Sunday, 22 May 2022

The Northman

May The Norse
Be With You

The Northman
UK 2022
Directed by Robert Eggers

The Northman is director Robert Eggers third full length feature film and, as a big studio release, is also around ten times more the budget of his previous two movies put together (at least). Now, I really liked his feature debut The VVitch (reviewed here) but I had some problems appreciating his follow up feature, The Lighthouse, truth be told (reviewed here). Having now seen The Northman, which has been receiving a lot of good word of mouth as being this generation’s equivalent of Conan The Barbarian (no, it really isn’t), I can say that for me, this one pretty much lays somewhere in the middle of both of those. Like many Hollywood released movies of recent months, I’d have to say it isn’t a great movie and, again, it’s not a bad one either. It feels a little compromised somehow (which fits with some things the director himself has said about it) and it doesn’t feel quite epic enough in scope to be counted among many of the big fantasy films which have gone before (and it’s certainly a fantasy version of a tale rather than a straight historical one, for sure, despite much authenticity to certain scenes depicting historical customs).

Another thing I’d heard about it was that it has a very complex story... um... really? No it hasn’t. It’s a very basic revenge movie where a son witnesses his father’s death (in this case, the father is a king played by Ethan Hawke) and escapes to a distant land so he can return to avenge his father many years later.  And, yes, you’ve seen the story done a hundred times before by now on screen, I should think. The grown up son is played by Alexander Skarsgård as Amleth, his mother is played by Nicole Kidman, his favourite seer is played by Willem Dafoe (from Eggers previous film), his father’s killer is played by Claes Bang and Skarsgård’s quirky love interest is played by the always incredible Anya Taylor-Joy (another Eggers collaborator). They’re all very good, the story is very simple... in that Amleth has to track down a legendary sword with semi-mystical properties (think of it as a lightweight, Stormbringer wannabe from Moorcock’s Elric Of Melnibone stories) and slay his father’s killer. So he brands himself as a slave and makes himself useful in his enemy’s community, to hide himself in plain sight and keep close to his target.

There’s literally nothing much to say about the plot but the comments that it has similarities to Conan The Barbarian, are not completely unfounded in terms of some of the content and the occasional (I believe, deliberate) nod. For example, the son living a hard life away from his slaughtered kin to return to avenge his father is pretty much the same as the first movie version of Robert E Howard’s literary creation. The scene where Amleth comes across his magical sword is very much reminiscent of the short Conan story The Thing In The Crypt, written by  L. Sprague de Camp and Lin Carter, it seems to me. Also, the pre-credits sequence starts off with the similar, low percussion element on the music followed by the growly tones of voice over narrative introducing the character, which is again very similar to the first Conan movie... although, stylistically and in most ways, this is where the similarity ends.

It’s an entertaining enough yarn, though and it looks very good. Eggers has used something almost black and white for many of the shots set in the moonlight (which is the only time the sword can be properly used to feed on opponents blood... in darkness). So some shots will be completely monotone while others, midst the grayness, will have things like coloured torch flames, very much reminiscent of the style of pitching the colour and monotone together as seen in the Sin City movies.

So, yeah, the film looks pretty spectacular, rattles along at a hasty pace and, you are pretty much rooting for Amleth the whole way through the movie. It doesn’t, as I said earlier, feel really epic but this is more to do with the scope of the story, I think... as I said, it looks pretty spectacular.

Despite the opening bars of the score, this doesn’t go the full on, rich epic Hollywood sound of the Basil Poledouris music for Conan The Barbarian either. If anything, it’s much more stripped back and ‘of its time’ in terms of the way the music is functioning in the film (and when I say ‘of it’s time’... I don’t necessarily mean that literally, I mean that it’s more transparent, uncomplicated writing with simple orchestration). So it surprised me somewhat... since it sounds just the kind of score Eggers’ previous collaborator on his first two features, Mark Korven, would have written for this... that it’s actually composed by Robin Carolan and Sebastian Gainsborough. I need to hear this one again and, at time of writing, it’s been announced that there will be a CD release of this coming soon, so I may just get a chance if they stick to their guns on that.

And I’m sorry this is such a short review for this film but that’s me pretty much done with The Northman. Like The Lighthouse, I doubt I’ll be revisiting this one for a second watch but fans of this kind of stuff should have a strong liking for it, I would have thought. It’s an entertaining, bloody depiction of a familiar trope which people should lap up. I’ve certainly not given up on this director... and I’m happy to see what he comes up with next (I think the big studio experience has somewhat him soured to taking on something like this again, by the sound of it).

No comments:

Post a Comment