Pathfinder (UK - BD RB)
Scott McKenzie enjoyed this Vikings vs Natives movie until they started talking...
Long before the arrival of Columbus, the Vikings tried to invade American shores. That's where historical facts end and Pathfinder begins. After one unsuccessful invasion, a Viking boy is left behind and is raised by the native tribes, who name him Ghost. When the Vikings return fifteen years later, Ghost (Karl Urban) has grown up and is struggling to find his place in the new world, but he may be the natives’ only hope against the invaders as they rape and pillage their way through their new homeland.
Pathfinder began as a remake of the 1987 Norwegian movie Ofelas (called Pathfinder on its release in the UK and US), which was nominated for the best foreign language Oscar and rather randomly, was the first 15-rated video my dad rented for me when I was ten years old (please don’t judge him). That’s right; the first movie I wanted to get my hands on when I was allowed to watch movies outside my demographic was a Norwegian Oscar nominee. Obviously I didn’t know this, thinking it was like Rambo for kids, but there are plenty of comments on this disc by the crew about producing a movie with a similar feel to First Blood. That doesn’t do anything to change the fact that I’ve been a movie geek all my life so I’ll draw a halt to the trip down memory lane and get on with the review…
A lot has changed between the source material for the original and this version and needless to say, this isn’t going to win any Oscars (although the costumes look quite nice). Somewhere along the line the story mutated from the central idea of a member of a tribe standing up and being counted against their oppressors to a straight action movie with just the right blend of stunts, swordplay, sex and slow motion that test audiences approve of. It’s almost as if director Marcus Nispel said ‘wouldn’t it be cool if we did Native Americans versus Vikings?’ and received the $26m budget on that pitch alone, then realised he had to stretch that idea out to a whole movie. To be fair though, I didn’t find the experience as bad as I was expecting. Upon its cinema release, Pathfinder was receiving one-star reviews pretty much across the board, but I don’t think it ever ventures into truly disastrous territory.
Don’t get me wrong, there are a lot of problems with the movie. As Nispel states in his interviews on this release, the production team decided to make the natives look as realistic as possible, although they do speak English. They also decided to take whatever artistic licence they wanted with the Vikings, which meant putting horns on their helmets, but then they had them speaking Icelandic to make them more realistic. The problem here is that there’s never any question of who’s right and who’s wrong. The Vikings are the bad guys and that’s the end of it. They dress like bad guys and talk in a funny way so they must be the enemy, so much so that they are pretty much indistinguishable from the goblins in The Lord of the Rings.
Marcus Nispel’s last movie was New Line’s remake of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and according to IMDb he’s due to direct the remake of Friday the 13th next year. His stylised horror techniques shine through and he never misses the opportunity to splash a bit of extra blood around the screen, even if it sometimes doesn’t fit in with the colour scheme of the rest of the shot. There’s a lot of unnecessary slow motion but to be honest, the movie looks pretty good. It has a distinct visual style that wouldn’t look out of place in a big budget horror movie, although the washed out colour scheme makes it a bit difficult to tell what’s going on during the final battle.
After all that, the main problem I have with Pathfinder is the screenplay. This movie works best when no one is saying anything. It looks nice, the characters all wear good looking costumes (even if historical accuracy is thrown out of the window) and some of the action scenes are silly but enjoyable, but when the characters open their mouths it descends into clichés. It’s generally accepted that Native Americans sitting round a fire in a Hollywood movie will tend to talk a certain way, but after a while I was wondering if they had a screenplay at all or just a big bag of fortune cookies. Pathfinder might be worth watching if you don’t want to engage your brain for an hour and a half but if you’re after decent action and relative historical accuracy, Apocalypto far exceeds this effort on both counts so I’d recommend picking that movie up instead.
As I mentioned above, Pathfinder has a distinct visual style, but I wasn’t among the select few who caught it at the cinema so I’m not one hundred percent sure whether the dodgy bits are due to the transfer or inherent in the picture itself. The mist appears grainy and close-ups can be a little fuzzy. The washed out colours almost make the screen turn black and white at times but there is good detail in the background of wide shots. That’s not to say it looks bad, of course; this Blu-ray release still looks a lot better than a typical standard DVD release, but the bar is set higher for high-def reviews.
This disc comes with Dolby Digital 5.1 tracks in English, French and Spanish and also includes a DTS-HD Master Audio lossless track. Whichever track you choose, while you may be let down with the quality of the movie itself but the audio is probably the best feature of this release. The bloodthirsty nature of the action is better represented by the crunch of swords going through armour than the bright splashes of blood and the music that plays through most of the movie sets the tone well. The surround effects are pretty impressive, with rain, thunder and forest noises increasing the realism in probably the only way Pathfinder is equal to Apocalypto.
I’ve checked out a few Blu-ray movies in the last couple of months and I’m generally impressed by the ease of use of the pop-up menus, rather than having to go back to the main menu if you want to change any of the options while you’re watching the movie. However, the pop-up menu on this release gave me real problems. Maybe it’s because of the display on my TV, or maybe my eyeballs were out of sync, but I found it incredibly difficult to tell where the focus was while trying to navigate around the pop-up menu. This led to numerous selections of extras I’d already watched while trying to work out how to turn off the audio commentary. The extras on offer here aren’t too bad, but be warned: the way you have to select them is annoying as hell.
First of all, I enjoyed the deleted scenes for once because they included notes for the editor on screen. I haven’t seen this on a DVD release before, but notes like ‘Temp VFX’ and ‘Replace rabbit with new animal’ give decent insight into the relationship between a director and their editor. Next up we have six featurettes that clock in at a total of thirty minutes and go into detail about how the project began as a remake of Ofelas, the work that went in to creating the forest set, the graphic novel that was being made at the same time as the movie and the intense shoot, which wrapped two days early, but resulted in a huge number of injuries for the stunt team. The last featurette focuses on Clancy Brown, who plays the head Viking, but is probably most well-known to swordplay fans as the Kurgan from Highlander.
The director supplies a commentary track and he is pretty talkative, although he repeats a lot of the information that can be found in his interviews in the featurettes. A pop-up trivia track is also available, which provides a text commentary for the movie, although not all of the pop-ups are relevant to the action on screen, with some just providing the viewer with information while there is a gap in the action.
Pathfinder is an action movie bordering on fantasy that could have worked, but pretty much falls apart when the cheesy lines are delivered. The credibility of the first Vikings vs. Natives movie falls apart whenever the audience starts to ask questions, but as a no-brainer is might just be worth a look if you’re really stuck for something to watch. The movie sounds better than it looks, but remember that it’s graded on the Blu-ray scale so it’ll still look and sound good on a regular-sized HDTV with a decent surround setup. The extras gave me all the information I wanted to know about the production, but if there are big fans of the movie out there they might be left wanting.
* Note: The images on this page are not representative of the Blu-ray release.
Review by Scott McKenzie
Suitable only for persons of 15 years and over
Release Date: 24th December 2007
Disc Type: Blu-ray Disc
Audio: DTS-HD MA 5.1 English, Dolby Digital 5.1 English, Dolby Digital 5.1 French, Dolby Digital 5.1 Spanish
Subtitles: English, French
Extras: Director's Commentary, Trivia Commentary, Deleted Scenes, Featurettes
Easter Egg: No
Director: Marcus Nispel
Cast: Karl Urban, Moon Bloodgood, Russell Means, Clancy Brown
Genre: Action and Adventure
Length: 103 minutes