Occupation Viking: Valhalla Snoozing

I have been on a quest for the best Viking movie. My travails are logged in my posts marked Occupation: Viking, and I’ve found gems and turds along the way. A tracker once told me the first rule is “watch out for the shit turds,” and that applies to movie reviewing as well.

VALHALLA RISING is by director Nicholas Winding Refn, better known for his garish and contemplative adaptation of James Sallis’s kick-ass noir novel DRIVE. I enjoyed Drive very much, even as it diverged from the novel. I did think the director lingered too long on many shots, perhaps hoping to be mistaken from Michael Haneke or Werner Herzog, but a long shot is not always a deep shot.

Valhalla Rising begins without introduction or fanfare at a warrior’s fight ring in what I think is Scotland. A one-eyed competitor is uncaged and defeats his opponents with unrivaled brutality. He is kept leashed to a pole in the ring because no one can stop him, otherwise. He fights two men, a ditchy enterprise in reality, but it plays out for real. One-Eye bites a chunk of one man’s neck out, spits it at the other, and then strangles him with his own lead rope. Later he bashes someone’s skull open, brains aplenty. Disembowels another. But instead of being a portent of the brutal reality of combats to come, the story fires its bloody wad in the first reel, and never recaptures the energy it released.

The rest of the picture has One-Eye (who is presumably a captive Viking) led by Christian Scots to the Holy Land to fight the heathen. They wander in the mists on a boat. They arrive in a strange land they believe is hell, and go mad as their belief systems crumble. It has been compared to AGUIRRE, THE WRATH OF GOD, but I like that film quite a bit. Herzog knows how to make a static shot interesting, and how to build tension with the unknown. Refn is still learning. Drive was a huge improvement over this film. Valhalla Rising is the secondmost disappointing Viking film I’ve watched, the absolute worst being Severed Ways. I watched an actor shit on camera and wipe his ass with leaves in that one. This was a lot better, but that is faint praise.

The Viking Rankings, so far:

The 13th Warrior (Antonio Banderas as an Arab, veers from the book’s undead, but great fun)
The Vikings (A ridiculous Hollywood sword epic but loads of fun)
How to Train Your Dragon (much better than you’d give it credit for)
Outlander (Vikings vs. Predator… great dumb fun!)
Beowulf & Grendel (an overlooked “what really happened” tale, quite enjoyable)
Erik the Viking (Terry Jones of Monty Python, with predictable absurdity)
Beowulf (the Zemeckis 3D-animated one; pretty but boring)
Pathfinder (A great premise stupidly ruined. Vikings don’t know ice breaks?)
Valhalla Rising
Severed Ways (must be seen to be believed)

Yet to see:
When the Raven Flies
The Long Ships
The Norseman
The Viking Sagas
The Last of the Vikings
Embla: The White Viking

© 2011 Thomas Pluck

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