Ninja (US - BD RA)
Gabe takes a couple of gallons of CG blood to the face in high definition...
Casey (Scott Adkins) is a white guy orphan raised in a Ninjutsu school. He’s a good enough ninja, so he’s challenged to a duel or something by the school’s best and most angst ridden student, who whips his ass a little too hard and is kicked out of the school. ‘Sometime’ later Casey is sent to New York to guard a MacGuffin called the ‘Yoroi Bitsu’ from the now even more angst ridden exiled student. There are ninja fights peppered throughout this adventure.
Ninja. How could I resist requesting a review copy of a film with such a perfectly simple title? I couldn’t, that’s how, and I got exactly what I expected and deserved. Ninja is a definite step up from the STVHS garbage that thrilled throughout the ‘80s and early ‘90s (some genre ‘filmmakers’ were notorious for shooting a few ninja action scenes and mixing them awkwardly with different films, since the ninja outfits covered the actors faces).The story is the consummate American ninja story, at least in terms of back story. The early scenes set up the hero and the villain in the most cartoonish terms. I mean this literally, they’re G.I. Joe, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle and Batman: The Animated Series character analogues. Unfortunately, minus those indelible characters these kinds of plots can really plod, and it becomes immediately clear why lead Scott Adkins wasn’t given many lines in any of his major release films, like Wolverine or Danny the Dog. He’s got the skills to kick some ass, but they probably would’ve done better to put a ninja mask on him and left him the strong silent type. As a viewer I found myself more interested in the production design and colourful photography, and often entirely lost sight of what was going on between the characters thanks to consistently bland, flatter than tortilla performances.
“But what about the action”, you ask, knowing that the story and characters were going to be unimpressive in the first place. In short terms its okay – never surprising, but never entirely disappointing either. Computer enhanced blood and weapon effects are a pretty large problem, as is the lack of genuinely shocking violence, or original set piece staging. The camera work and editing is adept enough, but director Isaac Florentine defaults to too many Zach Snyder inspired speed ramps and digital zooms. I could almost always tell what was happening from a geographical standpoint, which I appreciate, but I rarely found myself particularly thrilled. An early ninja assassination sequence recalls Batman Begins (and is actually more graphically coherent), but it’s followed by nearly an hour of characters engaging in typical fisticuffs. The biggest fans of martial arts choreography should appreciate the subway car scene, which recalls Jackie Chan and Sammo Hung’s work, and the final fight (set against the familiar backdrops of a construction site and what appears to be Sesame Street) is actually a pretty filling cup of WTF pudding, but based on the cover art, and Florentine’s Might Morphin’ Power Rangers pedigree I was expecting something a little more fun.
First Look Studios continues to impress with their high definition transfers, even if their Blu-ray box art continues to misinform. Ninja comes fitted with a notably crisp and clean 2.40:1, 1080p transfer. The film is visually defined by high contrast blacks and whites, which reveal some relatively sharp small details. Focus isn’t the sharpest, so depth of detail doesn’t come into play particularly often, but I’ve got nothing to specifically complain about concerning the overall detail’s consistency either. Things are definitely sharp enough to notice all the bad effects. Colours are entertainingly comic bookish, never taking things to Sin City levels, but often monochromatically dressed characters are cut against equally monochromatic backgrounds of a different hue. The blacks are normally effective, but when set against warmer backgrounds the black outfits do appear a bit bluish. The darker scenes feature clean highlights, ensuring it’s easy enough to get the needed visual information. The transfer is relatively grainy, especially in shots featuring warmer, soft lighting, like the house interiors, but the grain is even, fine, and easy to ignore.
The disc’s 5.1 Dolby TrueHD sound is relatively aurally impressive given the film’s modest budget, but features a few minor problems likely made during the initial mixing process, most pertaining to post production vocal dubbing, which always sounds clear, but often sounds unnatural in terms of the context. Dialogue heavy scenes are often oddly mixed, featuring most sound effects in the center channel, and somewhat monaural sounding music on the stereo sides. Some of the outdoor city shots feature some effective front channel directional movement, but the rear channels get the most work during the many and varying swooshing wind effects, which is impressive enough from a noise standpoint, but silly since the intended source of the sound is usually located front and center. The final fight is a pretty effective exception, and features some perfect front to back whips. The LFE gets in on the whoosh effects too, and offers some thick oomph to the punches and kicks, but is a little over-utilized in terms of musical score.
There’s nothing here but the movie and some First Look Studios trailers.
With a little Takashi Miike or Ryûhei Kitamura over the top energy Ninja could’ve overcome its tired plot and lame characters, but most of the film is played pretty straight, and budget constants are clearly not an asset. The film is just stylish enough to make a worthwhile rental for all ninjaphiles, but I don’t think anyone is going to be surprised by the results. Director Isaac Florentine clearly makes a great second unit man, and shoots action with a better eye for geography than many blockbuster types, but his speed ramping and digital zooming is exhausting. The video quality is solid for a modestly priced STV release, the audio is plenty loud, but kind of oddly mixed, and extras are non-existent.
Reviewer Note: The images on this page are not representative of the Blu-ray image quality.
Review by Gabriel Powers
Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian
Release Date: 2nd March 2010
Disc Type: Blu-ray Disc
Audio: Dolby TrueHD 5.1 English/Japanese
Subtitles: English SDH and Spanish
Easter Egg: No
Director: Isaac Florentine
Cast: Scott Adkins, Mika Hijii, Todd Jensen
Length: 92 minutes
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