DVD Pioneer

DVD Pioneer
DVD Pioneer

Run time: 111 min
Rating: 6.0
Genres: Thriller
Director: Erik Skjoldbjærg
Writers: Nikolaj Frobenius, Hans Gunnarsson
Stars: Stephen Lang, Wes Bentley, Stephanie Sigman
This conspiracy thriller is set in the early 80’s, the beginning of the Norwegian Oil Boom. Enormous oil and gas deposits are discovered in the North Sea and the authorities aim to bring the oil ashore through a pipeline from depths of 500 meters. A professional diver, Petter, obsessed with reaching the bottom of the Norwegian Sea 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’s pulling the strings. Gradually he realizes that he is in way over his head and that his life is at stake. Written by Websurfer
Country: Norway, Germany, Sweden, France, Finland
Release Date: 11 April 2014 (UK)
Box Office
Budget: €5,555,559 (estimated)


  1. Pioneer is a thriller inspired by true events in the 70'ies, 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. This was landmark and record breaking work, and there was some tension between the Norwegians and the Americans back then. Humans were guinea pigs, in the sense that this was never done before. You could call it a moon landing at deep sea.

    This thriller has a very different style from what you might usually think a thriller should have. It bears resemblances with sci-fi films when landing on the moon. The feeling of the film is also close to films paranoia films like "The conversation" (of which thus doesn't even come close) or more known submarine films. Claustrophibic from time to time. The finishing scene is pure film art, but still maybe too obvious symbolic.

    I found the film exciting, and I liked especially the way the underwater situations were told. We were taken in on the blurry life of deep sea divers, either they were looking through water, murky waters or glass, and drug effects making distortion on sight. I also liked the setting. Very bleak seventies, down to every little details as to colors like we see them on photos today, and to authentic looking milk cartons. This is very qualified film making in many ways.

    However, there's some problems. The sound is a bad flashback from the seventies as well, and some of the ideas are not too well thought through. The limping (no more needed to be said) is ridiculous, and far off when it comes to the script. What the Hell happened here!?!

    Once again I think Aksel Hennie is electric in his role, as were the others. Very good instruction, and quality actors all the way through. It was like looking on a seventies spy thriller. A very international crew, with Wes Bentley, Stephen Land, Jonathan LaPaglia, Stephanie Sigman, Ane Dahl Torp, all making us remember the seventies with both heart and shrugs.

    Again screenwriter Nicolaj Frobenius proves his worth, as of course do director Erik Skjoldbjærg, which also has done great work with the films "Insomnia" (later remade by Christopher Nolan), "Prozac Nation", "An Enemy of the People" and the bank heist thriller "Nokas". But here there's some problems, and there are plot holes and easy solutions which irritates, especially on second watch. This tells that the film is more entertainment than really great filmmaking for film buffs.

    What a director! So different films, and such great feels to every single one! Still this falls through compared With Insomnia and Nokas with much easier solutions, and a more shallow film making than we're used to by Skjoldbjærg.

  2. I caught Pioneer, an oil rush thriller set in the early eighties, at the London Film Festival. It was featured as part of 'Thrill' and promised to keep me "on the edge of my seat". The backers, Friland Produksjon, are also responsible for the critically acclaimed Headhunters adapted from Jo Nesbø's novel of the same name and Erik Skjoldbjærg directed the original Insomnia in 1997. What's more, one of Scandinavia's foremost actors and the star of Headhunters, Aksel Hennie, plays Petter, a professional deep-sea diver on a dangerous quest 500 meters down the North Sea. Air composed the soundtrack, Wes Bentley plays a shady character, Norway has glorious scenery and someone dies. 106 minutes would fly by.

    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. 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 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.

    Erik Skjoldbjærg said he was "heavily influenced by The Conversation, Chinatown and All The President's Men" in his desire to revive the seventies conspiracy thriller. I wish he had also named the older 2001: A Space Odyssey by Stanley Kubrick and exploited more of the dramatic Norwegian coast to better contrast deep sea-diving drama with conflicting human interests above ground.

    My verdict? Watch Insomnia on DVD and wait for Gravity.

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