DVD REVIEW: NORTHMEN - A VIKING SAGA / CERT: 15 / DIRECTOR: CLAUDIO FÄH / SCREENPLAY: BASTIAN ZACH, MATTHIAS BAUER / STARRING: TOM HOPPER, ED SKREIN, RYAN KWANTEN, JAMES NORTON, CHARLIE MURPHY / RELEASE DATE: APRIL 27TH
Banished from a hostile homeland due to an unwavering loyalty to a dead King, shipwrecked on unknown shores while sailing to raid Lindisfarne and now isolated behind enemy lines, Helmsman Asbjorn (Hopper) and his ragged band of misfit Vikings must quickly seek out a friendly settlement for refuge. Discovering they are in Scotland they think their Gods are finally beginning to smile on them when they capture a high-value princess in great demand but in truth their problems have only begun.
Northmen – A Viking Saga draws on the popularity of all things Nordic but while it pillages many well-known sources it does so without cynicism, instead displaying an honest admiration and respect for its recognisable influences. The story itself is also a familiar one; man capture’s woman, woman is wanted back by her people, woman falls for man, all the good guys live happily ever after (well, perhaps not all of them). There is a visual aesthetic to Claudio Fäh’s film though that hasn’t really been seen in previous works Sniper: Reloaded and Hollow Man II. Cinematographer Lorenzo Senatore, whose credits include The Expendables series and 300: Rise of an Empire, brings Scotland to vibrant, forebodingly, beautiful life (although actually filmed in Germany and South Africa) through sweeping camera work and strikingly stylised set-pieces in a way that would make even Peter Jackson sit up and take note. The Middle-Earth similarities don’t end there, with the heroic Asbjorn looking like Boromir and Faromir’s missing Nordic brother, the Scottish King channelling Bernard Hill’s Rohan Lord and Marcus Trumpp’s soundtrack conjuring up vivid memories of unrelenting chases across Tolkien’s fantasy world.
The similarities are unmistakable, but Fäh tells his story with such pace that there is never time for them to become an issue. Northmen is essentially a chase movie, at times slightly repetitively so, with the trespassing Vikings being hunted down by relentless mercenaries unleashed by the affronted Laird; the vicious Wolfpack led by the mercilessly unhinged Hjorr (Skrein, who patrols the screen growling and gurning at every opportunity). Fight scenes are well choreographed and effectively unpleasant without becoming gratuitous and while you can probably pick the potential survivors before the second act gets going, there is still a sense of dread and peril in the pursuit.
One slight disappointment comes from the lack of expansion of an often hinted at supernatural element. The wayward Princess Inghean (Murphy) displays certain “soothsayer” powers that allow her to connect with the Earth, while Hjorr seems to be ready to burst into full hairy wolf-mode on several occasions. While a mythical foray may have drawn Fäh’s film away from its established reality it could have added another dimension to proceedings.
There is, without doubt, an epic grandeur to Northmen as it successfully negotiates the fine line between indulgent parody and majestic simplicity. The performances are strong, the story rips along at a good rate but it is the scenery that you will remember most. The references may be familiar, the influences clearly apparent, but this is a thoroughly enjoyable film that is simply stunning to look at.