Review: The Dal Brothers

Following our Dal Brothers documentary coverage we now offer you reviews of all their five adventures. Four TV miniseries and one stage play turned into feature film.

The Dal Brothers is a Norwegian entertainment phenomenon that has made Scandinavians laugh since the late 70s. Created, written and performed by three of Norway’s most popular comedians, their adventures are classics for TV audiences of all ages. This review is the first ever complete rundown in English of the series.

Professor Drøvel’s Secret (1979)
The first of five adventures. The three brothers decide to go looking for the famous scientist and researcher, professor Drøvel, who dissappeared in uncharted territory just outside Oslo a few dacades ago. The area, which from the outside looks like a small version of the Amazon with dense forests and a long (but usually very narrow) river, can only be accessed by canoe and as the brothers went further up the river, they encounter numerous weird people, strange customs and crazy situations. A boy needs help with his life-sized dragon, Dracula goes to the dentist, a door in the bushes lead to the unemployment office where if you say yes or no you won’t get any benefits, etc.

The story about an expedition into the unknown “jungle” is actually just an excuse to tie together bizarre characters and sketches, but the seamless way these surreal bits have been merged with the expedition makes total sense. Not only are the sketches incredibly funny in themselves, but to think that all of this takes place in uncharted jungle just a few miles outside Oslo adds a creepy, almost dreamy dimension to the adventure. The tempo is high and cliffhangers are frequent, and the comedy is very diversified, so there’s never a chance to get bored.

This first Dal adventure is the least fantasy-ish of the five, with only occasional nods towards the fantastical, unless you count the end solution which blends science with imagination. The main focus here (as in all the series) is comedy in the unimmitable KLM style, and this series is – for its originality and groundbreaking format – a true classic of Norwegian TV history. As if they were three Indiana Joneses stuck in a Best Of Monty Python’s Flying Circus episode, Professor Drøvel’s Secret is some of the best TV entertainment ever made in Norway.

Rated 10 of 10.

The Dal Brothers and the Spektral Stones (1982)
The second series was to be even more adventurous and fantastic. The “how can you go bigger” rule of adventure is; if you cannot design a bigger adventure within the film’s own universe, go into space! This time, Roms is approached by a spaceship and beamed the blueprints of a mysterious device which after construction turns out to be a time machine. Not really understanding why they are given the machine and exactly how to use it, the three brothers accidentally find a way to start travelling. In each episode they visit a certain time and place, such as medieval England where they meet Robin Hood, the vikings of Norway 300 years before that, the Wild West, second world war, etc. On every location, they help the locals and change the course of history, but they also find the next Spektral stone, a sort of diamond, which powers the time machine. Towards the end, in a pure sci-fi solution, we learn what the Spektral stones really are, and why the brothers were given the task by aliens.

Spektral Stones is the second classic Dal series, and is widely regarded as equally great as the first series, if not even better. The series offers a variety of changes compared to the first series, and depending on your view, they’re improvements as well. The most obvious difference is that Spektral Stones is a more streamlined narrative story. In the first series, events on the shores of the river Overfloden were often unrelated to the general story and popped up as bizarre jack-in-boxes, but in the second series most events form a long chain, and even though they are equally imaginative, fun and colourful, almost all episodes makes sense and drive the story forward. Technically speaking, this is better writing than simply tossing crazy sketches into a wide frame. Furthermore, the exoticness and possibilities of time travel add to the already vast arsenal of comedy, adventure and situations that the brothers are engulfed in. Spektral Stones is also more oriented towards genre clichés and parodies, which is one of the specialities of the KLM gang.

Spektral Stones is slightly less bizarre and more fluent than its predecessor, but equally enjoyable for all ages, which set a very high standard. Thrills and adventure for children, and parodies and famous historical events and figures for the older vievers.

Rated 10 0f 10.

The Dal Brothers and The Legend of Atlant-Is (1994)
The third Dal adventure does not involve time travelling, but starts with impossible journeys anyway; a Lapp shaman magically arranges the Dals’ transport from Oslo (where the brothers are about to receive the Nobel Peace Prize) to Finnmark in Northern Norway, where the ancient and holy jar Irka has been stolen. The brothers are asked to locate the jar, and accepts. Along the way, they realize that they are also finding the sunken continent Atlant-Is, where they are trapped but also find a magic potion that brings eternal youth.

