The Octagon Blu-ray Review
Ghosts sit around the campfire and tell Chuck Norris stories. FACT.
Once again, Anchor Bay deliver vintage Chuck via AVC and with a 1.78:1 frame. The image is, as with A Force of One, consistent and pretty much unmolested by any unwarranted digital tomfoolery. I didn’t spot any edge enhancement or evidence of overt DNR. Grain is light, but definitely there, and provides some film-like texture. No banding occurs in the big melting screen flame-ball sunsets and sunrises. Aliasing is still present, but only noticeable in a couple of tell-tale scenes, and print damage, although in evidence, is light and the picture looks quite robust and strong. We get some contrast wavering, and a couple of lighter patches materialise within darker portions of the image at times, but this is par for the course with a low budget movie from the start of the 80’s.
Detail is crisp and clear and revealing in the close-ups, but lapses in definition the further back we look – although you can sure see the crew member in reflected in the distant mirror in the room in the Biltmore Hotel. Some of the deeper shots, overlooking the trainees at the Octagon, say, are slightly softened and even a little bit blurry, but I would not dispute this being down to the original photography. The colours are quite well handled, although this will never appear on your list of the most vibrant BD’s that you’ve ever seen. That splashy blood during the machine-gun assassination is lovingly painted with luscious cartoon red. The busier scenes in which we see lots of people gadding about offers plenty of variation for fashions, but the Octagon compound, itself, actually seems quite drab in comparison. There are a couple of wonderful vistas on show besides the thick, smothering sunsets. When Scott and Justine stand on the road overlooking the sprawl of LA, the sky looks gorgeous. Again, when this is contrasted with the Octagon sequences, they really come up short and very definitely look as though they have been spliced-in from The A-Team. Contrast, on the whole, is good, but there are some hazier moments and some of the darker scenes can be subdued by grey. However, there are lots of scenes of activity in the shadows that are partially lit by flames, and these look pretty good.
The entire last act is dominated by shadows. The black levels are satisfactory, I would say, though not excellent. Although some details are lost within the shadows, this has nothing to do with crushing, and everything to do with the source photography and the lighting. It is not, I should stress, detrimental to the image at large in any way. Midnight blues look very nice, adding a fine little urban night frisson to the image.
This is nowhere near as flat-looking as Force. In fact, there is some three-dimensionality on offer with this image. Some of the more elaborate shots of the Octagon, or the busy streets in what is supposed to be Central America have decent depth to them, but when Aura wields the M16 there are a few nice shots in which she and the gun-barrel afford something approaching the hi-def pop that much newer fare tends to deliver. And the pivotal fight between Scott James and Kyo in the arena also offers some tremendously deep and well-composed imagery that gets a lift from the transfer. Obviously, it is hit and miss with a film like this, and some shots can look soft and much flatter, but without a doubt, this is far more cinematic and large-scale than anything Norris had been involved in before, and Anchor Bay’s disc certainly does its best to showcase it properly.
A good, solid transfer.
Death once had a near-Chuck Norris experience. FACT.
Anchor Bay provide the same audio options for The Octagon as they did for A Force of One. We get an LPCM 2.0 mix and a DTS-HD MA 5.1 alternative. Now, I had some reservations about the surround mix they delivered on Force, but I am very happy to report that I had no such issues with this disc. In fact, I opted to stay with the 5.1 track as it added quite a bit more weight and impact than its stereo counterpart, and didn’t seem to make any encoding or mixing errors. Nothing silly seemed to get thrown out of the speakers.
Dialogue, even from Chucky Mumbles and from Richard Norton, who grunts and wheezes with karate diaphragm hisses from behind his mask, is always clear and easily discernable. The score from Richard Halligan is suitably up-front and rendered with warmth and a little bit of depth. His use of the metal beam for some manipulated and layered effects is allowed a fair amount of room in which to reverberate with its unusual cadence. The spread across the front is agreeable though hardly stimulating, and overall aggression is understandably limited ... but there is certainly some life to the mix.
