Valhalla Rising (2009 movie) review…

Valhalla Rising (2009 movie) review after the break…

Valhalla Rising (2009 movie) review…

To paraphrase an old quote, “The difference between civilization and nature is whether you can block out the wind.”

“Valhalla Rising” is a 2009 movie that can best be euphemistically described as a minimalist adventure. Anyone walking into this film expecting the usual Hollywood conventions for what movies are will become sorely disappointed fairly quickly. In the film, a mysterious one-eyed slave escapes his Viking captors, only to agree to travel with Christian Crusaders to New Jerusalem to fight in the Holy Wars. However, someone forgot to bring their GPS unit along with them (It is the Middle Ages, so, you have to give them some slack) and they get lost in a mysterious mist. When they emerge, they find themselves very far from anyplace resembling the Middle Ages.

The marketing for this film is somewhat disingenuous – While the one-eyed slave is rather adept at fighting, the marketing buzz calling him “supernatural” is a bit of a stretch. Quite honestly, anyone expecting weird science-fiction or thriller elements might want to seriously reconsider watching this movie.

The film is split into six parts and the first four parts should be watched, regardless of expectations. The movie sells the damp, overcast, windy landscape beautifully to the extent that you feel like wrapping yourself in an extra blanket afterwards just to remove the imaginary chill you received. The environment is definitely unforgiving and one could sympathize with anyone who would have to endure such conditions on an even infrequent basis.

Dialog throughout the first four parts is especially sparse as the one-eyed fighter establishes his dominance and also begins his plans for escape. The one-eyed fighter never speaks a single word throughout the entire film, a convention that most Hollywood actors would probably not care to replicate. Could you imagine a Brad Pitt or Matt Damon performing the same type of role? The Hollywood executives wouldn’t allow for it.

“Valhalla Rising,” like most movies, sells a slow beginning for the anticipation of a satisfying ending. Unfortunately, once the ship finds land, the film begins to show most of it’s shortcomings. First and foremost, the conclusion is nearly as threadbare as it’s beginning. This flat-line approach may impress intellectuals but will leave many a casual film goer unsatisfied as the conclusion is, fundamentally, about sailors coping with the realization of being stranded in a lost land while being hounded by a tribe of natives. As exciting as that summary sounds, it is not and anyone expecting even the modest level of momentary action that the first few acts possess will be disappointed when the final few acts has even less then that.

There’s nothing wrong with an “intellectual” film but one of the main problems with “Valhalla Rising” is that it does not sell itself as an intellectual film but as a film of both mystery and action, neither of which is entirely accurate. Is there violence in this movie? Yes there is. Is there some mystery in this movie? By virtue of it’s sparse dialog and ambiguous storyline, of course. Yet both of these elements yields to long periods of nothingness that, at first, intrigues the standard viewer and then strands them when even the hardiest of optimists finally realize that the film will provide neither the amount of action nor mystery to counterbalance the artistically long droughts of storyline movement.

What is most disappointing about “Valhalla Rising” is that it gets just enough ‘right’ to make you yearn for what might have been had it ended with a bit more of a pulse. The beginning scenes of an enslaved fighter tells an entire story without barely the hint of dialog. The escape is realistically portrayed and the brutal boat ride is efficiently rendered with hardly a scrap of superfluous screen time. You hardly need a few sentences uttered to see a shipmate succumb to drinking saltwater and dying. Similar brevity is put to great use as a few shipmates conspire unsuccessfully to rid themselves of the one-eyed warrior during the ship passage. Such reserve in both dialog and scenery would be a sight to behold in mainstream Hollywood; How many directors would have the discipline to pull off, for instance, a mist-covered boat journey that featured just the boat and little else?

Austerity, though, comes at a price; Only the most forgiving cineophile will sit through the remainder of the film where the budget bottoms out and viewers are left with watching the remaining crew turn on each other after they reach land. All others will more then likely want their time back. That’s too bad – “Valhalla Rising,” marketed correctly and with a revised ending, would have been a decent small film. As it stands, only the first four acts have merit enough for mention.


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