Joachim Rønning and Espen Sandberg, born in 1972 and 1973 respectively, are natives of Sandefjord, Norway. The duo were childhood friends who both attended the Stockholm Film School in Sweden, graduating in 1994. They went under the name of Roenberg (an amalgamation of their surnames) as a directing team and served their mandatory service in the Royal Norwegian Army by making propaganda films. Rønning and Sandberg founded their own production company, Motion Blue, in 1995 that became one of the largest and most award-winning production companies in Scandinavia. Their work in commercials in Scandinavia led to landing ads for companies such as Nintendo, Coca-Cola and Nokia, and gained notice in the US market with their spots for Capitol One and their Budweiser commercial for the 2001 Super Bowl.
Rønning and Sandberg’s first feature film was Bandidas (2006), starring Penelope Cruz (Blow, Volver) and Salma Hayek (Frida, Beatriz and Dinner) as María Álvarez and Sara Sandoval, two polar opposites in mid-19th century Mexico who team up to became a bank robbing duo to fight against a ruthless land baron (Dwight Yoakam) terrorizing their town. The film was a flop, only making about $18 million worldwide on a $35 million budget, despite the no-brainer star power of Hayek and Cruz. I think the film was ahead of its time; a lot of people now would line up to watch two of the world’s most renowned Spanish-speaking actresses in the industry gun-slinging their way across Mexico and unleashing Robin-Hood retribution on their enemies.
Max Manus: Man of War
The duo’s sophomore film Max Manus: Man of War (2008) was a biographical war film based on the real life events from the life of Norwegian world War Two resistance fighter and sabateur Max Manus (Aksel Hennie). The film was historically accurate, based on Manus’s own books Det vil helst gå godt and Det blir alvor, and other accounts and historical documentation. Max Manus was well received by critics, but was also criticized as being a mite too traditional and drew comparisons to the Danish resistance film Flame & Citron, starring Thure Lindhard (The Last Kingdom) and Mads Mikkselsen (Hannibal)
In 2012, Rønning and Sandberg earned international acclaim and recognition, and pinged on the radar of the industry types, for Kon-Tiki. The film chronicled the 1947 expedition of legendary Norwegian explorer Thor Heyerdal (Pål Sverre Hagen) where he crossed 4,300 miles of Pacific Ocean on a balsawood raft to prove it was possible for South Americans to settle in Polynesia in pre-Columbian times. Kon-Tiki scored a Best Foreign Language Film nomination at the 85th Academy Awards, and was also nominated for a Golden Globe Award for Best Foreign Language film at the 70th Golden Globe Awards. The film made history as the first Norwegian film to be nominated for both an Oscar and Golden Globe.
Things were quiet after the success of Kon-Tiki, but in 2014 the duo directed the first two episodes of Netflix series Marco Polo, starring Lorenzo Richelmy (The Third Half, Roney Rand) and Benedict Wong (The Martian, Doctor Strange). Alas, the expensive Weinstein Company produced series was cancelled after two seasons.
Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales
Starring Javier Bardem (Biutiful, No Country for Old Men), Geoffrey Rush (Quills, The King’s Speech), Brandon Thwaites (Maleficent, The Giver), Kaya Scodelario (Skins, The Maze Runner) and a drunk Muppety, scarfy, betrinketed Johnny Depp (Benny and Joon, Finding Neverland), the fifth entry in the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise is a boring, bloated disaster. Disney must have given Rønning and Sandberg one hell of a paycheck to take on this stale, booby-prize franchise; perhaps the studio thought hiring two directors would mitigate Hurricane Johnny? The trades have done a bang up job in blowing the door open on the messy diarrhea that was Dead Men Tell No Tales’ production. From Depp arriving hours late and inebriated on set, injuring his hand due to punching a wall and being fed lines through a mike, the film was a nightmare even directing legends would pale over having to wrangle. Odds are the film won’t make anywhere near what the other films did so if Disney is hell bent on keeping Pirates on life support, they either need to let the franchise lie dormant for a decade or two before rebooting it, or bring in an entirely new cast. The studio appears to be taking the latter route; word on the street is Pirates will continue without Depp. Even the Hollywood studios have their limit in propping up their diminishing returns golden goose. Hopefully this nightmare production hasn’t scarred the Scandinavian duo too deeply. Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales will be released May 26th, 2017.
Currently both Rønning and Sandberg are pursuing separate projects. Rønning directed the pilot for upcoming ABC television series Doomsday, starring Justin Chatwin (War of the Worlds, Shameless) and Claire Holt (The Vampire Diaries, The Originals). He is also attached to direct Micro, an adaptation of one of the Michael Crichton’s (Jurassic Park, State of Fear) final novels for Stephen Spielberg’s Amblin Entertainment, Biblical epic Methuselah starring Tom Cruise for Warner Bros, and Origin, an original film for Paramount to be produced by Jerry Bruckheimer (Armageddon, CSI). Sandberg is set to direct a film about Norwegian Arctic explorer Roald Amundsen, the first man to reach the North and South Poles. Hopefully the duo will eventually reunite on a film in the future.