bad guys say things like “proof in the pudding.” We’re told about the awe-inspiring path toward ninja-hood and how they have years of training with a bow before they even get to touch an arrow… but then we see the opening hobos graduate in a few weeks.
And there’s an agenda on display attempting to take advantage of real world politics but failing. The word ’terrorist’ is tossed around repeatedly, but it never really gibes with ninjas no matter how hard the movie tries. It doesn’t help that these ninjas are one pie in the face away from slapstick in their incompetence.
It’s not all ridiculous though thanks in part to the presence of a masked and mute (aside from the occasional hiss) master ninja named Kyo (Richard Norton) who serves as the main villain’s masked enforcer. Norton’s a solid martial artist, and he shows off some serious skills. It’s also fun playing ‘spot the Norris’ as both Chuck’s brother (Aaron) and son (Michael) make appearances.
And now, the only stats that matter:
- Chuck beats up – 21 bad guys!
- Chuck kills – 11 bad guys!
- Chuck gets shirtless at the – 59:22 mark!
As with Optimum’s other Norris release, A Force Of One, the image here is pretty good. It’s no reference disc, but it looks far better than previous DVD incarnation. The special features include:
- How ‘American Cinema’ Changed Hollywood Forever (27:58) – The exact same doc that’s on the A Force Of One Blu-ray! Weak.
- Making Of (39:28) – Director Eric Karson introduces us to pretty much the entire crew, cast and character list in this informative featurette about the film’s production. Seriously, he talks about everyone from the producer to the editor to the costume designer before moving on to characters big and small. He also thinks his movie is a far more sobering look at terrorism than it actually is. One of the highlights here is the presence of Richard Norton who offers up some fun and interesting anecdotes including John Belushi’s acting advice to him on nut-shots.
- Trailer and TV Spot
- Director’s Commentary
The Octagon that I watched and loved as a kid really only exists in my head. It’s a fun, goofy film to be sure, but it’s not quite the action classic I recalled. Some of its entertainment value is of the unintentional variety, but other parts like the end fight with the masked Kyo serve as highlights to Norris’ career. He’s made far better films (and far worse), but this one remains worth watching thanks to the abundance of laughs, action and ninjas. And whispers…
Buy The Octagon on region-free Blu-ray from AmazonUK