There comes a moment in every cinemaphile’s life where they first realize and become fully aware of the fact that a film is a work of art, a movement of expression, put together by teams of visionaries to make something wholly original and beautiful a reality on screen. For many people, they’ll cite the experience of being wowed by something like Citizen Kane in school classes or the opening shots of an epic like Star Wars for proving the expanse of celluloid imagination.
But for me, that move was 3 Ninjas: High Noon on Mega Mountain.
For those of you who are unfamiliar with the 3 Ninjas franchise, the film series tells the exploits of three white suburbanite pre-teen martial arts experts. They learn about growing up and life all while dismantling drug cartels and terrorist rings, you know the classic coming-of-age sort of thing. They aren’t in it alone though, as they are guided under the watchful eye and tutelage of their mysteriously Japanese grandpa who resides somewhere between Mr. Miyagi and Splinter somewhere on the Wise Ancient Asian Mentor scale.
To be quite honest, I discovered the fourth (yes, they made four of these) 3 Ninjas movie independent of the previous films. In fact, the first time I saw it, I didn’t even know the name of the movie—I wouldn’t learn that for a few years later actually. The movie was on one of those Saturday afternoon syndicated movie blocks on broadcast television. For my 12-year-old mind’s sake, I actually tuned in at the right time, as I believe the movie on right after that was David Cronenberg’s The Fly. What a double feature, eh?
As I tuned into the movie about 20 minutes in, I watched as these three prepubescent ninjas did combat against a clan of terrorist ninjas in a colorful theme park environment (these movies set in amusements parks in the 90’s were always ads of some sort). The titular ninjas had traveled to the Mega Mountain theme park—along with their friend, a teenage hacker girl—to meet their idol, Dave Dragon, played in all his mustachioed glory by Hulk Hogan in his prime.
Their plans come to a screeching halt though when the park is held hostage at the whims of the aforementioned ninja terrorists, of which one of their leaders is played by Jim Varney. That’s right, Jim Varney of Ernest fame.
So sit back and think about what a bloated premise of a film you’ve got here—three kid ninjas, one 90’s hacker girl (clad in denim jumpers and a backwards cap, mind you), a legion of evil adult ninjas, a terrorist played by Ernest, and some Hulk Hogan thrown into mix throught.
Ladies and gentlemen, if you haven’t figured it out by now, I am here to tell you that 3 Ninjas: High Noon on Mega Mountain is a bad movie. A very bad movie. And it just so happens it was the very first bad movie I ever fell in love with.
I absolutely adore bad movies. I was all aboard for The Room when it resurfaced to new audience a few years back, I still quote the worst lines from Showgirls in day to day conversation, and I even consider myself to be quite the Nicholas Cage connoisseur. However, the love for horrendous cinema does not sprout up overnight– there’s a cultivation that develops over the course of many years. Before one accepts the schadenfreude of indulging in bad movies, one has to have an eye for the campy as well as an appreciation for its bizarre reflection back onto the real world.
3 Ninjas: High Noon on Mega Mountain was the first bad film that made me question these conventions of watching bad movies. I was already quite used to seeing these sorts of oddities spoofed in things like The Simpsons or the films of Mel Brooks, but always under the agreement that they were jokes at the expensive of something flawed. But once I was directly confronted with an awful film that brought me more pleasure than pain, I began to understand something important about movies.
Movies are one of the most intimate expressions of how another person sees the world. The world of the movie is a lens that is crafted, and through that lens, perspective and sympathy is born. The world of 3 Ninjas is one where three white kids can already be masters of karate as taught by their natively Japanese progeny. It would be easy to write it off nonsense, but you must remember, someone had to come up with that idea. Merely trying to fathom that fact still astounds me, even now as an adult.
And quite, honestly, understanding this personable aspect of bad movies helped enhanced my love for truly great movies. If what I can glean from a bad filmmaker is a weird, unheard, or even sometimes, hard to look at look at life, imagine what it feels like when to watch a good movie that actually touches on some great truth? The uncanny becomes canny and the unbelievable feels legitimate, if even for just a moment.
With that I just want to say—thanks. Thanks to 3 Ninjas: High Noon on Mega Mountain for helping me fall in love with the weirdest that art has to offer while acknowledging both its oddness and accidental beauties. Thanks for making me fully aware of what might be going through a director, writer, or actor’s head that makes a movie what it is. Thanks for getting me started on even thinking about the nature of movies themselves more than any actually good movie had done for me up to that point.
Thanks for giving me a movie where Ernest fights Hulk Hogan in a retrofitted Six Flags park.