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Ninja III: The Domination (Collector's Edition)

Shout Factory // R // June 12, 2018
List Price: $27.99 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Adam Tyner | posted June 16, 2018 | E-mail the Author
"You hear that guy you found dead was a professional Japanese assassin?"
"You mean you went all the way to my aerobics class just to tell me that?"

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Talk about working on your slice! (Thanks. I'm here all week. Don't forget to tip your waitress.)

So, yeah: another day, another ninja assault on a golf course. Everything seems to be going according to keikaku with this assassination, but it turns out the cops around these parts aren't so much the type to dilly-dally. Before you can say "sayonara, sucker", a half-battalion of the boys in blue are out in full force. Despite emptying an entire military weapons depot worth of ammunition into the guy, this nameless ninja still manages to slink away. Meanwhile, Christie (Lucinda Dickey) is a lineman for the countyMetro Telephone (and an aerobics instructor, but that's not really relevant right now). In the wrong place at the wrong time, Christie spots this gravely wounded warrior from afar and does what she can to help. The ninja isn't looking for a Band-Aid and some Neosporin, though; his spirit wants a new meatsack to hide out in. Every so often, the ninja's ghost possesses her body, exacting vengeance against the cops who gunned him down dead – including ::gulp!:: Christie's hairy new boyfriend, Officer Billy (Jordan Bennett).

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Oh, Ninja III: The Domination...! You had me at "Breakin' 2: Electric Boogaloo's Lucinda Dickey is possessed by a vengeful ninja's ghost". With a log line like that, do you really need to suffer through a full-length review? You're either in or you're not. Lemme sweeten the pot, though. We're talking about a ninja movie where neon spandex is more plentiful than shozoku. There's an '80s-as-hail Jazzercise sequence, complete with its own "Hot Hips"-from-Perfect-esque dance number. This ninja has a thing for crushing balls from a variety of sports. Christie is effectively kidnapped 'cause Billy is hankering for a date. The legendary Shô Kosugi shows up as the Good Ninja, rocking a dragon eyepatch and a Cosby sweater. Tormented by turkey gobbling chants, Christie slaps her fridge and shouts "damn you!" Of the nigh-invincible Sinister Ninja's mightiest powers is the ability to spin around super-fast and drill into the earth: one "eeeehhhh, what's up Doc?" away from a Looney Tunes short.

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The curse of the so-bad-it's-good crowd is that there tend to be a handful of batshit insane moments, but the rest will too often wind up being an interminable slog of tedium and filler. No need to fret about anything like that here, though. Ninja III is the decade's only martial arts film with an exorcism sequence that starts off with a wizened old sage (your hero and mine, James Hong) making Christie take a puff from one of those long, skinny pipes while his young assistant bangs on a gong because Japan...and then she goes full-on Linda Blair, spews noxious gas in a gravelly voice, and, instead of her head spinning, her whole body flips violently around don't even know. I can also honestly say you'll never look at a can of V8 again the same way after an adult-size dose of Ninja III.

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I guess what I'm getting at is that this isn't one of those reviews that'll drone on and on about themes or metaphors or sprinkle in mildly pretentious jargon in French. I'm not going to say something like "oh, when the ghost starts shooting lasers from the 'Bouncer' arcade game to hypnotize Christie before his floating sword wobbles around the room, that represents the dichotomy between ancient martial arts and modern-day technology." Nope! We're just talking about an unapologetically ridiculous, thick-cut slice of '80s cheese with clunky performances, hopelessly stilted dialogue, epic battles royale that almost cut together coherently, and one nonsensical idea after another steamrolling right into one another. It's cornball, yeah, but there really is something infectiously fun packed into just about every last scene throughout Ninja III. No matter how often the movie misses the marks it's aiming for, the ambition on display here is undeniable, and it's so gosh-darn earnest that its many shortcomings still wind up being awfully endearing.

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I had a blast when Scream Factory introduced me to Ninja III: The Domination back in 2013, and I guess its fusion of martial arts action, fantasy, horror, and even a little romance won over enough of you for them to assemble this lovely, new Collector's Edition. Ninja III has been remastered in 4K, and the extensive slate of new extras run longer than the film itself. Highly Recommended.

You're no doubt aching to learn how this shiny, new 4K remaster stacks up against the 2013 Blu-ray you know and love, so brace yourself for the obligatory barrage of screenshot comparisons. Scream Factory's original 2013 release is on the left, and the remaster is on...well, the only other side it could be:

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First of all, there's obviously a bit of letterboxing in this remaster to more accurately reflect Ninja III's theatrical aspect ratio of 1.85:1. The bitrate of the AVC encode is around 8.5% higher on this updated disc, and Scream Factory's authoring has improved greatly in the years since besides, so artifacting and the like are far less of an issue. As giddy as I was with the initial release back in 2013, the image does strike me as having a slightly oversharpened and somewhat digital appearance these days. The new remaster, meanwhile, is considerably more filmic.

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Contrast and color timing are very different this time around. As I cycled back and forth between these discs in different players, I couldn't shake the feeling that the original release's colors now look thin and dull. From the verdant lushness of the golf course to the piercing blues of the police cruisers, the remaster's colors pack much more of a wallop. There are individual shots that the video conspiracy theorist in me thought looked perhaps a hair too revisionist or inconsistent within a scene, but I overwhelmingly prefer this new disc – not just its color timing but in every other respect as well – to the original.

