Pioneer (Blu-ray Review)

PioneerPIONEER is set in the early 80’s, at the beginning of the Norwegian oil boom. Enormous oil and gas deposits are discovered in the North Sea, authorities aim to bring the oil ashore through a pipeline 500 meters deep. Petter, a professional diver, is obsessed with reaching the bottom of the Norwegian Sea. Along with his brother Knut, he has the discipline, strength and courage to take on the world’s most dangerous mission, but a sudden, tragic accident changes everything. Petter is sent on a perilous journey where he loses sight of who is pulling the strings. Gradually, he realizes that he is in way over his head and that his life is at stake. 





Pioneer is the true story of the discovery of huge mineral and oil deposits out in the North Sea. When the government of Norway discovers this they are on the fast track to claim the resources. They join forces with an American counterpart and go off to secure the underwater dig. Petter (Aksel Hennie), a professional diver, is obsessed with reaching the bottom but he’ll have stiff competition from his brother Knut.

After a freak accident and the loss of life Petter realizes that all is not what it seems. Petter begins to live out his days in a perpetual “pressure fog” caused by the gas used to regulate his body to the crushing underwater pressure. This leaves him having standing hallucinations while trying to navigate through everyday life events.

Stephen Lang plays Ferris, an engineer for the American side of things and Wes Bentley is Mike, Petter’s American diving rival. Stephanie Sigman (Miss BalaSpectre) is in the film in a short role as Knut’s wife. As Petter gets closer to the truth he realizes that he is in way over his head. All is not as it appears and there may be a conspiracy involved by those he’s worked with and those that are supposed to be looking out for the diver’s best interests.

Pioneer was a very cool thriller in that it explored Norway allocating resources to get at the oil and mineral deposits in the North Sea by any and all means. I’m sure the film dramatized it all but as it plays out it shows how many of the divers were manipulated into risking their lives for the potential rewards. Sinister forces also reared their ugly head that had nothing to do with the government but with folks trying to get their share of the profits by just being at the right place at the right time.

The film is more of an actual underwater adventure, with a murder mystery/conspiracy plot point(s) going through it. The fact of the matter is that there is untold wealth and anybody and everybody will do whatever they have to in order to get it. If it means leaving a trail of bodies along the way then so be it. Pioneer is the latest film from director Erik Skjoldbjærg who directed Insomnia many years ago. Insomnia was great and went to be remade by Christopher Nolan a few years later. Pioneer does not mimic the greatness of Insomnia but it is a good movie with many twists and turns. The film was made in 2013 and was released on Blu-ray last year in various European territories. Magnolia brings it to the U.S. on Blu-ray and I think more people should go and seek it out. Aksel Hennie does good work as Petter and the supporting cast did great, too.




Encoding: AVC/MPEG-4

Resolution: 1080p

Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1

Clarity/Detail: Magnolia always comes out swinging with their strong film transfers and Pioneer is no exception. The image is crisp, sharp, and doesn’t look to have been intrusively tweaked in postproduction. We like that.

Depth: The underwater scenes will really suck you into their depths. They have an almost green sheen to them. They look fantastic.

Black Levels: Black levels are strong and consistent and I only spotted crush a couple of times. It was only minor.

Color Reproduction: The color palette does have a bit of a wash due to the time period that the film is set in. The fashion choices, had styling, etc., lend itself to the somewhat colorful palette. I have no complaints on that front.

Flesh Tones: Flesh tones appear natural for the most part unless someone is suffering from pressure sickness and what not.

Noise/Artifacts: The image is relatively free from debris, noise, and other pesky artifacts. I did see a few bits of grit here and there but that’s probably due to them filming in actual underwater tanks and sets. It’s bound to happen.




Audio Format(s): English/Norwegian DTS-HD MA 5.1

Subtitles: English, English SDH, Spanish

Dynamics: Pioneer is a great sounding Blu-ray. The film takes place deep under water and in decompression tanks and out in the real world of deep sea diving and Norwegian oil drilling. You will feel as if you were with these compatriots sent out to fulfill contracts for that black gold buried in the sea waiting to come up. It’s just a smidgeon below reference levels. The sound engineers should be commended, because Pioneer sounds pretty darn good on the Blu-ray format.

Low Frequency Extension: The LFE channel is very scary in that there are several scenes involving decompression/compression chambers that get turns up a bit and the bass kicks in and makes the viewer feel like they’re in the tank too.

Surround Sound Presentation: The surround sound channels came through with some sticking clarity even during some of the deep-sea dives.

Dialogue Reproduction: This is a multilingual film and the dialogue levels were always balanced and clear.




Pioneer could have done with a bit more supplemental material but what we get does shine light one what went on during filming. There are a couple featurettes and interviews with director Erik Skjoldbjaerg, Stephanie Sigman, and Stephen Lang. They’re short but street. A promotional AXS featurette covering the film rounds it out.

  • Behind The Scenes Featurettes With Cast & Crew (HD)
  • AXS TV: A Look At Pioneer (HD)
  • Making Of Pioneer: A Dive Into The Depths Of The Sea (HD)
  • Working On Pioneer: Stephanie Sigman “Maria” & Stephen Lang “Ferris” (HD)





Pioneer was a taught and gripping thriller revolving around the true events of the real life oil discovery of the late 70’s – 80’s in the North Sea. The Blu-ray features some great video and near reference sound. The extras are rather informative but extremely short and light. Pioneer was released in 2013 and is now available on the Blu-ray format. Please seek it out- it deserves your time.



Pioneer was released on Blu-ray & DVD March 10, 2015





Gerard Iribe is a writer/reviewer for Why So Blu?. He has also reviewed for other sites like DVD Talk, Project-Blu, and CHUD, but Why So Blu? is where the heart is. You can follow his incoherency on Twitter: @giribe

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