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I bought the 2-disk special edition DVD of this 1985 Norwegian movie mainly because it was filmed in and around Svalbard, site of the northernmost settlements in the world. For this alone it was well worth the price. Not only does the movie show more of the natural beauty of Svalbard than any of the many documentaries I have seen, with lingering perspectives from land, sea, and air, it also shows something that nature documentaries leave out: the gritty life in the Norwegian and Russian coal-mining towns of Svalbard, before the collapse of the Soviet Union changed everything in the Arctic (not to mention the rest of the world).
But Orions Belte also turned out to be an excellent dramatic movie, with the story making full use of its unique location. The direction and acting are so good that I forgot it was a drama, until about halfway through, taking it as a slice-of-life documentary. All the characters look and act as if they belong in the Arctic, and their misadventures are much more like the many firsthand narratives I have read about the real North, than any of the tarted up novels that purport to be set there. The film won the Norwegian Academy Award for best film of the year, and several review sites call it the best Norwegian film ever -- not that it would have had a huge amount of competition. But it really is a good and realistic action movie.
Orions Belte was a joint British - Norwegian production, and Norwegian and English language versions were filmed simultaneously. Both versions are included on disk 1, and both include optional subtitles. Disk 2 includes an excellent 'making-of' documentary, a clip of the Norwegian Academy Awards presentation, and several other brief features. These are only in Norwegian, without subtitles (except a few comments in English by the British producer), but are easy enough to follow, despite this. Plus these short features include even more documentary footage of Svalbard, which needs no narration.
One of the short features on disk 2 details the creation of this 20th anniversary DVD, which involved first a complete frame-by frame restoration of the film (4:3 aspect ratio), followed by digitization, and then color-grading. All this work paid off, as the look and color of the whole movie is terrific, with even the subtle colors of arctic ice rendered accurately. There is only one brief interior scene where the highlights were too far gone to be restored.
This movie was never released in the USA, as far as I can tell, and it does not seem to have gotten much traction in Britain. Even though the English language version is included on this 2-disk PAL Region-2 set, I could not find it for sale on any British websites. Two Norwegian sites offer it for sale, but neither will ship overseas. Happily an Amazon US Marketplace seller who specializes in obscure European movies does stock it, and he ships DVDs quickly at US postage rates (search Amazon for the Norwegian spelling, Orions Belte). You will need a region-free DVD player to view this movie anywhere outside of Europe. Amazon does not sell these, but several eBay sellers do.
Rated 8/10 (comparable to The Bourne Identity).
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