Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Valhalla Rising 2009

Valhalla Rising 2009

Valhalla Rising has been on my 'Scandinavian movies to watch' list for a while.  It got bumped down the list time and again as films like Arn and Rare Exports got North American releases.  I finally sat down and slotted the disc in and sat in a state of bored/baffled/confused/intrigued/awed stupor for the entire run.  This film had weight, gravity, and deep themes, but never really names a character.  It has beautiful cinematography and a bad Blade Runner clone soundtrack.  It has brutal fights, but is too focused on its loftier goals and themes to ever get around to offering much action, entertainment, or exploration.  If this reviews seems unfocused and confused it is only because this film left me totally curfuzzled (to steal a term from the heartwarming claymation Mary & Max).  It has contradictions and ideas that make it interesting, but fails to be interesting.  I still can't decide if it was deep or pretentious, art-house or artistic.

Perhaps breaking the film down will add clarity?  I doubt it, but here I go... Valhalla Rising has some beautiful vistas.  It was shot in Scotland and many of the shots are just beautiful and filled with imagery.  On the other hand it has some horrible 1978 style effects during flashbacks and flash-forward scenes combined with a synth musical track that seems equally out of date.  The writer/director Nicholas Winding Refn deserves some props for making a film with deep religious themes while having minimal dialogue and a cast of basically unnamed characters.  The film is broken up into sections or acts with each act having a title.  This seems like an odd choice and breaks the film up into six acts.  I feel this has to have some deeper meaning that I just missed.  Is it some biblical or christian reference that flew over my head?  Some reference to Danish theater perhaps?  If this doesn't have some grand import behind it, I think this little nugget of oddness can be added into the fail pile.  Refn succeeded in bringing some brutal, short and intriguing violence to the screen, but much like the landscapes the action can't really carry the film past all the dead space filled with bad music.

The protagonist is called One-Eye because he only has one eye is silent or mute, I know that is soooo deep.  He is played really competently by Mads Mikkelse, but it is hard to get behind a murderous semi-godlike slave when he refuses to explain anything. Never a line mumbled or a sound made.  Not even a communicative grunt.  This badass makes his wishes known with meaningful looks and staring off in the distance like all real men should.  His woeful stares are translated into dialogue by the apparently telepathic child side kick listed on the credits simply as "the Boy".  The rest of the cast is filled out with warriors and a priest-like general.  Of course the priest-general wants to take his merry band of killers to the Crusades, but they get trapped in some fog only to be lost in a strange land where they are chased and hunted by some "pagan primitives".  Can God save this band of crazed Norsemen or will One-Eye be the savior?  That is the main crux of the story, but it never fully develops.  So a mute protagonist that isn't mute because an emotionless kid speaks for him has to save a bunch of murderous zealots from what is obviously Native Americans.  Yep that sums it up pretty well.

Can this pic sums up the movie?
I could ramble on forever about Valhalla Rising without ever giving the reader a clearer view of what to expect or really formulating any deeper insights, but my rant here is already longer than the script of the movie.  So in summary... bad story, music, pace, and dialogue... good acting, attempts at depth, action and themes.  This is one of those films that just leaves me wondering if I just didn't 'get it'.  It makes it hard to really bash the film, but in the end I think it comes across as a B thriller with serious themes.  I would recommend Valhalla Rising only to fans of Vikings and people seeking a bit more religion in their foreign action movies.

PS I think this requires a public service announcement.  A couple of my friends attempted to convince me that My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic is actually a show worth watching.  Be warned this is a mean joke meant to torture you through 20+ minutes of horrible voice acting and nauseatingly smug cuteness. DO NOT BE FOOLED - DO NOT WATCH MY LITTLE PONY!

1 comment:

  1. Deepest, darkest shame on you for even trying out My Little Pony.