Home Video Hovel: Vikingdom, by Aaron Pinkston
One of the biggest pitfalls of low-budget films is the sense of being derivative. This is especially true of genre pictures, where unique vision is especially championed. On the other hand, some films (even whole studios) have gone the other way, laughing in the face of original storytelling and have embraced being derivative to fool a prospective consumer and make a quick profit. Vikingdom has the scent of 300, Lord of the Rings/The Hobbit, Hercules: The Legendary Journeys, God of War, etc. etc. ad nauseum. In its creation it is a small film trying to imitate big films, and while it is unquestionably not a “good” film, it actually manages to do some things right.
The overall premise of Vikingdom is the typical mythical hero’s journey with a Nordic twist. Taking place around 800 A.D., at a time when Christianity is slowly making its way across Europe, the mighty god Thor takes human form on Earth to remind everyone who they should be worshipping. In order to stop his trail of destruction, Eirick (played by Prison Break’s Dominic Purcell) is persuaded to take the job. Because Eirick has risen from the dead, he has the ability to go between worlds, a necessary requirement when trying to battle a God. He can’t do it alone, though, so he enlists the obligatory ragtag gang of quipy outsiders to take the journey.
The film’s best quality is its sense of action. Because they’re mostly small-scale, the battle scenes avoid the irritating pitfalls that many of the bigger budgeted are prey to — there is no need for lifeless CGI hordes and the hand-to-hand combat is kept clean and easy to follow. An added benefit is a character named Yang, a Chinese martial artist who our heroes somehow come across. Though his inclusion is a little strange, martial arts action break up the film’s monotony and add an extra element — it could be like putting chocolate on a pizza, but it somehow works. Vikingdom also uses the Nordic myths to the fullest effect. Perhaps I just don’t know enough about the tales to not realize their elementary use, but I was mildly captivated in scenes like Eirick’s decent into Helheim (the Norse version of Hades, Christianity’s version of hell). This particular set piece is reminiscent of the best Greek myth films, with an appropriate sense of wonder and whimsy.
By keeping the action scenes effectively small, Vikingdom is able to navigate away from something it does not do well: special effects and computer graphics. It’s pretty apparent that a lot of the film was shot on green screen, using technology that it couldn’t afford to use convincingly. There is a constant disconnect between the performers and their environment, which infects the film with a put-upon, fake quality. Outside of the expensive stuff, even the costuming and props seem shoddy. Really, it’s a shame, as some elements of Vikingdom are on par with the biggest of Hollywood films, but the cheap look is damning.
The line between silly/fun is very thin and Vikingdom straddles it pretty heavily. The put-upon grandiose quality is never easy to take, though, to its credit, the film often feels tongue-and-cheek. Aided by a few of its performances, with actors giving it all they got, at least some of the cast and crew must have been having fun. Particularly enjoyable is Conan Stevens who brings a presence to the villainous Thor. Vikingdom ultimately spends too much time brooding through earnestly serious moments, but it is at its best when it recognizes itself as a low-budget actioner. It is especially key for a film of this production scale to understand its limitations and enhance its strengths — Vikingdom nearly gets there.