Left behind as a boy by a Viking raiding party to the American coast, Ghost (Karl Urban) is brought up by a native tribe. Confronted by a new brutal attack from across the ocean, he must use his memories and local skills to save his surrogate kin.
Amongst the ranks of decent society there exists a select few that meet, away from prying eyes, to share a forbidden secret. These individuals are defiantly of the opinion that The 13th Warrior, setting Vikings against cannibals against critics and possibly starring members of Megadeth, is a very fine film indeed. This, in turn, causes most others to view them as victims of mental retardation and to greet them with pity or contempt.
Over the last year, between silent songs to the halls of Valhalla, this rabble have gotten more than a little steamed about the imminent arrival of Pathfinder, a remake of Icelandic adventure movie Ofelas, wherein big, mean Vikings are set against decently minded Natives in the proto-Americas and a lot of snow. Could this be the long-sought second coming for silly helmets, heavy-metal hair and dialogue gravelly enough to pave a road? Not on your nelly.
Never has an idea of such splendid nuttiness been so squandered to the god of neurotic style. Marcus Nispel, an outrageous German who made a half-decent stab at remaking The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, has afflicted his latest with the impatience of a bad sport. A film made up of ninety per cent mano-a-mano combat is rendered insensible by the mayhem of his editing, that Armageddon-style frame-fucking delusion that a disorientating blur of sensation is way better than actually showing you something happen. Scenes are bereft of all logic and drama, with the colour trendily desaturated to the sickly grey of motion sickness.
Not that he’s got much of a script to work with. The dialogue — Californian English for the good Natives, guttural Orc-speak in subtitles for the hulking Vikings — manages no more than stage directions or mystical mumbo that can’t even muster the energy for jumbo. As the heroic Ghost, Karl Urban (né Eomer) fixes his face in a permanent scowl, framed by scummy locks, and dashes about in the freezing fog with only a loincloth to shelter his dignity. His performance is, frankly, inert, any pointers at an identity crisis hastily shuffled into the colourless margins while he does Arnie in Predator and Sly in First Blood, an eco-bruiser against the odds. Moon Bloodgood tries to look cute in moccasins, framed by Timotei locks as shiny as dew. If only the camera wasn’t so intent on veering off like a drunkard to watch yobs in black armour slaughter children or dip braves headfirst into bonfires. They’re led by the usually reliable Clancy Brown, but he gets out-acted by his beard.
What good can we say of this laborious dust-up? Well, there’s a novel spot of squeamish eye surgery as a brute sews up his recently vacated socket. The occasional stark image breaks through the miasma of Nispel’s design to strike a chord: Urban rising from a misty stream to gut a baddie; Urban sledging on a shield down a mountainside, over a cliff and into a waterfall... Amid its looming forests and moonlit shorelines, a sense of ancient atmosphere is evoked that could almost convince you of authenticity if it wasn’t for everything else.
If there’s one thing to say about this damnably rubbish attempt to get jiggy with the Viking groove — it’s no 13th Warrior.
For crying out loud, Marcus all you had to do was have Vikings fight Indians! How hard was that?