'Pioneer' [Blu ray]
(Aksel Hennie, Wes Bentley, Stephen Lang, et al / Blu ray / R / (2013) 2015 / Magnolia)
Overview: A thriller set at the beginning of the 1980's Norwegian Oil Boom and centered on a diver whose obsession with reaching the bottom of the Norwegian Sea leads to tragedy.
Blu ray Verdict: Thankfully for us fans of such things, 'Pioneer' is that rare hybrid: an old school contemporary Norwegian film. The action takes place more than 30 years ago and the cinematography revisits the look and feel of classic late seventies thrillers to depict tensions between oil companies and state government. Here however, an over-reliance on grainy footage, amber and blue filters dims what could have been a series of eerie underwater voyages, as well as unfortunately, any real suspense.
Instead it gives the audience a sensation akin to the claustrophobia of Das Boot without the sense of dread that pervaded it. Indeed, 'Pioneer's omnipresent soundtrack creates an even greater disconnect where Das Boot had us trapped with a sombre Jürgen Prochnow inside a silent submarine during World War II.
The premise is excellent. It centers on the discovery of large resources of oil and gas at the bottom of the frozen North Sea. We are at the very beginning of the Norwegian Oil Boom which resulted in Norway's prosperity and high standard of living. Petter and Knut (André Eriksen) are brothers and colleagues involved in government-funded petroleum explorations and highly dangerous diving tests conducted in the great depths of the North Sea to establish whether pipelines can be installed. Just as we get to know the main characters, tragedy strikes. A compelling actor in whose performance there was barely enough time to get invested is gone too soon.
'Pioneer,' which if you didn't know is actually inspired by true events in the 70's, when Norwegians and Americans was experimenting with deep sea diving, so that oil could go directly in pipelines from the deep sea oil wells on to land, is a well-intended production which had to make difficult stylistic choices to stretch a Scandinavian budget over expensive action scenes. It tries to be too many things at once and falls short of carrying significance beyond what is seen.
Wes Bentley, so good in 'American Beauty', is confined to a redundant secondary role devoid of genuine purpose. He walks around looking sinister and utters a few English words here and there. Ironically, the dialog lacks depth. Clichés, particularly in the depiction of gender relations, often stand for character development. Obvious symbolism such as bodies of water representing femininity and a full moon to signal rebirth do not challenge the audience much. All that said, 'Pioneer' is definitely a GOOD film, has en masse of merits and is worthy of your time; please believe me. This is a Widescreen Presentation (1.85:1) enhanced for 16x9 TVs and comes with the Special Features of:
Behind The Scenes Featurettes with Cast & Crew
AXS TV: A Look At Pioneer
Making Of Pioneer: A Dive Into The Depths of The Sea
Working On Pioneer: Stephanie Sigman "Maria" & Stephen Lang "Ferris"