Still shaped as 10-12 minute cliffhangers, The Legend of Atlant-Is continues along the same general paths as the two previous series. The weight is however less on sci-fi and fantasy, and more on action adventure, in an Indiana Jones way but for children. The typical KLM type of comedy is still heavily present (as expected and demanded by viewers), with funny names, puns and bizarre situations providing the laughs. However, the extremely far-out dreamlike sequences are mostly gone. In stead, the narrator voice and the narrator himself is much more present, in fact he’s part of the story and has his own little stories interjected here and there. The twist this time, apart from shifting the focuss from sci-fi to adventure, is that the series is intertextual meta-TV, both on the account of the narrator and the brothers themselves. Fiction is blended with slices of “reality”, which gives yet another opportunity for new comedy. In too great doses this becomes predictable, but taken in once a week – which was the intended viewing schedule – it works well.

Overall, Atlant-Is is less funny and spectacular than the two previous series, perhaps due to more “realistic” and traditional gags and sketches. The series also feels less exotic, as the brothers to a large extent run around in the familiar streets of Oslo and not in some undiscovered jungle or in medieval times. Lack of imagination or budget restrains? It is only the very high standards and major impacts of the two first series that cause this sentiment, as hilarious jokes, puns and sequences are still frequent. However, there is something about making a show on demand, as opposite unplanned, creatively flowing and almost accidentally as most first attempts were, that makes Atlant-Is a little bit more controlled and moderate than the two original series.

Rated 8 of 10.

The Dal Brothers and The Mystery of Karl the 12th’s Spats (2005)
This is the 4th TV adventure (overall the 5th, if you count the live stage play) with the Dal brothers, broadcast in 2005 to coincide with Norway’s 100th anniversary as an independent nation. Karl the 12th was the actual Swedish king who ruled a joint Sweden-Norway in the 17th century, until his death during a battle in Norway in 1617. The writer-actor trio Trond Kirkvaag, Knut Lystad and Lars Mjøen (known since the mid 1970s as KLM) incorporated these historical events in the script, and invented a clause in the independence treaty which would make Norway revert back to Sweden if the king’s spats were not found within a certain time and date in 2005 (a Swedish desire to get Norway back is not entirely fiction; Norway is so rich due to oil finds that it’s a standing joke how much Sweden want Norway back. A side story in Karl the 12th’s Spats also deals with this). From the current King of Norway, the Dal brothers is assigned the task of finding the spats, and the only way to do this is to travel back in time, to 1617, 1814 and to 1905.

By 2005, the KLM trio was seemingly less active as TV comedians than before, but Karl the 12th’s Spats proved that they still had what it took to entertain audiences with their special kind of comedy. Once again we’re showered with puns, funny names, slapstick comedy, adventure, time travel and intrigues. Jokes and gags are as frequent as ever, and most of the time of the same high quality as before. Karl the 12th’s Spats is closer to Atlant-Is than the two first series though; things are not so bizarre and out-of-this-world as in the first two series. And much more clear than before do we get to see how much larger than life the Dal brothers really are. They’re the to be or not to be for an entire nation!  We’re also threading near infotainment territory; the frame of the story is almost actual history, and the destination of the mission is tied to the actual 100th anniversary. There’s a bit of education in that (education in entertainment is a good old Norwegian tradition) which makes the series even more meta than just the narrator interrupting the story. That part, and the fact that each episode is twice the length of the episodes of the previous series (and thus allows a smoother and more liquid narrative) makes the show feel fresh, even if the format and concept is well known by now.

What doesn’t work quite as well as intended (and I’m only guessing what was intended) is the inclusion of the brothers’ two nephews and one niece. They are necessary to drive forward the paralell story of a secret society that buys Norway’s energy companies, as the brothers cannot be in two places at once, but they’re rarely any fun and add very few thrills. Perhaps it was an attempt to put a spin to the general concept or prepare a spin-off franchise, but ultimately they’re just a rather dull tool to make a complex story join at the seams.

