Wednesday, August 15, 2007
Since the tried and true genre of Cowboys and Injuns has been pretty much played out, why not shake things up with a story about Vikings and Injuns? That's exactly what Marcus Nispel, director of FAITH NO MORE: VIDEO CROISSANT (what the fuck is that supposed to mean?) did with PATHFINDER, and while I found the results to be a bit uneven I was nonetheless intrigued by what he attempted.
Taking place roughly 600 years before Columbus set his greasy foot on this continent and fucked up everything, PATHFINDER tells the story of a young Viking boy, the only survivor of a raiding party to North America that somehow went awry — exactly what happened is never explained, but the kid is found in the hold of a half-submerged longboat, along with the bodies of shackled slaves and other Vikings — who gets adopted by a village of local Injuns and is renamed Ghost (we never find out what his original name was, either, but we don't really care anyway because it's irrelevant). The tale then skips ahead by fifteen years and now Ghost is a hunky, shirtless grownup played by Kiwi heartthrob Karl Urban, better known to fantasy film geeks as Eomer of Rohan in THE LORD OF THE RINGS: THE TWO TOWERS (2002) and THE LORD OF THE RINGS: THE RETURN OF THE KING (2003).
Ghost's place in the tribe is pretty secure, but he won't be allowed to become a brave until he conquers his inner demons and determines his own true path; through flashbacks we find that he's still haunted by the atrocities committed by his kinsmen during the botched raid of fiteen years previous, a distinctly un-Vikingly state of pussifcation that causes his father to disown him. When another group of Injuns shows up, lead by the obligatory Yoda-like wise old dude — here played by the great Russell Means — this time named "Pathfinder," Ghost gets wood for the old shaman's toothsome daugher, Starfire (Moon Bloodgood), but the mushy stuff gets cut short when three Viking longboats show up, each filled with heavily armed and armored warriors out to kill anyone they meet, sell the survivors, and settle on their land, then moving on to do likewise to the next village and so on. The leader of the horn-headed heels is Gunnar (my man Clancy Brown, totally unrecognizable under makeup, beard, and helmet until you hear his distinctive voice speaking in subtitled Icelandic), a balls-out killer and all-around scumbag if ever there was one, and since the film is shot using a dark palette that almost renders the film black and white, he and his comrades have the aspect of horned monsters rather than men, a psych-out they use to great advantage when wiping out Ghost's village while he's off in the forest.
Clancy Brown as Hagar the Horrible, er, Gunnar the Viking asshole.
When Ghost twigs to what's going on and who these scumbags are, he takes the fight to them with a savagery he'd long repressed, thereby launching a feature-length hunt for his Tonto gear-wearing ass by his offended Norse brethren. During the harrowing journey Ghost kills a shitload of Viking douchebags, hooks up with Starfire, faces a lot of deep shit that heroes in this kind of story seldom address — unless they're in a Kurosawa movie — and eventually discovers his one true path and purpose, a revelation that's more of a surprise than I expected.
PATHFINDER isn't a bad movie, but its trailers are rather misleading, playing up the admittedly gory violence that isn't as omnipresent as advertised or gratuitous as a gorehound like me would hope for, not even in the "unrated" DVD that I can't believe was considered too extreme for a standard R rating. The film is instead an occasionally slow-paced (though not boring) and thoughtful warrior myth with a dreamlike/nightmarish visual style that reeks of the director's music video experience. The murky color scheme doesn't necessarily help matters and at time renders the black-clad Vikings nearly invisible during a film that takes place largely at night.
The much-vaunted "over-the-top" violence is admittely gorier than much of what's on screen these days, but that's not really saying anything since today's movies are mostly made by and for a bunch of pussies. It's a fucking barbarian movie, you big Marys — the presence of noble and cool Injuns notwithstanding — so it's SUPPOSED to be gory and violent, and by throwing in all that deep introspection at the cost of mindless limb removal and spewing plasma the creators have fucked the target audience (and themselves) in the ass. If you're expecting balls-to-the-wall sword-slashing, I'd suggest the LONE WOLF AND CUB movies instead, but if you keep an open mind and have an interest in the shirtless antics of a sword-wielding guy who looks like he should be singing Saxon's "The Power and the Glory" then you may just enjoy the offbeat charms of PATHFINDER. Basically SOLDIER BLUE by way of CONAN THE BARBARIAN, I kinda dug it, but it's bound to disappoint most true sword & sorcery buffs out there. In fact, in comparison against another warrior epic with a brain, I have to say I liked HUNDRA (1980) a lot more as a work of sheer entertainment.
TRUST YER BUNCHE!!!