Norwegian trio a-ha aren’t the first or last band to be defined by their most iconic hit. More than 35 years after they released ‘Take On Me’ with an innovative music video that blended live-action with pencil-sketch animation, their breakthrough single still sounds scintillating. It also remains highly influential: as the band’s biographer Jan Omdahl notes in this engrossing feature-length documentary, The Weeknd‘s 2020 mega-hit ‘Blinding Lights’ owes a clear debt to its synthy swagger.
In a-ha: The Movie, band members Morten Harket, Paul Waaktaar-Savoy and Magne Furuholmen make no bones about the fact that they were always gunning for global success. Keenly aware that no previous Norwegian band had broken through on the world stage, they relocated to London in 1982 to maximise their chances. But when a re-recorded version of ‘Take On Me’ topped charts everywhere three years later – the weedier original version was only a hit in Norway – fame wasn’t to their taste. Positioned as a Shawn Mendes-style pop pin-up, frontman Harket struggled with shouldering the lion’s share of the attention. Meanwhile, each of his bandmates was battling a different kind of anxiety.
Director Thomas Robsahm, whose credits as a producer include the brilliant black comedy film The Worst Person in the World, gives each member ample opportunity to air his grievances. This isn’t just shrewd diplomacy; it also allows him to delve into a-ha’s complex inter-band dynamics. During their ’80s heyday, during which they reeled off eight UK Top 10 hits in less than four years, Waaktaar-Savoy was often dominating in the studio and Furuholmen felt undervalued as a songwriter. Though Waaktaar-Savoy stresses that the three men respect one another’s talent, it’s fair to say they were never best mates. The fact that Waaktaar-Savoy gives his interviews to Robsahm in English, while Harket and Furuholmen deliver theirs in Norwegian, underlines – perhaps unwittingly – their differences.
Throughout, Robsahm neatly weaves these interviews with archive footage to trace a-ha’s career arc from reluctant boyband – they admit they did too many cheesy photo shoots while promoting 1988’s ‘Stay On These Roads’ album – to musicians straining to be taken seriously.
Along the way, there are plenty of illuminating details that highlight their single-minded sense of purpose. Producer John Barry apparently found a-ha such hard work while recording their chart-topping 1987 Bond theme ‘The Living Daylights’ that he tastelessly nicknamed them “the Hitler Youth”. Towards the end, Robsahm gives shorter shrift to the band’s less successful 00s albums while highlighting the fact they’re still capable of packing out arenas. He also includes telling footage of Coldplay‘s Chris Martin hailing their music as a major inspiration.
You won’t leave a-ha: The Movie wanting to hang out in the band’s dressing room, but you will come away with a renewed appreciation for the intense and sensitive men who made melancholy pop gems like ‘The Sun Always Shines On TV’ and ‘Hunting High And Low’. Glorious as it is, there’s a lot more to this band than ‘Take On Me’.
- Director: Thomas Robsahm
- Starring: Magne Furuholmen, Morten Harket, Paul Waaktaar-Savoy
- Release date: May 27