There is a certain audience that really gets into what I call “mythic combat”. Zena and Hercules on TV, and movies like Reign of Fire, Conan and Dragonslayer all fit into this category for me. While I typically don’t enjoy this type of faire, I am a sucker for the more popular versions, such as the Lord of the Rings trilogy and 300. After seeing a very promising trailer in the theater, I had high hopes for Pathfinder. Unfortunately, the final film did not live up to the potential of its marketing.
Pathfinder tells a story set in North America, 300 years before Columbus “discovered” the new world. When a band of ruthless Vikings attacks a small native village, a Viking boy shows his true colors, and refuses to kill a defenseless family. Disgraced, the boy is left to die. The natives, however, take him in and raise them as one of their own. When the boy is grown, the Vikings return, and the boy must fight his original kinsmen to defend the only family he has ever known.
Unfortunately, I just shared the entire plot of this film. After the boy is abandoned and the Vikings return, the entire balance of the film is spent showcasing bloody battles and questionable warfare tactics. A half-hearted love story was introduced into the proceedings, but even this cannot add a spark to the tiring parade of fight scene after fight scene.
For me, here’s the fatal flaw with this film; why is the Viking boy such a superior fighter? He is a shy boy who is regarded as being too unskilled in combat to even go out in the hunting party with the native peoples. Clearly, he is the biggest male in the tribe, but his fighting skills must have been severely underdeveloped. How would he have known the ways of his ancestors, when he had seen none of them since he was approximately six-year-old? He would remember some things, but certainly not enough to change from the village idiot to Rambo in an afternoon.
It was good to see that this film was presented in a large 2.35:1 format. When a film like this comes along that is light on dialog, it’s nice to see the producers step up the visuals. Unfortunately, while the aspect ratio is large, the images themselves fall short. Many scenes are dull and grainy, with colors that fall flat on the screen. There are some beautiful locations in the movie, but the appear dark, and some of the nighttime scenes are hard to make out at all. Close-up shots are also an issue, as there are some severe edge enhancement issues on the disc. Unfortunately, while the screen size gives the viewer a lot of area to focus on, there is little information conveyed.
A classic myth deserves a sweeping soundtrack, and this score does not disappoint. The film is supported by a grand and powerful score. Music is supported by rich bass tones that really drives home the emotional impact of what happens on screen. Foley and dialog are not mixed as well as the score, however. In fact, I would say that this disc has a completely average audio presentation. Very little audio comes from the back of the house, and the film’s sparse dialog leaves much of the home viewing experience feeling empty.
The back of the box makes this disc look like it is packed full of extras, but don’t be fooled. Much of what is here is filler, and there is very little that I found particularly interesting.
In addition to the usual compliment of trailers for this and other films, there is also a concept trailer, which is a trailer that was made to pitch the story to get it financed. I know this has been done before, but it is far from standard practice, which makes the trailer’s very existence interesting in itself. It basically amounts to a teaser trailer, but it unquestionably does a great job of selling the film.
The biggest extra here is the director’s commentary. Unfortunately, it sounds like Director Marcus Nispel could have used a second party on this track, as it is bland, and includes long stretches of silence. However, I was quite surprised to hear one segment wherein the Director actually praised the studio’s interference during the production. He talks about how much he appreciated the studio’s presence on the set, so he was able to deliver something that they would enjoy when it was finished. (The problem with this interference, however, is that studios are great with accounting, but not so good with storytelling.)
There are seven deleted scenes included, with optional director’s commentary. Honestly, I felt like the film dragged as it is, so these additional scenes are really just more of the same. Also included here are seven featurettes, which are clearly all excerpts from the film’s electronic press kit.
Pathfinder is a film that could very well have captured my interest judging from the trailers in the theater. Unfortunately, the finished product was nothing but a bland collection of repetitive fight scenes strung together by a flimsy premise and an even more fragile love story. I am sorry to say that I can’t even recommend this film on the merits of its visuals, as the DVD transfer leaves a lot to be desired. If you are really into these kinds of movies, it is probably worth a rental, but casual fans of these types of films should steer clear.