This 24-bit DTS-HD Master Audio stereo track didn't leave a whole lotta room for complaint when I first reviewed Ninja III back in 2013, and I'm every bit as thrilled with it now. The synth-centric score remains big and booming. Bass response is substantial even without a discrete LFE to play with. C'mon, when Christie shoves that rocky coffin lid off the weapons cache in the cave...? Massive. Marvel at the distinctness and clarity of Secord's M&Ms spilling all over that police station hallway. Stereo separation frequently impresses as well, such as the demonic ping-ponging during the exorcism sequence or when the cops do to this ninja what they did to Michael Myers at the end of Halloween 4. Dialogue is often on the edgy side, but it's still perfectly listenable throughout.

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The original Blu-ray release didn't have any subtitles, but this Collector's Edition is rocking a set of optional English subs. Also, both of the alternate audio tracks – a commentary and isolated score selections – get the 24-bit lossless treatment as well.

Nearly all of the extras – the overwhelming majority produced by Michael Felsher's Red Shirt Pictures – are exclusive to this newly-minted Collector's Edition.
  • Audio Commentary: Carried over from Scream Factory's original Blu-ray release is this commentary track with director Sam Firstenberg and stunt coordinator Steve Lambert. Aided by some particularly skilled moderation, the two of them do a marvelous job painting a picture of what it was like to hammer out low-budget action epics in the early '80s. This includes life as part of the Cannon Films family, martial arts cinema really not being too much of a thing on these shores in the dark, depressing, pre-American Ninja days, and more about the fight choreography and death-defying stunts than you could ever think to ask. Among the many highlights are how Lucinda Dickey wasn't the holdover from Breakin' that you might have thought, Lambert pointing out the twelve thousand different bit parts he played, and getting a peek at which precise moment it was where he shattered one of his vertebrae. They're proud of the movie but wholly accept it for what it is, and that coupled with their astonishingly detailed memories make for a hell of a commentary.

  • Isolated Score Selections: Varèse Sarabande hasn't gotten around to issuing a soundtrack CD of Ninja III quite yet – although the limited edition of Revenge of the Ninja is still on their website if you ever get the itch. This Blu-ray disc serves up the next best thing, though.

    Isolated tracks from a good bit of the score are featured for the first hour of the film, and the moments in between are bridged by interviews with co-composer Misha Segal and production designer Elliot Ellentuck. Segal speaks about his background in music, collaborating with Udi Harpaz on their first feature film as composers, the electronic toolkit behind the score, and which scenes proved the most challenging to work on. Dreamscape fanatics may be interested to hear Ellentuck chat about working on that cult classic (also available from Scream Factory!), and he has plenty to say about Ninja III as well: sets, locations, the gonzo stuntwork, and what makes Arizona such a unique and alluring place to film.

    Right around the hour mark, the last of these score selections comes to a close, and the remainder of Ninja III just features the regular audio: dialogue, sound effects, and all.
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  • Dancing with Death (18 min.; HD): Lucinda Dickey was so over the moon to have landed her first starring role that she didn't sweat the fact that she hadn't read a script yet...or that she didn't actually know what a ninja even was. Her interview is a whole bunch of fun: auditioning with the possession sequence of all things, suffering several perms to Flashdance her hair up a bit, learning both how to climb a telephone pole and how to roundhouse kick, the surprisingly elaborate mechanics behind Christie getting sucked into her closet, what exactly was going on with her violently spinning ragdoll of a stand-in, and terrifying the other actresses in the hot tub assassination scene.

  • Secord's Struggle (10 min.; HD): Jordan Bennett chronicles his transition from a successful career on Broadway to...y'know, Ninja III. It's just one terrific story after another, including pointing out to Menahem Golan that Over the Brooklyn Bridge had the wrong bridge on the preliminary poster art, the unused dance-off he was desperate to have set to Men at Work's "Down Under", what exactly it was that James Wong was chanting to exorcise Ninja Ghost, Shô Kosugi being inches away from cleaving Bennett's head in half with a sword, and, yeah, that scene with the V8. I could keep going, but that list is long enough as it is. So, yeah: watch it.

  • Birth of the Ninja (12 min.; HD): Not just anyone could make a convincing ninja flick in the early '80s, but luckily for all of us, producer/stuntman Alan Amiel was there. Amiel speaks to his martial arts credentials, including earning a black belt under Chuck Norris' tutelage, as well as his role in crafting the first two movies in the Ninja franchise. Even though The Domination is his least favorite of the three, Amiel still has no shortage of wonderful stories to tell about it, such as his doubling for Lucinda Dickey when Christie is in full battle regalia as well as how neither he nor Shô Kosugi were thrilled about the possession angle.
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  • Trailer (2 min.; HD): Yup! In high-def to boot, meaning it's a whole lot prettier than the one that follows.

  • Trailers from Hell (2 min.; partially HD): Screenwriter Josh Olson points out three of Cannon Films' greatest strengths – martial arts movies, glorious '80s cheese, and chasing cinematic trends like, oh, say, Flashdance – that collide head-on here for the awe and majesty of Ninja III: The Domination.

  • Photo Galleries (7 min.; HD): The first of Ninja III's galleries serves up a slew of production stills along with some poster art from across the globe. The second gallery showcases behind-the-scenes shots from director Sam Firstenberg's archives. These slideshows automatically cycle from one image to the next, so you won't have to mash the 'Next' button on your remote eighty times or whatever.

The Factory giveth, and the Factory taketh away. This collector's edition of Ninja III isn't a combo pack, so you lose out on the DVD from the original release. You do score a slipcover with newly painted artwork and a reversible cover, though, so I feel like we've come out on top here.

The Final Word
There's so-bad-it's-good, and then there's Ninja III: The Domination. Tapping into America's long-unsated hunger for supernaturally Jazzercised martial arts action, Ninja III is entrancingly bizarre and '80s action schlock of the highest order. I fell head over heels with Scream Factory's initial release back in 2013, but with a slew of new extras and this improved presentation...? Highly Recommended and then some.
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Highly Recommended

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