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The Ninja, unholy masters of terror. Scott (Chuck Norris) knows they're real but runs into a problem when he realizes that no one else does. Everyone thinks that the ninjas are long gone. When he escorts a lady friend home and the pair is attacked, Scott knows his fears are going to be realized, and this is further confirmed by the flashbacks he has where we learn of his ninja training alongside his brother - now an evil ninja himself.
Soon, Scott meets a foxy lady with a mysterious motive. Through her he becomes intertwined in a secret ninja crime ring known only as The Octagon. Luckily he's got his buddy's anti-terrorist task force (headed up by none other than a pierced Lee Van Cleef of Day Of Anger!) to help him stop the evil ninjas from killing everyone and succeeding in their evil plan. The more Scott investigates things, the stranger the situation becomes and Scott realizes that some of these sinister ninjas may have ties to his past, specifically to the death of one of his best friends a few years back.
The Octagon is the consummate Chuck Norris film. Aided immensely by the presence of countless ninjas (many of whom hide in trees) as well as the bizarre voice that he uses to talk to himself in his head-head-head-head-head, Norris finds time to not only kick a lot of people in the head but make it with a lady or two along the way. Another element, besides the ninjas and the gratuitous chest hair, that makes this film so special is a random Ernie Hudson (of Ghostbusters and Penitentiary II) appearance. Throw God's gift to tough guy actors, Lee Van Cleef, into a decent sized supporting role as a fringe militia type and you've got yourself an action movie for all tastes and a cast to die for.
Sure, Norris is as wooden as wooden can be in his role, playing his typical 'man who doesn't want to fight but is forced to by bad buys' character with about as much enthusiasm as a piece of plywood, but he makes up for it by kicking a lot of people in the head and doing it often enough that the film, delivers a pretty healthy dose of action. With this in mind, is it really any wonder that he inspired Don 'The Dragon' Wilson to seek a career in the movies? The similarities in their styles are indisputable. There are a few slow spots here and there and the plot might not be the most earth shatteringly original, but The Octagon does what it does well, and that's to let Chuck do his thing in his own imitable way. This won't likely be a movie to convert the non-believers on there, but if you're a Chuck Norris fan, this is him in his prime and therefore pretty much essential.
Kino brings The Octagon to region A Blu-ray on a 25GB disc with the ninety-four minute feature taking up just over 34GBs of space on the 50GB disc and framed at 1.85.1 widescreen. Generally speaking, this is a pretty nice transfer. Detail is quite strong, handily advancing over the previous DVD editions that have come out over the years. Colors look nice and natural and there's some pretty nice depth noticeable in the image. The elements used for the transfer were clearly in good shape, there's very little print damage here, though the film's natural grain is retained and the opening credits do show more damage than the rest of the movie. Compression artifacts, noise reduction and edge enhancement are a never an issue. We get pretty strong shadow detail here as well. All in all, this looks quite good.
The only audio option on the disc is a 24-bit English language DTS-HD 2.0 Mono track. Optional subtitles are offered up in English only. The track is clean, clear and nicely balanced and for an older mono mix for a low budget film from the early seventies, it sounds pretty solid. There are no problems with any hiss or distortion and the dialogue is always clean and easy to hear.
Extras kick off with a commentary track that comes courtesy of action film historians Brandon Bentley and Mike Leader. They go over the film's budget and the return on investment that occurred when it hit theaters, its independent roots, the way that ninjas are used in the movie and how they're worked in to the story, the James Bond-ian elements in the film, the different fashions and hairstyles on display in the movie, where Norris' career was at this point in time, Norris' martial arts style, the different cast members that appear in the movie and Van Cleef's important presence, Eric Karson's direction, Aaron Norris' appearance in the movie and his career, details on the different cast and crew members that worked on the movie, thoughts on the performances in the film and lots more.
The disc also includes an archival commentary track from Eric Karson that offers up some amusing stories about working with the various cast and crew members assembled for this particular project. There's a good amount of discussion here regarding the stunts and the dangers involved in some of the fight scenes but he also covers some of the themes that the movie deals with, the way in which the plot deliberately unfolds in a manner atypical for an eighties action movies, and of course, how the movie deals with ninjas.
Additionally we get a forty minute archival featurette on the making of The Octagon that includes interviews with director Eric Karson and quite a few other crew members that provide some information on the fight choreography, the score, the locations and more. Tadashi Yamashita also appears on camera for a really interesting and enjoyable twenty-three minute interview in which he talks about his work here and on a few other cult classics made around the same time.
Finishing up the extra features on the disc are a couple of TV spots for the feature, a TV spot for The Octagon/Force Of One, a few radio spots for the feature, a trailer for the feature, a few bonus trailers (for the Chuck Norris starring A Force Of One, Good Guys Wear Black, An Eye For An Eye, Code Of Silence, Hero And The Terror and for the Lee Van Cleef starring Death Rides A Horse), menus and chapter selection options.
It's also worth pointing out that this release comes packaged with a slipcover and some nice reversible cover sleeve artwork as well.
The Octagon is a solid slice of eighties action movies goodness and Kino's Blu-ray reissue offers a up a strong nice upgrade in the A/V departments over past DVD editions and offers up a solid helping of enjoyable supplemental material old and new. Recommended!
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.