Thursday, October 23, 2014

Pioneer [dir. Erik Skjoldbjærg]

Last night I saw Pioneer on the Arrow Films blu-ray. The protagonist of the film, Petter (Aksel Hennie, who would never be given a lead role in a Hollywood film), is Norway's star diver in a joint test mission with an American group to install an oil pipeline at the bottom of the sea for offshore drilling. During the course, a freak accident occurs, which leads to the death of Petter's brother, also a diver on the mission. Fighting guilt over possible responsibility in his brother's death, Petter investigates the matter (and this is where the casting is brilliant, because the actor doesn't have the star charisma that make audiences automatically root for him - in fact early on one thinks he may be looking for someone to blame to assuage his own guilt). But he finds a lot of doors being closed in his face, and even some attempts on his life. The challenges he faces in trying to ascertain the cause of the accident form the major crux of the film. As the story deals with a Nordic-American collaboration, the film has a mix of Norwegian and American actors, and Avatar's beloved evil colonel Stephen Lang plays a pivotal role.

Pioneer is not exceptional as a suspense/noir, but remains fairly solid with some (heh) immersive moments in its diving sequences. The pacing is mostly measured and low-key, as are the performances. The underwater scenes are excellently shot and there is a lovely moody electronic score from the French duo Air.

Arrow Films' (which is apparently a different company than the one that handles the Arrow Academy and Arrow Video labels) blu-ray is very solid in the technical presentation. Underwater, with its limited lighting and inherent murk, is never a great showcase for video quality, but we have a very strong presentation here with nicely saturated deep colors. Audio-wise I am likely short-changing the 7.1 surround track by playing it through stereo speakers but it sounds strong, especially in the occasional action sequence and in Air's score. There are zero extras here, which is disappointing for a film which would have had some interesting shooting challenges.
Edit: More than 6 years later, I revisited the film, the first time after my surround upgrade couple years ago. While my current 4.1 setup is still not taking full advantage of the 7.1 mix included on the disc, the sound-field is vastly more immersive now, especially during the underwater sequences (in combination with the visuals you get a great sense of the depth and density of the water medium), and ones where the weather is stormy. Even in indoor scenes there's a good bit of collateral ambience in the rears. It made the film a little more interesting to me, although I'd say after a point its script becomes a little too muddled and vague for the film to be really great. One little peeve is that for a film that has both Norwegian and English dialog, there is only one set of subtitles, which even provides subs for the English dialog. It would have been nice to have the option of a subs track that only covered the Norwegian dialog. There are zero extras here, which is disappointing for a film which would have had some interesting shooting challenges.

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