Friday, August 24, 2007

Pathfinder (2007)

There are a couple of movies I'm dying to see get made. If done right, they will probably not appear in this blog (unless, of course, I change the name). First, I want to see a good Hannibal movie. No, I am NOT referring to Hannibal Lector, but Hannibal Barca. If you don't know who he is, all I can say is for shame! He's the Carthaginian general that terrorized Rome around 200 B.C. Actually, even more than that, I am interested in the portrayal of Scipio Africanus, the young Roman general that defeated him. Now that we have mastered computer generated effects I think we could easily handle the scenes involving the elephants. I see that Vin Diesel is developing a Hannibal movie, in which he will star and direct. So, chances are, THAT movie WILL appear in this blog. The other one I'm dying to see is a good Viking picture. The Vikings were a parasitic bunch of marauders from the Norseland who lived for the plunder during the middle ages. Archaeological studies show they made it as far as Baghdad and also North America. Well, the only evidence of THAT is a sword and shield discovered in Newfoundland, but that's all I need. If anyone knows of a good Viking movie, besides Kirk Douglas' The Vikings and Erik The Viking please let me know about it. Also, 13th Warrior (perhaps the best of them all?).

Anyway, Pathfinder is a movie about Vikings! Also, Indians (Native Americans). It stars Karl Urban (Lord of the Rings) and Clancy Brown (The Highlander). Also, Russell Means (The Last of the Mohicans). Vikings versus Indians. I'm excited. Marcus Nispel directed. No longer excited. I won't go so far as to call Nispel a hack, but based on his previous film it is pretty obvious that he doesn't know what he's doing. He inexplicably remade The Texas Chainsaw Massacre into a glossy, hollywood horror film. Gone was the grunge, the humor, the verite that made the original so brilliant. Instead, we were left with a film that just made me feel sick to my stomach. The fact that he completely omitted the dinner scene proved that he didn't understand the original. Yeah, kinda dug R. Lee Ermey and he was even pretty scary. Leatherface, on the other hand, went from being an iconic character with personality to Jason Vorhees. Instead of a child in a large man's body he was just a killing machine. Actually, Leatherface (redux version) did display a little personality when he turned on the sprinklers in the slaughterhouse while chasing Jessica Biel. I mean, who wouldn't want to see Biel in a wet tee-shirt. Still, I was pretty certain that it was Nispel or Bay's decision to hit the sprinklers. Alas, if you want to see a horny Leatherface, you're going to have to stick with your Chainsaw Massacre Part 2 DVDs. TCM redux wasn't a particularly disappointing remake, however, because I knew it would suck the moment I saw Michael Bay's name attached as Producer. Still, I couldn't stay away. I'm a sucker.

So, here we have another Nispel remake. A remake of a 1987 Norwegian film called Ofelas. I have no attachment to Ofelas. Never seen it. Probably never will. Apparently, it was nominated for an Academy Award, but at the same time it did not contain indians. If I had to guess, I would say that Nispel never saw Ofelas either. He HAS seen several other movies because this one wears its influences proudly upon its sleeves; the Conan saga, The Last of the Mohicans, Willow, Texas Chainsaw Massacre remake, Lord of the Rings, even Cliffhanger.

The plot is very simple. Around 892 A.D., the Vikings storm the shores of America, I'm guessing Newfoundland. Vikings destroy village after village before heading home with their plunder. A young boy is left behind for refusing to kill a defenseless native. He is adopted by the tribe and raised as one of their own. He is given the name of Ghost. When Ghost, now played by Karl Urban (Doom), becomes a man the Vikings return. It's up to him to stop them. According to the opening scrawl, this is an honest to god legend.

This is a silly picture that takes itself very seriously. The Vikings look like they stepped off a video shoot for the band GWAR. At least Nispel gives them the feeling of authenticity by having them speak icelandic. The indians, on the other hand, speak perfect english, which is kind of strange because the English won't come to America for another 700 years or so. I get what Nispel is doing here. He wants the audience to relate to the good guys and, let's face it, the good guys always speak english. Also, Icelandic speakers are ALWAYS bad guys.

