“Everybody has a story to tell about their lives. My story begins the day I died.”
It also seems that everybody has a tale of ancient fighters and heroes to tell. With the popularity of television shows like The Vikings and Game Of Thrones, there appears to be a considerable demand for this kind of film. Zack Snyder added his own graphic- novel style to 300, and it’s been repeated to the point where the style itself has become a sub-genre of its own. The Spartacus series took that style, noted for the animated cartoonish blood in plentiful supply, and made it into a common event. The natural continuation of these elements is the low budget and direct to video film Vikingdom.
It would be too easy to quickly dismiss Vikingdom as a cheap knockoff and move on. The stylish blood encounters can put you off if you’re not into the style. It appears to be a love-it-or-hate-it kind of thing. I usually come down on the hate-it side, but I won’t completely ignore a good film or show that happens to use the style. That’s certainly the case here. There is also a tremendous amount of styling in the image itself. I’m not sure if it’s color correction or some cool new digital toy, but the image lacks a sense of reality. It’s a hyper-reality that doesn’t always play well with the compression issues of a DVD. I would have really liked to see a high-definition version of the film to make it easier to separate what might be bad use of those toys or merely disc image issues. I’ll leave it up to you to decide. I do need to warn you that the issue exists, and it can make it harder still to give this film the more serious attention it actually deserves.
Eirick (Purcell) was once killed in battle. But he was loved by Freyja (Moss), who brings him back to life. This makes him a rather unique individual and places him in the position to answer the call when her brother, the god Frey (Moss) (they’re real brother and sister) tasks him with a quest.
It appears Thor (Stevens) wishes to open the gates of Heaven and Hell, and it won’t be a good thing for the humans of The Middle Kingdom. He must journey to Hell itself to retrieve the Horn of Helheim. If he blows it during the blood eclipse while Thor is making his attempt, it will send his spirit back to Valhalla where it belongs. Because he was once dead and brought back to life, only he can enter Hell and return. Not even the gods could accomplish such a feat.
Eirick gathers his crew which includes Brynna (Malthe) whom he finds himself attracted to. Yang (Foo) is a slave they free along the way. He speaks Chinese,so they don’t really understand each other. But his martial arts skills come in handy in the battles to come. Sven (Fairbrass) is his oldest friend and brother in arms. The team must overcome many obstacles and much betrayal before the final showdown. Of course, there we have secrets revealed that change the very nature of the quest and mission itself.
The story is quite ambitious, to say the least. We’re playing with iconic characters here, and there is a prejudice toward the versions we now know through the Marvel universe. This Thor is not a hero. He’s trying to do bad things, and his hammer is one of the sillier props I’ve seen in quite a long while. With only about a $15 million budget, this quest must rend its way through many real and mythical lands. It’s not always an easy job, and certainly there are flaws with some of the greenscreen environments.
If you are willing to look beyond many of these imperfections, you will find a better movie than you likely expected. Some of the f/x are actually pretty solid. There are some beautiful vistas that benefit from some clever set extension work. These are pretty near flawless. While some of the creatures aren’t going to live up to what we’ve become used to on the big screen, they really aren’t that bad and look better than most of the crap I’ve seen on any number of SyFy Originals.
There are also some nice set pieces to be found here. What they do in-camera is quite impressive. There is a mountain of souls in Hell which consists of a large pyramid of golden-painted woman that look like the girl from Goldfinger. It’s actually a pretty simple gag, but it’s one of the most impressive of the film. It’s an image that really sticks with you even after you’ve finished watching the film. The Hell set itself is rather simple but original. Then you have the cool warrior zombies that aren’t actually used to their full potential.
James Coyne has written an ambitious script, but he keeps it moving with plenty of nice turns and reveals. Of course, you’re going to see most of them coming, but this is truly a film about the journey and not the destination. In fact, the climax is a little disappointing, and I found myself wishing they were all back on the quest again. The pace never stands still long enough for us to linger on those budget issues, and you’ll find that you’re more than willing to join these guys for the ride.
Dominic Purcell is best known for his role on Prison Break. You might not recognize him here. I’ve been told that the wigs are something awful, but I actually rather liked the look of the characters. It’s refreshing that they all look rather ragged and grungy. Don’t you just hate a film that has these ancient characters looking like they’ve been followed around by a hairdressing team? Purcell makes the most of it all. He delivers just the right amount of intensity and avoids the temptation of going over the top. That’s particularly vital with so much style dominating the image and production design. Purcell could have easily turned this all into the silly comic book it tends to often resemble.
Purcell isn’t the only strong performer here. Credit Natassia Malthe for portraying a strong female character. She provides plenty of balance to the film that is otherwise quite male-dominated. I can even forgive the terrible costume choice here. She pretty much runs around in a bikini top in the middle of the frigid northlands. Of course, we all know why that choice was made. Fortunately it was balanced with an actress who could deliver on more than looks.
Finally, the film delivers best in the fight choreography. Here there’s no hint of a low-budget film. Director Yusry Kru demonstrates his own strengths. We get fights that are as good as any number of wide-release films. Here style doesn’t always ruin the moment. He doesn’t overuse the slow-motion gags, and he doesn’t use manic edits to add to the fights. The camera’s allowed to capture the skilled stunt work without the safety net of fast edits.
The score is also far and above most low-budget films. It’s energetic and emotional. The end credit song is really sweet.
The film certainly has its share of flaws. I found the image style to be very distracting most of the time. It’s as if Kru wanted to hedge his bets, and that shows a decided lack of confidence in both his work and that of the cast and crew that he assembled. It’s that choice, however, which is going to keep many in his audience from taking the rest seriously enough to appreciate that there’s really a pretty good film going on here. First impressions might have been enough to push me away from the movie. I had to ask myself if I had the patience to see beyond the trappings and find the rough gem beneath. What did I end up doing? “Do you see me running?”