The Ninja Trilogy Blu-ray Review
There is no denying that Ninjas have a certain mystique
Ninja Trilogy Review
My friend, a ninja doesn't kill. He eliminates and only for defensive purposes.
These films night beg to differ...The Eighties was the decade of the Ninja; a wholly bastardised version of the term/actual art that nevertheless brought about a love and affection for the Martial Arts and a whole slew of violent films capitalising on their success. The movie that is credited with starting off the craze (though not actually the first film released to feature them) was the first in this newly released Special Edition Box Set from Eureka Enter the Ninja. A rather pedestrian piece that showcases all things ‘Ninja’ in a mash-up of ideas about a war buddies joining forces to overthrow a ruthless industrialist terrorising landowners in the Philippines. It’s over-the-top, violent, gory and daft but it ushered in a new phenomenon – the Ninja was never in the shadows again!There were two direct sequels (as well as many cash-in’s, including Cannon’s own American Ninja series) both are in this set: Revenge of the Ninja and Ninja III: The Domination, the former telling the familiar story of a murdered family, a new start and the inevitable betrayal and climatic showdown, while the latter tries something a little different with an aerobics instructor/telephone repair woman being possessed by an evil Ninja’s spirit gaining revenge from beyond the grave. Of the three, the second film is by far the most accomplished and successful (probably director Sam Firstenber’s inexperience leading to a ‘happy accident) while the first is daft and the last is nonsense; at least their legacy is assured by bringing them together in this HD set.
The films are mastered in 1080p in their original aspect ratios - 1.85:1 for Enter and Revenge and 1.78:1 for Domination, and all are Region B.
Enter the Ninja
Looks like little to no re-mastering or clean-up has gone into this title as there is myriad of print damage throughout. The detail is rather poor with normal highlights of skin texture and clothing weaves being masked by softness and grain; however it was good enough to notice Susan George never wearing a bra throughout the film! The image is bright though, with good attention to the colour pallet, reds are nice and vivid, showing off the gore to a tee, while the rich landscapes of the Philippines look suitably lush. Brightness and contrast are set to give reasonable black levels, but there is seldom any punch or depth to the picture; the whole ensemble is father flat and soft, with the damage and grain giving little life at all. However no digital artefacts or edge enhancement are a plus, resulting in a passable 5 for this title.
Revenge of the Ninja
Things look up for this feature which is well detailed and bright. Skin texture (plenty on show in this title!) and clothing weaves are discernible, while the landscape shots over the city (particularly in the climatic roof top showdown) are sharp and defined. Colour is suitable bold, with good attention to the primaries, again red is bright and vivid, while greens and blues hold their own. Contrast and brightness are set to give strong blacks which, this time, add some depth to the frame. Digitally there are no compression issues or edge enhancement, and the original print is in much better shape with only a few instances of damage, while the eighties style of soft focus helps a little in this regard. I’ll go a 6 on this one.
Ninja III The Domination
This one is by far the best of the bunch and has surely had some clean up (perhaps a licenced disc?) but does look the most ‘eighties’ in terms of film print. Detail is well defined, close up skin detail is terrific, while background items hold up very well (check out the mad-cap apartment, or the police station notice boards). Colouring is very strong and bold, with typical eighties colouring shining through. Contrast and brightness are set to give good blacks this time around and some decent depth and a little punch to the image (check out the possession sequences). Digitally there are no compression issues or edge enhancement while the original print is in terrific shape, even if the whole thing has a ‘made for TV’ feel about it. This one just makes it to 7.
All tracks are English LPCM stereo.
Enter the Ninja
What is immediately apparent with this track is the ADR and foley effects which conspire to give the film a very ‘home video’ feel; i.e. flat. Dialogue is the dominant feature and is suitably ‘thick’ and does have a decent enough natural bent to it. Effects are limited and bass even more so, with no discernible low frequency effects at all. The score is reasonably well layered into the mix, and on the whole the sound is basic but functional, but at least there's no distortion or hiss to contend with. Never gets shrill even at reference. Still only makes a 5 though.
