Has there ever been a good movie about Vikings? Or a good movie set circa 1000 A.D.? I’m hard-pressed to think of any. I guess that period wasn’t called the Dark Ages for nothing. Like a black hole, it was so dark, no film-worthy stories could escape!
This latest laugh-out-loud disaster is “Pathfinder,” a remake of a (supposedly very good) 1987 Norwegian film that’s been transferred to America and rendered hysterically bad by music-video director Marcus Nispel and screenwriter Laeta Kalogridis (“Alexander,” “Night Watch”). This is pure cheesy spectacle, as bad as anything you’d find on “Mystery Science Theater 3000,” and with plenty of absurd dialogue for the hecklers to ridicule.
The time is actually about 900 A.D. (600 years before Columbus, we’re told; I’ve done the math myself), and the place is somewhere on North America’s Atlantic coast, evidently fairly far up north, because sometimes there is snow. And I don’t mean sometimes during the year, I mean sometimes during the movie. They’ll be walking through snow in one scene, then suddenly they’re on dry land in the next. But anyway, a peaceful village of harmless natives adopts a Norse-looking boy who was left behind by his Viking relatives when they came over and tried to slaughter all the Indians. Now, why you would take your 10-year-old son with you on an Indian-slaughtering trip, I don’t know. Maybe babysitters were hard to come by in 10th-century Scandinavia. Anyway, point is, the kid grows up to be buff and smooth-chested and called Ghost (Karl Urban). His name is mentioned only once in the film, which is once more than anyone else’s name is ever used. Seriously, I watched the closing credits, and I’m like, “Starfire? Blackwing? Gunnar? Ulfar? What good does it do to tell us their names NOW, when the stupid thing is over with?”
AAAAAANYWAY, Ghost is grown up now and fully assimilated into the native village, and he has a crush on the pretty girl (Moon Bloodgood) who lives in the next village over, several miles away. Her dad is the Pathfinder (Russell Means, who was also in a 1996 TV movie called “The Pathfinder”), a title bestowed upon whoever … finds … the path … or something. He’s getting on in years, his best path-finding days now behind him, so they’re looking for his replacement. Ghost isn’t eligible, though, probably because he’s white, though that’s not the reason Pathfinder gives. Instead, he states the movie’s theme for us: “You are still haunted by the demons of your past. Until you face them, you will never know who you really are.” (Hey: At least he has a name. I’m just sayin’.)
So then the Vikings come back, some different ones this time, and they wipe out Ghost’s village. This makes him angry. He rushes to the other village, the one with the hot chick, to warn them. He shows them the metal sword he swiped from the intruders, and says the bad guys wear armor that make the natives’ arrows and rocks useless. Everyone is awe-struck by the sword, which Ghost wields as expertly as a trained fighter, despite his having been in America for 15 years and not having seen one in all that time.
Ghost and Hot Chick and various others realize they’ll have to use cunning, not weaponry, to defeat their hairy, armor-clad Norse invaders. To that end, they quickly devise elaborate booby-traps in the jungle, snares that would take days to create but that they manage to put together in a matter of an afternoon. The film then becomes part “Rambo,” part “Apocalypto,” as Ghost leads his tiny band of fighters to war against the Vikings.
The Vikings, who speak subtitled Norse while the natives speak English (naturally), keep referring to the Indians as “savages.” We are supposed to see the irony in this, given that the natives are actually quite civilized while it is the Vikings who are brutal and murderous. And sure enough, we DO see the irony, because the film beats us over the head with it constantly.
Two of the film’s most unintentionally funny moments happen when Ghost is asleep. First, when he’s a kid, and his adoptive mother gazes lovingly at him while he slumbers, she says, “Who are you, little one?” And then as an adult, when he’s sleeping off the effects of an injury he received in battle, the Hot Chick strokes his cheek and says ponderously, “What is it you dream of?” LOL.
The film clearly wants to be taken seriously as the story of a man searching for his identity, but I cannot see how anyone involved thought that was possible. The action sequences are cut in a frantic, incoherent fashion (which is a shame, since Daniel Pearl’s steel-gray cinematography is actually quite lovely at times). The dialogue is hilarious and shallow, and the graphic violence is dispensed casually, as if it doesn’t matter, which is seldom the hallmark of serious filmmaking. Karl Urban is as dull an action hero as ever there was, and his twice-shouted epiphanic declaration, “I know who I am!” is snicker-inducing, not stirring. It is a film to be laughed at, if it is to be watched at all.
D (1 hr., 39 min.; )