Erik the Viking (The Director's Son's Cut) Review
Erik the Viking (Tim Robbins) is having a difficult time with the high expectations that come with being Norse warrior. Truth be told, although he's quite happy with the looting and the pillaging - they are, as he explains, necessary to fund further expeditions - he's not entirely sure about the raping that goes with them. It's so...crude. Come the time he's actually called upon to do any raping, he finds himself fumbling with his armour, his clothing and his Viking...er, weaponry. Even his victim, Helga (Samantha Bond), questions his commitment to the role of Viking. "You have done this before, haven't you?"
Unfortunately, Helga, as is often the way with those whom the Vikings have recently invaded, dies but not before pricking Erik's conscience. Returning home, Erik visits Freya (Eartha Kitt), wondering if there's a way to end this bloodshed, the misery and this eternal darkness. Freya tells Erik that this is the Age Of Ragnarok and chaos will rule until Erik finds the Horn Resounding, blows it three times and awakens the Norse gods. Thereafter, they will rid the skies of Fenrir the wolf, call out the sun once again and restore daylight to the land. But that night, as his friends celebrate their recent victory but getting drunk and throwing axes at the womenfolk in the village, Erik wonders if such a thing would ever be possible. Particularly as there are many, not least the blacksmith, who are quite content with the life of a Viking...
I've had rather a fantastic Christmas and New Year. Not, you'll understand, that this has anything to do with the quality of my time this season - although with three children aged between two and six, the Santa thing was more exciting this year than last - but the viewing that was on offer. Television has offered Jason And The Argonauts, Krull and, this very afternoon, Clash Of The Titans. Christmas also brought with it a viewing of The Box Of Delights on DVD. But adding to the marvels of Ray Harryhausen, John Masefield and the sight of Tucker Jenkins being skewered came this film, a Pythonesque story of a Viking whose conscience is troubled by the violence that comes with the Age of Ragnarok and who hopes for something better. What better way to see out the last few hours of this year with the promise of a break in the miserable weather and an end to needless rape, looting and pillaging. Or is that simply round my parts?
Far from being on a par with the best of Python, Erik The Viking is still a great little film. Not all of it works, mind, but when it does, there are some wonderful moments of comedy. The gangling Tim Robbins stars amongst some familiar faces - Tim McInnerny, Richard Ridings, John Cleese, Freddie Jones, John Gordon Sinclair, Jim Broadbent and Anthony Sher - trying to keep it straight as writer and director Terry Jones bends Norse legends this way and that in the telling of his tale. As might be expected from Jones given is past in Monty Python, nothing is as one might expect, with Erik proving to be a singularly useless Viking. However, nothing else, is quite as it ought to be either. McInnerny's Sven The Berserk never quite seems to go berserk at the right time and bickers endlessly with Thorfinn Skullsplitter (Richard Ridings) as to whether or not his grandfather made it to Valhalla or simply died, rather unimpressively for a Viking, of old age. The terrifying crew of Halfdan The Black (Cleese) prove to be terrible in combat as, being so scary, they've never actually had to fight anyone whilst Harald (Jones) doesn't actually see any of the dangers Erik leads them into as, being a Christian, he doesn't believe in them. And so, as Erik's Viking crew are attacked by a giant dragon in the North Sea, Harald wonders why the longboat is falling apart and what he and the rest of the crew are doing in the water. And, of course, no one can quite agree where to sit on the longboat until Erik, in the manner of all the best schoolteachers, takes charge of the situation and orders Snorri, Thorfinn, Harald, Sven and the rest of the crew into a seating plan. That this ends up with the bearded members of the crew on one side and those with moustaches on the other is one of the better moments of Viking disbelief in Erik The Viking.
The actual film works as a series of set pieces, going from the Viking raid that opens the film, to the freezing Norwegian winter, the Mediterranean Hy-Brasil, to Valhalla, which appears to be modelled on rather a dingy market before hovering above Hell itself. The location shoots and good use of sets and tanks prove the doing of Erik The Viking as much as the comedy, with one able to believe in the various lands Erik leads them to. But it is a rather wayward film, with the cast never quite appearing to agree on playing it straight or going wildly over the top. Terry Jones would appear to agree with this as, on one of the commentaries he's recorded for this set, he had, as the director, urged everyone to tone down their acting. Then, appearing as King Arnulf in the sun-kissed Hy-Brasil, he goes where no other member of the cast had dared to tread, as though he'd simply wandered in from Life Of Brian complete with facial tics, winks to camera and a headdress that's quite splendid in comparison to the dishevelled wigs as worn by the Vikings. Similarly, the idea of casting children as the Norse gods isn't a particularly strong one, Anthony Sher makes for a hopeless villain and the frequent appearances of Samantha Bond aren't really necessary when Erik's character is so well understood.