Ghost is a pretty standard action hero. His character is loved by his tribe, but never fully accepted by them. They challenge, at times, his entitlement to live among them. "He has yet to earn the right to be here. Until he faces them (Vikings I guess), he will never know who he really is." Ghost's response; "Then I will find my own path". Pathfinder. Actually, the titular character is played by Russel Means. In the first movie of Means' career, he also played the title character in a popular indian saga (I'm going to use the term indian from now on. It's shorter and sounds better than native american even if it's not p.c.) called The Last of the Mohicans. In that movie, his name was Chingahook, the last of the Mohicans. In this movie, he is simply named Pathfinder. So, I guess there is a little difference. Like in Last of the Mohicans, Means was great in this picture. His daugther named Starfire, played by Moon Bloodgood is in love with Ghost. In a way, I suppose, she is also Pathfinder. If you really break it down, the Viking leader Gunnar (Clancy Brown) is also pathfinder. You know what? We are all pathfinder.

Let's talk about Clancy Brown, shall we? He was fantastic as Gunnar. Completely unrecognizeable under his helmet, beard, and makeup. His voice is the only thing that gave him away, and still, he was speaking icelandic. I loved the scene where after he destroys Ghost's village, he says "Let's show some respect for our host". This is after the majority of their "host" have been brutally slaughtered, save one, and the women have been raped (I'm kind of assuming the rape, but there is a scene or two later on that kind of confirms this). So, I guess Gunnar has a different definition of respect than the rest of us. The Oxford english dictionary hadn't been invented by this time, so maybe the definition has evolved over the years? Gunnar's plan is to wipe out a village, keep one "savage" alive, and have them lead the way to the next village. rinse, wash, repeat. It's a solid plan by viking standards, but let's face it. Those standards are pretty low. These guys are morons.

There are some pretty fun action scenes. I wish there were more though because the movie is 90% action. My favorite scene was the sled battle ripped off from Willow. Ghost is battling the Vikings on top of a mountain when, in an effort to escape he jumps on his sled and rides it down. The Vikings follow suit and suddenly we have a kick ass sled battle on our hands. The only difference between this and Willow was that Ghost wasn't stuck in a giant snow ball at the bottom of the mountain.

I loved another scene for it's unintentional hilarity. Ghost has set up a trap for the Vikings. He's dug a pit filled with sharpened stakes and covered it with brush. As, he waits for the Vikings to run into it, out of the corner of his eye, he notices his Indian brothers running to his aid. Unfortunately, they're not aware of his trap. Ghost shouts "Noooooooooo" in slow motion. This one proves the old adage that tragedy + time = comedy. I'm sure if we were there, we wouldn't be laughing. Please tell me that's a real adage.

Another scene I liked involved thin ice. This scene illustrates the moronic aptitude of the Norsemen. Ghost and Starfire have been captured. They are leading the Vikings to the next village when they come upon a frozen lake. Ghost warns them that the ice is thin and they should go around. The Vikings, who should know a thing or two about ice, insist that they cross it. They get about 20 feet out when the ice breaks plunging Ghost and several Vikings into the frigid water below. The Vikings sink to the bottom, but the armorless Ghost survives. Before emerging from the water, however, Ghost has a "must be seen to be believed" underwater conversation with Pathfinder *spoiler*, now dead (he was drawn and quartered by the Vikes). Ghost says "I'm dying" and Pathfinders response, complete with bubbles, is "don't complain to me about it".

The atmosphere of the film is reminiscent of Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings trilogy. The Vikings, when not looking like GWAR, appeared to be direct descendants of the Uruk-hai, with about half the intelligence. The colors were desaturated, the mountains were snow covered, and the battles were filled with computer generated blood. The Vikings even blew horns, so perhaps they were the bastard children of the Gondorians and the Uruk-hai. Another funny scene, after hearing a horn in the distance. Ghost, after a long pause looks at Starfire and says "They are coming." This is a violent movie. I saw the unrated edition, so that's the one I'm mildly recommending. Heads were cut off, blood was spurting. In one scene, a viking was scalped through his helmet. So, we know Ghost's sword was made of some quality steel.

