Written by: Giuseppe Rijitano on June 26th, 2010
Theatrical Release Date: UK, September 2009
Director: Nicolas Winding Refn
Writer: Nicolas Winding Refn & Roy Jacobsen
Cast: Mads Mikkelsen, Gary Lewis, Jamie Sives, Callum Mitchell, Andrew Flanagan, Douglas Russell.
DVD released: May 17th, 2010
Approximate running time: 90 minutes
Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1 Widescreen / 1080 Progressive
Rating: 18 (UK)
Sound: English: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1, English: DTS 2.0
DVD Release: Momentum Pictures
Region Coding: Region B (UK)
Retail Price: £17.99
If I was to pitch Valhalla Rising to someone going into the movie theater I would say – ‘If you are ready to travel into space this is the movie to watch’ – Nicolas Winding Refn
A mute, scarred, one-eyed warrior is held captive by a tribe of Pagans. Kept in a cage and chained up like a dangerous animal he is only let out to fight in brutal one on one combat with other prisoners for the entertainment of his captors. One-Eye has become a legend. He always wins. With the encroachment of the Christian religion however things are changing for the Pagan’s and they decide to sell their champion and move on. One-Eye has other plans. During transport he escapes and takes brutal vengeance on his captors, sparing only a young slave boy. Wandering the mountains he comes across a group of Christian warriors bound for the Holy Land in pursuit of glory and riches. They set sail together for foreign shores but a freak mist enshrouds their boat and sends them off course to an unknown land.
An intense, moody, poetic, brutal, beautifully shot, almost masterpiece of a Viking metaphysical sci-fi action flick…phew! Essentially feels like an homage to Tarkovsky’s existential classics of Russian cinema, 1979’s Stalker springs instantly to mind as Mads Mikkelsen silently wanders the harsh terrain, the camera taking us from extreme close-up’s of his scarred visage to breathtaking shots of snow topped mountains and infinite valleys. It also evokes Herzog’s Aguirre in the same vein. More a meditation on the unknown, faith and mythology than a Viking action film. With nods to Leone’s gunslingers, Kurosawa’s samurais and even Jodorowsky – it’s a tough film to analyze but an easy one to let just wash over you. To some extent it plays like an acid trip, never more so than when One-Eye sleeps and seems to have red-tinged prophetic visions. The film’s tipping point into complete insanity comes around the halfway mark as the hapless warriors make their way across the ocean adrift in an oppressive yellow mist that seemingly has no end, dying of thirst and fighting off madness. When they finally reach land they wander aimlessly on what might as well be a different planet and soon begin to get picked off by faceless, shadowy local natives. What could have been a straightforward Christian Vikings Vs North American Indians action flick is instead transformed into something far more interesting.
No doubt some will find this to be a violently boring pretentious snoozefest and it certainly has it’s flaws; mainly in it’s (at times) impenetrable strangeness. And in that respect it’s advertising really is absolutely rubbish. A DVD cover that evokes Frank Miller’s 300 and features armies of warriors either side of One-Eye is about as misleading as can be, add to that the poster quote “kinetically exciting”, I mean really, has that reviewer watched the film or (more likely) just a 30 second trailer? For all it’s minor flaws I thoroughly enjoyed this and my respect for Nicolas Winding Refn continues to grow accordingly; what other director would have the sheer balls to make a film like this? When the dust settles and upcoming ‘blockbuster’ films like Eagle Of The Ninth, Centurion and Mad Mel Gibson’s new Viking flick have come and gone I’m willing to bet Valhalla Rising will be the one that sticks in your subconscious and perhaps draws you back for a second viewing in years to come.
Region B ‘locked’ BluRay. Presented in 2.35:1, the 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 transfer looks excellent with vibrant colors and astonishing depth and clarity. What looks like some slight halo-ing may just be due to the strange and somewhat unique lighting direction. The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track again is excellent, not a very active track given the nature of the film but it expands the film’s immersive ambient soundtrack nicely. There is also an Audio Description (2.0) track included.
Extras include – a making of featurette that runs 22 minutes and mixes video diary, on set, behind the scenes footage, shot by the director’s assistant Saskia Pomeroy, with a director interview. Interesting but standard stuff really. No subs and presented in 720p. Also included is an audio commentary with director Nicolas Winding Refn and journalist Alan Jones. Refn speaks perfect English and is a chatty and candid speaker so Jonee is somewhat superfluous besides prompting the director with a question now and then. It’s an informative track that touches on every aspect of the production from inception to the challenges of shooting on location to the actor’s performances, etc. Plus a theatrical trailer and couple of bonus trailers for Outlander and The Football Factory.