With Karl the 12th’s Spats, over 25 years had passed since the first Dal brothers adventure, but KLM was not out of fashion. I mean, how much fun can throwing cake in the face be, a gag that is, I don’t know, 80 years old on the screen or TV? Well, when KLM throws cake in the face, they do it the KLM way; additions and enhancements makes it fun again. “Spit out Skåne!!”…..

Rated 8 of 10.

The Dal Brothers and the Curse of the Viking Sword (1997 / 2010)
Originally performed as a live theatre play in 1997, The Curse of the Viking Sword was re-edited 13 years later and launched as a feature film.

The comedy group KLM and their Dal Brothers franchise was always a format- and genre-bending (and blending) concept. True creativity does not adhere to limitations and formats. It should therefore not be a surprise that in 1997, after three TV adventures, the Dal brothers went on stage and performed a time travel Viking fantasy in front of 14.000 amusement park visitors. In Curse of the Viking Sword the Dal brothers are having problems with their new time machine, bought on mail order from TV shop. Without planning it, two of the three brothers arrive in the Viking age, where they are forced to solve a conflict between two opposing families. The core of the conflict is the magical sword Thyrfing, which makes the owner invincible. Unfortunately, there is no gas in the Viking age to fuel the time machine.

Viking Sword is truly a mix of different genres and formats. In part it’s typical Dal Brothers absurd comedy, but also action drama and a love story. It has musical numbers and dance sequences, a first in a Dal adventure. The film itself is really a stage play (and looks like it) that has been edited into a feature film and launched in cinemas. But the film is not just the stage play, it has additional digital sequences and new intros and transitions, most notably starring The Narrator, created especially for the film version. And perhaps most importantly; the third brother, Brumund, is present only a few times on a big video screen, due to the actor Trond Kirkvaag being seriously ill and not able to perform live. A Dal Brothers adventure with only two of the brothers? I’ve read someone say the film is a bastard of everything and nothing. Viking Sword is definitely not the Dal Brothers as we’re used to seeing them. While it’s true that the film is neither a traditional stage play nor a typical feature film, there are too many Dal trademarks present to dismiss it completely. New special effects, transitions and enhancements make the film much more alive and vibrant that most filmed stage plays. The problem is perhaps in presenting the movie in cinemas. KLM never made a Dal Brothers feature film as such, and with the passing of Kirkvaag in 2007, Viking Sword was the only option left to see the Dals on the big screen. The final film is entertaining on all levels, but will probably give a better first impression on TV and on DVD than in cinemas.

Looking at some of the specific elements that make up the film, Viking Sword feels less peppered by jokes and gags than the various TV series. The tempo is not slower as such, but there is more straight drama, physical action, dialogue and even song and dance numbers, and less verbal fun. Maybe a necessity in front of a live audience? The film is based on video recorded without an audience present, so we cannot hear reactions and judge from that. The song and dance numbers are a new thing in a Dal adventure; the choreography is not very advanced, and Gaus’ and Roms’ moves are particularly embarrasing, but the songs and lyrics are quite good. The choreography of the love song performed by Benedicte Adrian and Ketil Høgh is the exception; I’ve never seen anything like it, and it feels very “in character” with the show. Of course, I am no big theatre and dance fan, so what do I know. However, I do know that the Dal Brothers and KLM are all about unexpected twists, so when a group of jellymen jumps on stage and do their dance, the film/show feels extremely Professor Drøvel-esque; absurd, dreamy, and imaginative. Those who don’t understand the presence of the jellymen must look up the words ‘seigmenn’ and ‘seidmenn’ in their nearest Norwegian dictionary. And watch a couple of KLM videos.

To be honest, it’s probably more fun to re-watch Viking Sword on DVD for those who was actually at Tusenfryd those summer weeks of 1997, than for people expecting a real feature film. If you are not a die-hard Dal fan, you might be annoyed by the theatrical format, unless you are mesmerized by the idea of watching a stage play at the cinema, a first in Norway, I am sure. However, if you approach the film as an enhanced stage play rather than as the movie the producer wish to sell, the experience works out much better. The only major drawback of Viking Sword is that Brumund is featured so little. His absence is cleverly solved in a typical Dal way, but it’s not the same without him. And I think everyone agrees with that.

Rated 6 of 10.

Reviews are written by Glenn Folkvord except Viking Sword written by Dag Blomberg.