Vikingdom: The Blood Eclipse 77 Cast: Dominic Purcell, Conan Stevens, Natassia Malthe, Craig Fairbrass, Jon Foo Director: Yusry Halim Rating: Not rated Running time: 114 minutes
I am about to say some things about Vikingdom: The Blood Eclipse, reportedly the first Malaysian production to be released theatrically in the United States, that I wish I didn’t have to say. Because I find myself charmed by this picture, which will surely be savaged by critics and honestly enjoyed only by the most naive audiences (though there will be plenty of cynical types who, like myself, will read the film as a camp production or accidental comedy).
But the filmmakers were, I think, earnestly trying to give us a thrilling actioner underpinned by a subversive idea: Thor (Australian Conan Stevens), the hammer-wielding God of Thunder and protector of mankind, is incensed by the growing popularity of Christianity and has assumed human form to wage war on those who have forsaken the old gods for the One God. Thor means to reclaim the Norse relics that Christians have converted to their purposes and to rekindle the old religion.
The historic Christianization of Scandinavia was a slow, difficult, and occasionally bloody process, with recalcitrant pagans often adopting Mjolnir - Thor’s magic hammer - as a symbol of their defiance. Mjolnir pendants are popular today among mall crawlers as well as neopagans and white supremacists (who also have a history with crosses), and there was a bit of controversy when, in March, the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs approved “Thor’s hammer” as one of the symbols of religious belief that may be etched on tombstones of soldiers killed in the line of duty.
But the film barely scratches at this potentially rich theme. Early on, a Christian cleric admonishes violent Thor by reminding him he’s doing his rough work “in the house of God,” which leads the son of Odin to roar about how he “is a God!” Then the priest observes that Thor’s blood is “as red as any man’s” which allows Thor the opportunity to note that Jesus Christ not only bled but died. Thor then wins the ecclesiastical debate by crucifying the clergyman on the cross in the church’s apse. Arrgh!
So it’s clear from the beginning that Vikingdom takes the tenets of Odinism no more or less seriously than Marvel Comics does. This is a low-budget (about $15 million) Viking movie with a dash of Chinese wuxia (Irish-Chinese actor John Foo makes an improbable appearance as a Chinese slave who is occasionally mistaken for an elf), some credible (and some incredible) CGI and a load of bad wigs. It’s silly and diverting if you’re in the right mood, and tedious if you’re not.
The plot requires that an undead king named Eirick (Dominic Purcell of Prison Break) journey to Hell (Helheim) to recover the horn of Odin, which he can blow to send Thor back to the spirit realm where he belongs. I was never clear exactly why Eirick would want to do this since heis a pagan and believes in the old ones, but this is the sort of film that defeats the will to parse motivation. Accompanying Eirick on his journey are Sven (Craig Fairbrass), Brynna (Natassia Malthe) and Yang (Foo). They fight a lot, and the action is decently choreographed and often presented in slow motion.
Given the budget, Vikingdom is quite a technical achievement. While it doesn’t look like a Hollywood epic, it doesn’t betray its Southeast Asian origins either. Whatever the inherent problems of shooting a Viking movie in Kuala Lumpur, the filmmakers were up for them. A lot of the camera work (especially that involving horses) is first-rate, and while setslook green-screened and the costumes look rented, the acting is no worse than average. I shouldn’t be surprised if fans of Game of Thrones mightn’t be amused by the film. There’s a pleasant sort of WWE-style blarney that permeates the production.
This is a product of KRU Studios, a movie and music production company established by director Yusry Halim and his brothers Norman and Edry. Although itwill likely be among the worst reviewed films of the year, it’s a rather nice first step. And most of its flaws can be attributed to high aspirations rather than low motives. Vikingdom is not a great movie, or even a very good one, but it is an original - and sort of adorable - one.