Sunday, 30 October 2011

DVD Review: Erik The Viking

Directed By: Terry Jones
Starring: Tim Robbins, Mickey Rooney, Eartha Kitt, Imogen Stubbs, Terry Jones
Erik (Tim Robbins) discovers that he is not happy with the raping and pillaging customs of his people. Looking for advice, Erik asks the wise old woman Freya (Eartha Kitt) for a solution. She tells him that since Fenris the Wolf has swallowed the sun, the age of violence, Ragnarok, has begun. Worried by this revelation, Erik decides to travel to the legendary land of Hy-Brasil , in order to find the Horn Resounding, the magic artifact that will take him to Asgard and awake the Gods. With this in mind, Erik prepares an expedition and sails to adventure; but Halfdan the Black (John Cleese) and Keitel Blacksmith (Gary Cady) are not happy about finishing the lucrative business of war. Both decide to follow Erik in order to make him fail.
In 1989, Terry Jones turned his attention to the Viking way of life and the legends that surround it. Echoing work on the Python movies; Holy Grail and Life of Brain, Jones mixes a little fact with a lot of intelligent humour. Whilst it isn’t quite up to the quality of entertainment as the mentioned films, Erik the Viking still has a lot of likeability. The movie had gone largely forgotten outside of its fanbase, which is a shame. Perhaps this release will fire up a renewed interest.

Jones, a keen historian, made a movie that lightly uses the Monty Python style of humour whilst using his knowledge of the Viking way of life. The movie is peppered with historical references, but typically, they are twisted to ensure the comedy works and that the audience isn’t alienated. The tone of the movie is more in keeping with the Life of Brian, in that the comedy is more restrained than some of Jones’ collaborations with Terry Gilliam. It was this background, with the Python team, that ultimately harmed the movie, I believe. People, understandably expected a movie more in line with the Python humour and maybe felt a bit cheated that it wasn’t quite the same. The story lets it down, but the performances are top notch.
Tim Robbins effectively plays the naive, well intentioned Erik. This was an early role for Robbins and different from the roles that he would subsequently undertake. His crew are played by familiar actors and help flesh out their roles and screen time. John Cleese brings his usual magic to the mix and manages to steal every scene he appears in. Freddie Jones, recognisable to fantasy fans from the movie Krull, puts in a good turn as Harald the Missionary. Other recognisable faces include Tim McInnery (Spooks, Blackadder), John Gordon Sinclair (Gregory’s Girl), Samantha Bond (Bond films from Goldeneye to Die Another Day). Both Anthony Sher and Imogen Stubbs are interesting in their respective role. Sher plays a weasel-like Loki (the villain that is being used in The Avengers movie next year). Stubbs plays Princess Aud. Eartha Kitt plays the part of Freya, a Norse Goddess surprising well. I thought she’d camp it up a bit like her appearances in the Adam West Batman series but she dwonplays that side of herself.
Erik the Viking originated as a children’s story for his son, but grew into something more adult: The spirit of which still remains, in part. Whilst it loses the over the top zany style of the Monty Python comedies, it also loses something because of it. Sometimes, the movie is too clever for its own good, I hate to say.
This Arrow release includes the “Director’s Son’s Cut”. This cut reduces the movie’s screen time to just a lean 75 minutes long, rearranging some scenes into more of a logical order and speeding up the pacing. The problems with editing the movie tend to suggest that the movie was already troubled before release. This may come to explain how the movie disappeared from the audience’s consciousness back in 1989 and hasn’t really made a mark on pop culture since. 

Arrow present the feature with the wonderful attention to packaging that we’ve come to expect from the “white boxes” with a vast array of special features, including featurettes and interviews. There are two versions of the film - the 75 minute cut, already mentioned, and the Director’s Cut that took away about ten minutes from the theatrical cut. It’s almost as complicated as the story of the many versions of Highlander 2, but not quite.
I prefer movies like Time Bandits and the Python movies. I think there was a clear reason why those projects were successful and Erik wasn’t. These guys worked better writing and producing in collaboration rather than independently: Well, certainly Terry Jones with this project. Erik the Viking will appeal to those who can’t quite get the Python movies and like strange fantasy comedies.
Score: 6/10

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