Revenge of the Ninja
A slightly better sound design means the ADR and foley sit far more comfortably within the mix (though Shô Kosugi’s dubbing is still very apparent) and therefore it doesn't have quite the same amateurish feel to it. Dialogue is given prominence and sounds natural enough and effects (there are a few this time around) are nicely separated. Bass is still quite weak though, in that the low-end barely registers with only one or two gunshots benefitting from the sub. What is terrific, though, is the score which is well layered and comes through strong and bold when needed and fits in well with the action. This one registers a 6.
Ninja III The Domination.
Again, the best of the bunch in terms of quality with a nice wide separation to the front giving rise to some decent stereo effects (cars, gun shots, dialogue) and even a little panning. Dialogue is clean and precise and sounds perfectly natural. Bass is even better this time around with some rumbles from the sub during the possession scenes and with gun shots. The score is well layered but is nowhere near as effective, being far more ‘Eighties synthesiser’, but at least is sounds great. This one also makes it to 6.
Enter the Ninja
Revenge of the Ninja
Audio Commentary – With director Sam Firstenber, stunt coordinator Steve Lambert and moderated by Bill Olsen. It is a very lively affair with plenty of anecdotal and technical details told about the film right through the production process.
Introduction with Sam Firstenber – A few minutes with the director as he talks a little bit about the ‘firsts’ of ‘Revenge’ before inviting you to listen to the commentary; he’s an old feller and needs notes on his lap to help him remember …
Ninja III The Domination
Audio Commentary – With director Sam Firstenber, stunt coordinator Steve Lambert and moderated by Rob Galluzzo (Fearnet) which is another very lively affair with plenty of information given about the filmmaking process, before, during and after production.
DVD’s for all three films
Booklet – Full colour, 30 page, booklet with an essay by C.J. Lines entitled In the Gutter, Looking at the Throwing Stars, which looks at all three films, with information about their production and their place in film history.
Ninja Trilogy Blu-ray VerdictThere is no denying that Ninjas have a certain mystique about them, and this is in no small part due to their Hollywood persona. The film credited with their domination of eighties cinema is the first in this trilogy of films from Eureka: Enter the Ninja (clearly capitalising on the ‘Enter the Dragon’ name, Bruce Lee’s ground breaking seventies film). Enter the Ninja is a very formulaic film in terms of story narrative, drive, pace and action (even if it is nicely gory) and is directed with little flair, whilst the bizarre attempts at comedy just jar (a ‘wah-wah-wah’ cartoon sound after a man has just had his arm ripped off!) . (It should be noted that the version presented here while retaining all the violence still has the cock fight censored out).
It was, however, a huge success and production company Cannon produced two direct sequels (as well as ushering in the Ninja craze that came to define the Eighties, including their own American Ninja series) Revenge of the Ninja and Ninja III The Domination. Revenge is the most accomplished of the films presented here, being well made, well-acted, with a good story and action sequences (serendipitous from a first time action director), even if it follows typical action tropes and scripting, while the third is just wild abandonment introducing supernatural elements and is half way to being a ‘so bad it’s good’ movie; i.e. it’s bad.
A decent package for what are, let’s face it, cheap films with a limited fan base
The set as presented from Eureka is a little frustrating; whilst it is terrific to have all three films together and well presented (they are all available separately in different territories); the attention given to the picture and sound is rather woeful; Enter suffers the most with a rather flat image covered in damage, Revenge fairs much better being bright and colourful, still damaged but masked somewhat by the soft focus filming, while Domination is the best of the bunch, being clean, well detailed, coloured and bright; at least all three transfers have decent black levels. Sound is of the LPCM stereo flavour for all three films, and again is passable, even if it highlights the inherently poor audio tracks, but at least the damage is reduced to a bare minimum or removed entirely. Extras are slight, but do add a little to the package for what are, let’s face it, cheap films with a limited fan base.
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