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American Ninja (Blu-ray Review)

American-NinjaThe first film in the successful martial arts franchise, American Ninja stars Michael Dudikoff.  Dudikoff would have his breakout screen role as Joe Armstrong in the phenomenally successful American Ninja, reprising his character in two sequels – American Ninja 2: The Confrontation and American Ninja 4: The Annihilation. Joining in on the adventure is Joe’s comrade-in-arms Curtis Jackson (Steve James, I’m Gonna GitYou Sucka) and Patricia Hickock (Judie Aronson, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang), the daughter of Joe’s commanding officer Colonel William Hickock (Guich Koock, North Dallas Forty). American Ninja is directed by Sam Firstenberg (Avenging Force) from a screenplay by Paul De Mielche (based on a story by Gideon Amir and Avi Kleinberger) and produced by Yoram Globus and Menahem Golan.

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Film 

Joe Armstrong is a one-man ninjitsu fighting machine. Serving in the army to avoid a prison sentence, Joe will find himself battling the deadly ninjas of the Black Star Order, as well as corrupt military leaders in order to bring down an illegal arms sales conspiracy.

American Ninja may be sorta forgotten by many, but it was actually a pretty big deal back in the 1980s.  The film was a sizeable hit and launched potential stardom for Michael Dudikoff, which really led to him holding his own as an action hero through the 80s and most of the 90s.  It launched 3 sequels (And I think a 4th straight to video one).

Its a film that as a youngin’, I had to see.  I was into the whole ninja thing thanks to some turtles.  Plus Dudikoff looked more younger and regular guy than Stallone, Schwarzenegger, Lundgren and Norris.  And for what it was back in the day, it was pretty badass.  Revisiting it now (and in the last year, that’s 3 times now), it doesn’t quite hold up as I’d like.  I think its still a fine bag a Doritos to sit with, but there’s nothing here to recommend unless you’re a hardcore fan of this pure action era.

With this film there are 2 things you’ll want from it.  You’ll have wanted it to have worked back at the time it came out.  That’s one check.  The other check mark it doesn’t get is that you kinda hope that it has aged into something over the top and a bit cheesey to still work in today’s viewing climate.  Unfortunately, American Ninja is a little too safe and competent to hit those beats (Its sequel, however, well, we’ll be getting to that very soon…).  So its half entertaining, half stale, but altogether very vanilla.  The other Cannon ninja movies work a bit better now than this one.

What I still like here is our main cast.  Steve James is just awesome.  The man is a delight in everything I’ve been able to see him it.  He loves what he’s doing, give it his all, and its infectious to the other cast and the viewer.  Dudikoff has this quiet cool to him that I’ve always liked.  He’s a cross of Thom Matthes, James Dean and Kevin Bacon looking back.  And surprisingly, I find Judie Aronson pretty charming (And she’s one of my favorite Friday the 13th victims as well).  She’s playful here and doesn’t quite get into Willy territory, though its completely open for her to be that.

There’s really nothing wrong with American Ninja, but that kinda hampers it for today’s watching.  Its kinda too safe.  Its not able to craft much memorable in terms of action pieces, but its also not risking anything, making mistakes or getting silly either.  For the first film, the vibe is too much like Joe and could have been better suited to act more like Curtis.

If you’d like to hear me talk more about American Ninja, my podcast Cult Cinema Cavalcade recently covered it up and down in an episode that you can listen to HERE.

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Video 

Encoding: MPEG-4 AVC

Resolution: 1080p

Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1

Clarity/Detail:  I already own the 88 Films release of the American Ninja series.  This Olive Films transfer looks to be VERY similar if not the same to that one.  The only difference is that the Olive Films look happens to be a hair darker.  Its really going to be a matter of preference, but I liked the brighter look of 88’s.  This isn’t bad though, as detail looks above average, with a solid sharpness.  Its the best the film has really ever looked, and being a Cannon Film from way back when that’s taken this long to get to the Blu-ray format, this is probably it for American Ninja (At least for a long while).  And that’s A-okay.

Depth:  Average depth work.  It probably comes from the source and it also not being a super priority title in terms of remastering.  However, movements and spacing are good enough.

Black Levels:  Blacks are bit deeper here than on the UK counterpart.  Its a good, solid performance, that doesn’t appear to have any crushing and hidden details are kept to a minimum.

Color Reproduction:  Green.  Green, green, green.  Its a jungle like atmosphere in the Philippines and green pretty much dominates it between trees and military uniforms.  There is a good burst of some other colors during the ninja training facility sequences and Judie Aronson’s attire, though.

Flesh Tones:  Skin tones look natural and stay looking consistent throughout the runtime of the film. Close-ups give good detail on facial features like make-up, scars, bruises, wrinkles and beads of sweat.

Noise/Artifacts:  There is some grain, dirt and specs about, but the print looks pretty nice.

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Audio 

Audio Format(s): English 2.0 Mono DTS-HD MA

Subtitles: English

Dynamics:  I’m pretty confident that this is the exact same audio track on the 88 Films release.  I mean, how many really are there, especially if the same master is floating around.  That’s a good thing though, because this is a rock solid good time.  Things are well balance, loose and free of one another.  Gun sounds, motorcycle engines, explosions and the like are all mixed in with a surprising bit of layering and precision.  American Ninja never sounded so kick ass.

Low Frequency Extension:  N/A

Surround Sound Presentation:  N/A

Dialogue Reproduction:  Dialogue featuring clarity and a perfect pitch fit into this mix.

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Extras 

Audio Commentary

  • With Director Sam Firstenberg and Making Of Producer Elijah Drenner – This is a new commentary done for this Olive Films release.

A Rumble In The Jungle: The Making Of American Ninja (HD, 22:48) – Featuring interviews with director Sam Firstenberg, actors Michael Dudikoff and Judie Aronson, screenwriter Paul de Mielche and stunt coordinator Steve Lambert.  This is very comparable to what was on the 88 Films release, though, if you ask me, its a lot better produced and edited.  It has a very welcoming sense and isn’t afraid to go off a bit into other people’s works to build a background on how American Ninja came to be.

Theatrical Trailer (HD, 1:49)

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Summary 

For those fans in the US who haven’t picked up American Ninja (or just flat out weren’t aware of the region-free UK release), this is perfect.  This may have its own extras, but its all very comparable to that release.  It features a solid picture and very good audio track.  Bonus features are very well done original content from Olive Films.  And their price point on this is outstanding.

American-Ninja-Blu-ray

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Writer/Reviewer, lifelong obsessive film nerd. As eager to educate in the world of film as I am to learn. An avid lover of horror, schlock and trash, Brandon hosts the Cult Cinema Cavalcade podcast on the Creative Zombie Studios Network (www.cultcinemacavalcade.com) You can also find more essays on his blog Naptown Nerd (naptownnerd.blogspot.com).

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