What saves Erik The Viking is that it is very funny, with the difference between what Harald sees and what the Vikings do providing most of the laughs. But it can be lopsided, with the first fifteen minutes or so being slow whilst the three best setpieces all occur one after the other, being Erik hiding from King Arnulf after being discovered in bed with his daughter Aud (Imogen Stubbs), his raid on the longboat of Halfdan The Black whilst claiming to be invisible - fans of Amazon Women On The Moon will know what to expect, with Robbins able to prance about as well as Ed Begley, Jr - and the sinking of Hy-Brasil. "It's all right, it's not happening...Panic-mongers!" However, the problem with the film is that, unlike Krull, Clash Of The Titans and so on, Erik The Viking isn't a children's film, at least not with its early debate on rape. However, with its slapstick comedy, its simple scares and its obvious use of models, Erik The Viking, like Time Bandits, cries out to be seen by children. Not helped by that talk of rape, and no doubt the violence, the BBFC have rated it a 15 but I suspect that Terry Jones must have regretted not softening it slightly for a younger audience. That's a real pity as often, over this two-disc set, Jones sounds disappointed that Erik The Viking isn't thought of as fondly as it ought to have been, not only over the release of a cut that he wasn't entirely happy with but also whether it would have been better suited had it been made for a younger audience. One will never know for though it does have the potential to be considered on a par with Time Bandits, this Director's Son's Cut, though a real improvement over the original theatrical cut, still isn't quite enough.
There has been some obvious care taken with Erik The Viking, though it is let down occasionally by the spots of noise on the print that has been used in the transfer and a certain softness in the image that seems to have been carried over, once again, from the print. However, that appears to come and go, showing a sharpness in the scenes set in Norway but softening slightly come the move to Malta, moreso when Erik The Viking moves into the sets that make do for Valhalla. The actual quality of the DVD is good and Arrow Films have, with Terry and Bill Jones' involvement, obviously done a good job with Erik The Viking. Neither DVD is pushed for space and both prints of the film, which have been restored to an equal standard, look good.
Remixed into DD5.1, though a DD2.0 audio track has also been included, Erik The Viking sounds clear and without any noticeable faults. There isn't, as is typical of so many remixes, very much happening in the rear speakers but what there is tends to bring the action out a little and to offer an outlet to ambient effects. It is, though, only a very ordinary-sounding film for much of the time and both audio tracks do little for this. Finally, there are English subtitles but, curiously, they have only been included for the Director's Son's Cut of Erik The Viking, not on the original theatrical release.
Commentary: Alongside Giles Wiseman, or so it sounds, Terry Jones provides a feature-length track for both versions of the film and is very talkative, erring to comedy and to behind-the-scenes chatter as his instinct for the material takes him. Wiseman does prompt Jones on occasion but it hardly sounds necessary, so keen is Jones to talk about the original writing of the story, the making of the film and his disappointment at the cut that was originally released into cinemas. However, as one who noticed that it was the same commentary on both cuts of the film, which differ by fifteen minutes, everything is scene-specific so as to be more easily edited together. Hence, no wandering chatter on the Pythons, for example, simply Jones and Wiseman discussing broader subjects where time permits but also keeping their track related to what is happening onscreen at the time.
Interview... (7m22s): Both Terry and Bill Jones are featured here, the former doing most of the talking whilst his son hunches over a computer editing suite in the background. Bill adds some new material here, particularly in discussing the importance of editing when making a comedy so as to get the timing right, but much of what Terry says is also available on the commentary. There may be, given that's the case, a glut of information on these two discs, but this is a short interview that neatly encapsulates the decision that was taken to re-edit Erik The Viking.
Picture Gallery (1m23s): Presented as a rolling feature, this includes both stills from the film as well as behind-the-scenes shots of Jones at work, being done as pages from a book.
Feature Reports: There are six of these altogether, almost all of which have been edited out of the later Making Of... and subdivided into such features as The Evolution Of A Director (4m21s), The Casting Of A Comedy/Adventure (8m43s), Making Movie Magic On Malta (3m01s) and Jones & Cleese: A Grand Reunion (4m42s). Though quite good in their own right, the Making Of... presents all of this material in a better format.
Extended Interviews: There are four interviews included here, with John Cleese (3m39s), Terry Jones (8m27s), Danny Schiller (2m45s) and Charles McKeown (2m33s). Predictably, Cleese answers questions on possible Python reunions, Jones on Python and the making of Erik The Viking and Schiller and McKeown on their roles in the film. The best question is one that McKeown, who plays a Berserker in the film, must answer, "What does one do when they go berserk?" It's a very subtle technique, apparently, which isn't what I might have considered an essential quality of berserking.
Making Of... (30m02s): Dating entirely from the original production, this mixes interviews, an American voiceover and behind-the-scenes footage to describe the film, its making and, unsurprisingly, the influence of Monty Python on Erik The Viking. Whilst not entirely without interest, it isn't a very detailed feature, favouring clips from the film to illustrate the points that its making but, in its favour, letting Jones and Cleese bear the brunt of the interviews. Particular highlights are, however, the early talk with Tim Robbins, who appears to be taking the thing far too seriously, and the showing off of the model work.
Better than I thought it would be but still with some obvious concerns, Erik The Viking made for a fine evening's viewing but when one can enjoy Jason And The Argonauts and Krull, to name but two, with my children, it's disappointing that Erik The Viking comes with an older certificate. There is much in it, such as the attack of the North Sea dragon, for children to enjoy and it often has that same sense of the marvellous as Time Bandits, another film that effortlessly mixes fantasy with spectacle, but comes with violence and with scenes unsuitable, to this parent at least, for young children. It does work, though, as a film for adults and had this viewer laughing heartily as Tim Robbins danced a jig and shouted, "Now you see me! Now you don't!" whilst wearing a dishcloth on his head. As one who's fond of any gag about invisibility-that-isn't, Erik The Viking was most welcome, its sword and sorcery even more so.