Wednesday, November 24, 2010
Review: Valhalla Rising
Norse Mythology is awesome. Mads Mikkelsen is awesome. Combine the two together, and you have a match made in Valhalla, right? Well, maybe, maybe not, as advertising can be deceiving. Checking out the trailer for this film, you may think it’s all guts spilling and heads rolling, but it’s actually a quiet meditation on warfare and religion. Is that good enough for a Norse epic? Well, it depends on what you’re looking for in a Norse epic, now doesn’t it?
The Movie: Three and a half stars
Being a huge fan of Norse Mythology, I got really excited when I read the back of the box for Valhalla Rising, as everything just seemed so badass to me: Mads Mikkelsen (You mean Le Chiffre from Casino Royale?!) playing a prisoner named One Eye (Like Odin, One Eye?!) fights to the death but escapes and meets some warriors along the way headed for the Crusades? Uh, where do I sign up? I mean, seriously, nothing could be cooler to me, as Norse Mythology is the shit.
Then, when I popped in the movie and watched the trailer, which is the only special feature on the entire disc (more on that below), I got even more excited. What I saw was a one-eyed man eviscerating, decapitating, and doing pretty much everything else to the human body that I wouldn’t want done to my own. Seriously, I couldn’t be more psyched about this. And in the back of my mind, all I could think was, could this be the Norse adventure that I’ve been craving all my life? Sure, being an IFC Films release, I knew it wasn’t going to be anything visually spectacular. I knew I wasn’t going to see any scenes of Jormungandr rising from the shores around Midgard while Thor hoists his mighty hammer, Mjollnir, into the air and shoots him with lightning bolts, but it could still be pretty cool, right? And besides, it had to be better than Eric the Viking, which, even as a comedy, is the closest I’ve ever seen to a movie covering the Norse gods.
But alas, as a Norse adventure, it’s not better than Eric the Viking, as even Eric the Viking mentioned Fenrir the wolf once in awhile. Valhalla Rising, on the other hand, is as much a movie about the Norse gods as Do the Right Thing is a movie about helping old ladies cross the street. I can’t say that I’m too surprised, really, now that I’ve actually seen it. I mean, if it really was a giant, fist-pumping adventure film, then I’m sure it would have been more widespread than it was. But I definitely didn’t expect this, as Valhalla Rising is, at times, a plodding, meandering, slog of a film that demands a rewatch, but I don’t think I could possibly stay awake long enough to watch it over again a second time.
As mentioned earlier, the story is centered around a man named One Eye who is a prisoner from the get-go and is chained up to a pole where he has to fight for his captors’ amusement. One Eye is a freaking beast and destroys every single one of his adversaries. So much so, that at one point, he beats a victim in the coconut with a rock and exposes his brain, which definitely makes this the goriest film I’ve ever seen. That’s right, even though the violent scenes in Valhalla Rising are few and far between, this is definitely not a movie for the squeamish. If only the story were as clean cut as the brutality in it.
But alas, the story, while interesting, is presented in such a mundane fashion that I had a problem sitting through it because I was so bored. Valhalla Rising is the kind of film that you’ll like if you don’t really care about dialogue or communication, but you are excited by the possibilities that visuals can convey on a screen as a means to tell a story. I’m not saying that’s a bad thing, but I personally like interaction. I like dialogue. Not to the extent that it bogs down a story, but at least to the point that I can relate to the characters and enjoy them. But One Eye is a mute who carries his emotions out through brutal violence. I hear this film is a big departure from Bronson, director Nicolas Winding Refn's last movie. And really, this film is a big departure from any movie I’ve seen of late. The closest I could compare it to is the opening scenes in the movie Irreversible, which are pretty much a hodgepodge of visuals that you have to make sense of on your own terms. That’s Valhalla Rising in a nutshell, a hodgepodge of images neither here nor there but definably present. It can give you a headache if you think about it too much.
Still, it’s not all bad once you realize just what kind of movie you’re getting yourself into. Valhalla Rising is a very quiet film, and if you’re willing to sink into what it has to present to you, you might just like it. My advice to you is to go into this movie without seeing the trailer or looking at the back of the box. If you do, you’ll actually find a rather somber story both beautiful and horrifying at the same time, albeit incredibly slow. That being said, I can still see some of the most memorable scenes in my head right now, and for that reason, I can’t score it too low. But I also won’t score it too high because of what the advertisements lead you to believe it to be. An action-packed samurai film with Vikings in it, this is not. But a deep reflection on religion and warfare, it is. And if that’s your bag of bones, then I advise that you check it out. It may not be the god-scaling epic that I was hoping for, but it definitely has its moments. Give it a look.
The Disc: One star
In what time period was having just a trailer on your disc considered an adequate special feature? Because in 2010 going into 2011, it’s just plain pathetic. As the sole special feature on this disc, I have to say that I’m more than just a little peeved about this. Some commentary discussing just why the director decided to make this movie would have been nice, or information on why the protagonist is named One Eye (I mean, seriously, I know you’re trying to make me think of Odin when you give your lead a name like that, but what does it all mean? Couldn’t you at least give me a hint?) Overall, if anything, the trailer actually hurts the film, especially if you watch it before the movie like I did. If you do pick up this movie, only watch the trailer afterwards to note how far a trailer can throw you off. Seriously, people, it’s 2010. We want more from our DVD special features than just a freaking trailer. By Odin’s beard, try harder!