Rated R, 99 min. Directed by Marcus Nispel. Starring Karl Urban, Moon Bloodgood, Russell Means, Clancy Brown, Jay Tavare, Nathaniel Arcand, Ralf Moeller.
There are two kinds of people in the world: those who think slow-motion is cool and those who do not. If you are of the former, I can recommend Pathfinder, the next historical epic property with action scenes dramatically interrupted by slow-motion inserts of splashing filth, glinting swords, flying blood, and ornate battle helmets backlit and awash in boogie fog. “Inspired by” Nils Gaup’s identically titled 1987 Oscar nominee about a teenage boy rebuffing invaders in Lapland, the movie resembles its inspiration only superficially; here, the hero is Ghost (Urban), a Viking boy whose ruthless helmeted tribesmen land in the Americas (“600 years before Columbus,” according to an intertitle) and lay waste to the locals until he rises up to defend them, having been adopted by an indigenous clan. Fair enough. But the real difference is in the execution, which betrays Nispel’s origins as the director of the video for Faith No More’s “A Small Victory” and 2003's Texas Chainsaw Massacre remake. The action sequences are ingenious and competently staged, but they’re kind of hard to see – not just because of the moody perpetual twilight intended to evoke the dread of an unknown enemy but because Nispel can’t or won’t hold the camera still. Even when there’s a significant action taking place within the frame – let’s say a character is dangling from an icy cliff face – Nispel swishes the camera around him in circles, as if increasing the level of activity and the intensity of the spectacle is equivalent to upping the tension. Too often it creates confusion – and eventually, boredom – which is rather a shame, because people who like slow motion shouldn’t be bored at a Viking movie with this many graphic decapitations. There are some effective and well-executed touches in the technique, such as a distinctive Foley effect for the Vikings’ arrows in flight (much is made of their wicked metal arrowheads), the pacing is economical, and a person could read some kind of anti-oppression message into the movie if inclined. But mainly it’s messy, and I don’t just mean the gouged-out eyeball in a puddle.
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