He’s never belonged to anyone for more than 5 years, your time has passed, mine has come.
Year Released : 2009
Director : Nicolas Winding Refn
Cast : Mads Mikkelson, Maarten Stevenson, Gordon Brown, Alexander Morton and Andrew Flanagan
Made for a budget of £4m, Valhalla Rising came nowhere near the break even mark during it’s run in the 2010 American box office, making just £17,000 overall, even less in it’s native Denmark and it wasn’t even released at cinemas in the UK. It’s hardly surprising that very few people have ever heard of a film that only contains 120 lines of dialog, none of which are spoken by the main character.
I first heard of this film in 2010 (if memory serves) and thought that it looked incredible. It was directed by the same man who brought us the incredible “Bronson” and it starred Mads Mikkelsen, who was just coming off of the back of a major role in the remake of “Clash of the Titans” (at the time of me hearing about it). The trailer looked incredible and I went out and bought it from a local shop…..and hated it almost instantly.
Ever since that day it has been sat in it’s DVD case and I never had any intention of watching this film again. At the time I thought it was pretentious, tedious and to be more blunt, boring. It’s amazing that I still actually own the DVD. The only reason I watched it again was to review it for this site and to be honest, it’s not actually as bad as I remember.
It’s 1000AD and Norse cheftain Barde (Morton) watches a mysterious man named One Eye (Mikkelsen) destroy two other men in a fight. One Eye is completely mute but still develops a bond with Are (Stevenson), a slave boy. Together they escape Barde’s control after being held prisoner and set out into the world.
They soon run into a group of Christians and are invited along on a mission to help in the crusades to reclaim Jerusalem. Their journey turns sour though after insanity starts to creep into the crew when their boat enters a mist that lasts for days. Sanity becomes increasingly thinner and the crew start to blame their situation on each other and eventually on the mysterious One Eye, who’s eerie silence throughout makes everyone uneasy.
As their travel through the mist they have no idea that what awaits them at the other end is far more dangerous.
It sounds quite interesting…..
Yep, I agree, it sounds interesting, but there are far too many problems with the film, but I’ll get onto those after first going through the positives.
Despite my initial reaction a few years ago, Valhalla Rising isn’t actually as bad as it first seemed and there are many parts that I actually quite enjoyed. The fight at the beginning and the way that One Eye breaks the other guy’s neck to win the fight is fantastic and hearing the bone snap in such a realistic way is regularly unseen in film. The sound effects throughout are fantastic, right from when One Eye is sticking a dead man’s head on a stick, right through to the smaller things such as the crew sheathing their swords
The music in the background is also increasingly excellent as you get a truly tense sensation as the film progresses. Even the smallest moment of mystery has the most intense music to promote a real sense of tension and that is something that you don’t get in most films. You’re constantly on edge as you never know what’s coming, or even at the end when you do actually know what is coming, you just don’t know when.
Sound throughout isn’t completely excellent though and there are a few times where it is obvious that the actor has had their voice either put through an autotuner or has been dubbed entirely. Their voice sounded like it was coming through a tin can and that put me off quite a bit. Also take into consideration that on a few occasions the actor is speaking with such a lack of clarity that even at full volume you can’t understand what he is saying. When you’re making a film with so few lines in it, the first of which isn’t said until just over seven minutes into the film, you know that even the slightest disturbance in the sound is going to be picked up on and it surprises me quite a bit that so much time was put into the look of the film, but very little into the sound.
It must also be the first time in the history of film (since silent films obviously) where the main character has said absolutely nothing or made any noise whatsoever. Seriously, Mikkelson doesn’t say a single word in the entire film, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing as you know he knows how to play a moody character from his role as Draco in the aforementioned “Clash of the Titans”. Mikkelson is definitely the star in this and the only role that is acted with any sense of actually being believable as even though he is not saying anything, his expression never changes and he has an eye covered up, you can tell exactly what the character is feeling, and that is the sign of an excellent actor.
The character of One Eye is a bit of a plot spoiler though as the film is split into six chapters and in each he sees a vision of what happens in the next, and that sort of spoils it in a way as there are a few times where there is a bit of mystery or threat going on, he has a vision and you’re just like “well he survives then!” and it takes a bit of the momentum out of the scene.
Then we get onto the group of Christians. Now, just for the record, I am agnostic myself but I thought the portrayal of Christians was very interesting. This is set at a time when Christianity was still spreading through Europe but even the devout-Christians in this film seem to take a similar approach to the modern day believers of the religion. For example, when they reach the other end of the mist and encounter what’s there, they can’t explain it so describe it as “God’s will”, which is very similar to the modern day. Other than that they actually seem like a very unlikely group of individuals to be religious, and when one is shot with an arrow and pleads for help, one of the others tells him to “fuck off!” Not very Christian at all.
The ultimate problem with the film is that there are only 120 lines of dialogue, take into account that the film is 90 minutes long, that equates to a line every 45 seconds. That’s not a lot of dialogue when you consider that on occasions some of the characters string together an entire paragraph and because of this there is pretty much no character development, you have to try and figure out what’s going on and worst of all, you don’t ultimately care what happens to the characters, other than maybe One Eye, and even that’s at a push. One of the Christians’ character development starts and ends at the word “paranoid”, another’s is just to find the easy way out of a situation and there are too many one dimensional characters. Even Are doesn’t say a lot, and when it does it’s only saying what One Eye is supposedly thinking. Yes, he and One Eye have apparently developed a bond, or more to the point Are just follows him around and the only scene where he shows any real bond back is right at the end.
The plot itself overall isn’t actually that bad but the lack of dialogue means it’s easy to find yourself not paying attention to the film and therefore losing what’s going on entirely.
Certainly not as bad as the first time I watched it but ultimately it still maintains that feeling of being pretentious and that it should be viewed as a more important film than it actually is.
There are some enjoyable bits in the film, but they are few and far between. There are long sections without anything happening or anything being said and whilst the film looks fantastic due to it’s open world feel, it’s ultimately stuck in the realm of being considered average.
If you do get a spare 90 minutes then it might be worth watching, but take into consideration that you are about to sit down to watch a film where not an awful lot happens and that it’s an hour and a half of your life that you’re not going to get back.
Right, where’s that DVD case?