All right, I will have to concede that the surrounds may hardly even be used. In fact I can’t actually recall anything that emanated from them at all. But the 5.1 mix adds a decent wallop of bass activity that provides the film with some agreeable heft and violence, which is what you want to hear. The M16 barks out and we get a couple of big explosions at the end which sound like they have a definite thrust to them. The clash of metal on metal during a couple of the fights sings out with reasonable clarity, and there are lots of thuds, thumps, bashes and smacks that the track is able to lend some power and separation to.
I quite liked how this was presented in the surround track. Aye, there’s no actual surround to speak of but the mix was suitably detailed and dynamic enough to lend more weight and intensity to the film than the stereo alternative – which, I should add, does a decent and probably far more faithful job. So, the choice is yours.
Chuck Norris once kicked a horse in the chin. Its descendants are known, today, as giraffes. FACT.
Same deal with this material as with A Force of One. We get the documentary on the production company, American Cinema, who were behind the three early Norris vehicles – Good Guys Wear Black, Force and Octagon – that appeared on the previous Chucky disc we looked at, but the Making Of here is a little more comprehensive, and comes in at a generous 39 mins. This is really good, even if Chuck doesn't put in an appearance. Some of the same old faces from American Cinema crop up again, but director Karson really goes to town on describing his hopes, ideas and methods, as well as bigging-up the contributions made by his cast and crew. We also hear from the editor, the production designer (who is incredibly boring, to be honest), the composer, who had previously worked on A Force of One but provides a much better score here, and we get to see some production design artwork. Karson must surely understand that his film confused audiences at the time, and that it makes things unnecessarily complicated … because he makes certain to spell out every plot development and the precise meaning of every character in the story to us throughout this feature. It is great to meet Richard Norton, who plays two characters in the film – the compound’s masked, ultra-skilled enforcer Kyo, and the unmasked mercenary in a different place entirely, a recruiting centre for soldiers of fortune. He comes up with some wonderful anecdotes about the production, including a highly amusing one regarding some advice that he was given by John Belushi, and he brings a real sense of affability and charm to the feature. Considering his world renowned martial arts skills and weapon techniques, that’s quite reassuring.
Karson also delivers a Commentary Track that contains a lot of trivia and anecdote. He is a personable guy, and it is clear that he thinks a lot of The Octagon and his experiences working with Chuck Norris and his amazing stunt-team. He talks about the shooting, the effects, the stunts (obviously) the ratings, the score, the story, and he provides an entertaining exposé of what went into making the film.
We also get the film’s Theatrical Trailer and a TV Spot.
There is no theory of evolution … just a list of animals that Chuck Norris has allowed to live. FACT.
Okay, so we have to wade through some inane plotting and a slew of awkward sequences before we get there, but the last act of The Octagon is where Chuck Norris came of age in the vaunted Halls of Action Cinema. And what a way to do it. If his groundbreaking battle with Bruce Lee in Way of the Dragon had been a truly audacious way to announce himself to martial arts film fans, then going up against an army of Ninjas was most definitely the means of ensuring that he was the number one go-to guy outside of the Orient for ass-kicking, ball-busting, head-knocking machismo.
He has a style that many don’t appreciate, and probably never will. But Chuck is one of the original and best exponents of movie-mayhem. You don’t see stunt-doubles for this guy, and when he kicks somebody on-screen, you feel the impact yourself. The Octagon gets a very decent Blu-ray from Anchor Bay. The surround mix may not have anything to surround you with, but it adds weight and solidity to the action. The image is consistent and enjoyable, with some surprising depth to what could have been a very flat-looking picture. And the extras yield plenty of good stuff with an interesting commentary from the director and a terrific forty-minute retrospective making of. Sadly, Chuck is absent from the special features, but this is definitely a disc that his fans will want to pick up.
After a slow build-up, we are rewarded with a superb final act. With The Octagon, Chucky-Mumbles raised his game considerably, and I would say that it was well worth the bruises.
It’s Chuck Norris taking on an army of Ninjas!
Ha … the fools. What chance do they stand?
Ginger + Awesome = Chuck Norris. Fact.
Suggested retail price when reviewed: £10.00
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