The final scene involves Ghost leading the vikings over and around a mountain while they balance upon a narrow ledge. Ghost insists that they tie themselves all together. Uh huh. Again, smart Vikings. Of course, it all comes down to a battle between Ghost and Gunnar while hanging off the side of the mountain. I won't tell you who won. I have more respect for your intelligence than the screenwriters had for the Vikings. I guess navigating the oceans hundreds of years before anyone only took brawn and steel. They must have been lucky to catch the right currents or something. Navigation is for pussies, I'm sure they would have said. I liked the film enough. If you have a history paper due tomorrow and didn't have time to look at wikipedia, I'd say this movie would be worth a D-, for effort. The bloodshed is good. Some of the action scenes are pretty well filmed. There was even some decent CG snow. No nudity though, an almost unforgiveable offense for a movie about "savages". There's also some high comedy to be found in here. Unfortunately, Pathfinder really just made me want to go and watch all those movies it stole from. Now, where is my copy of Cliffhanger?

8 comments:

steve said...

I doubt the Vin Diesel Hannibal movie will ever get made - he's been egomaniacally flogging it for years, and every year it gets a little smaller in scope, a little more humble in shooting location, etc. He'd be a disaster in the lead role anyway - now Lance Henrickson, HE could play a weathered, tired Hannibal. I agree that Scipio deserves to be immortalized on film, but I'm sure NOBODY will agree with my casting choice for him: Ben Affleck. You may commence brick-hurling.

steve said...

'The 13th Warrior' does indeed get my vote for best (yet) Viking picture, although one would think after watching and liking it, you'd hesitate before characterizing Vikings like you do in your post! They weren't JUST barbarian marauders! They founded lots and lots of settlements! They did lots and lots of farming!

steve said...

How on Earth can you so cruelly disparage the 'Texas Chainsaw' remake???? It had MIKE VOGEL in it! And any movie with Mike Vogel in it just CAN'T be horrible!

brian said...

Steve,

Regarding Vikings, of course you are right. It was hard to think rationally about them so soon after watching Pathfinder, however.
I apologize to ALL my Viking readers.

If the Vin Diesel film is abandoned, I think that might actually be a good thing. Lance Henrickson, you say? I can't believe I'm going to say this, but I agree. Ben Affleck as Scipio? Why not just hire Zac Efron?

My dislike for the Chainsaw remake stems from my love for the original. In general, I feel like any movie can be subjected to a remake. Why not update something for a different audience? At the very least, a remake might generate interest in the original. Well, in the case of the TCM remake they lost a lot of the character that made the original so good. I've talked about Leatherface, but where was the Old gas station attendant? Where was Granpa? It felt like the guys that remade the original didn't really respect it.

steve said...

It's PRECISELY that knee-jerk dismissal of Ben Affleck that MY screenplay for MY Hannibal movie (I'd call it 'Zama') would both trade upon and dispel!

And contrary to popular belief, I don't consider Zac Efron the be-all and end-all of all things cinematic. Although he IS currently topping my life of People I'd Hate to Be Right Now. Entertainment Weekly is ALREADY planning his 'downfall' and booking him a room at Betty Ford ...

brian said...

Steve,

I watched The 13th Warrior for the 2nd time last night. I loved it. A complete 180 from the portrayal of Vikings in Pathfinder. I loved Buliwyf, who seemed conflicted at times, yet rarely betrayed any emotion.

My only complaint. It was too short. Somewhere, I think there's probably an extra hour of footage just waiting to be spliced back in. If anyone is looking for a counterpoint to Pathfinder, this is your movie. I recommend it.

Oh, and Zama is a good title I think except the general public won't know what the hell it means. I would suggest calling it Scipio. Calling it Hannibal would just confuse people into thinking it was yet another prequel to Silence of the Lambs. If you insist on calling it Zama (which I like) at least add a Dawn to the title. Zama Dawn. Perfect.

Beepy said...

How does this movie compare with the book "The Very Virile Viking." Everything that I know about Vikings (such as that they love to plough), I learned from the VVV.

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