AKA VIKING DESTINY
AVAILABLE ON BLU-RAY AND DVD: NOW, from 101 FILMS
RUNNING TIME: 91 mins
REVIEWED BY: Dr Lenera, Official HCF Critic
In the Viking kingdom of Volsung, Helle is born to King Asmund and Queen Alva, but Asmund isn’t present and Alva dies in childbirth because it’s bad luck for a father not to witness the birth of his son or daughter. Helle grows up not knowing of her real parentage. However, heir to the throne Vern is hardly ruling material and doesn’t even want to be king. Asmund begins to prepare Helle for rule without telling her, but her uncle Bard wants the throne for himself. He concocts a plan to kill off Helle, and when Asmund finds out, he pays the price. Framed for the murder of her father, who tells her the truth just before he perishes, Helle has to go on the run….
Though others will no doubt disagree, I think that any Viking movie worth its salt has to contain some corny lines intended to sound like ancient barbs of wisdom. I never forget “love and hate are too horns on the same goat” from the greatest one of them all, 1958’s The Vikings. This one has quite a few, which certainly elevates it a bit in my opinion. “Rain does not fall on one roof alone”. “A song can only be heard when it’s sung” [really? – well I never]. “Sleep is the cousin of death and how I have slept all these years”. And there’s even a hilarious [and I mean in the best way] bit when the kingdom seems to be running low on food and someone advises: “Eat your women, you have enough” as if he really means it, while the person being advised only seems to express mild surprise at what’s being suggested to him. I knew the Vikings were supposed to be hardy folk, but cannibalism? Then again, by the time this is said the film’s main villain is so villainous that doing something like that would not have seemed out of character.
Of Gods And Warriors, previously entitled Viking Destiny, probably deserves to have a bit more exposure than it seems to be getting. It’s actually a few slashes above the rut of straight to DVD low budget movies centering around Vikings or similar which more often than not seem to be yet another attempt to cash in on the popularity of Game Of Thrones. I’m a bit of a fan of the peplums from the late 1950’s and 1960’s. These were cheap and cheerful Italian outings, usually though certainly not always starring bodybuilders or wrestlers, usually set in Ancient Greece or Rome but sometimes in Viking Scandinavia and other times and places. They were pretty popular in their day, many of them being released in UK and even UK cinemas, until replaced over by the spaghetti westerns, and Of Gods And Warriors reminded me somewhat of a peplum, what with its story – re-used constantly in those films – of a kingdom being usurped and the rightful heir going on the run, the similar tone, its digressions into absurdity, and less obvious usage of CGI than is normal today. I only wish that there was some awful dubbing to laugh at.
Introductory text mentions how the world belongs to the Gods Odin and Loki who are constantly against each other, and one wonders if these are the only two Viking Gods screenwriters have heard of. Throughout the film, the two will materialise out of smoke to steer our heroine or chief villain in the right direction and dispense some extremely obvious pearl of wisdom. Terence Stamp, whose wonderful voice narrates some of the early scenes, delivers his lines with considerable conviction and really makes for a great Odin, while Murray MacArthur probably won’t cause any viewer to forget Tom Hiddleston for an hour and a half but still does a good job – his evil eyes light up brilliantly. We soon get into a battle on a beach and it’s not the greatest, but I cannot express enough how pleased I was to see the lack of sick-inducing ‘shakycam’ and eye-hurting half-second edits which seems to be what most directors of these kinds of things go for because they wrongfully think that – firstly, it makes things seem more realistic, and – secondly, it hides the low budget. Of Gods And Warriors doesn’t really try to disguise its cheapness much with some very limited sets and only one, very small, longboat being used while a digital image of a larger one is in the distance, though it does make some attempt to compensate with lots of well chosen Irish locations that certainly make you think you could be in Scandinavia.
The adult Helle is first shown dodging sword swings in a training session in the forest. It soon becomes obvious that this is yet another modern film about female empowerment, and, while it’s certainly not something I’m against, is it sexist for me to ask if I’m the only person tiring of it being constantly shoved down the viewer’s throat in movies as diverse as Incredibles 2 and Mamma Mia: Here We Go Again [how on earth did I manage to mention that film in a review of a Viking movie?]. At least it doesn’t feel like we’re being preached to much in this movie, and virtual newcomer Anna Demetriou is pretty striking in the part. Her acting seems a little awkward in her early scenes, with her line readings not tending to sound very natural, but she seems to improve considerably, as if they shot the film in sequence. She certainly projects the strength of personality and has the athletic ability required, jumping around all over the place in her fight scenes, as well as being able to swing a sword adeptly. In the first real test of her skill, Helle is sent to some caves by the scheming Bard to kill the one thing his brother Asmund fears – the Kraken. He tells her that it’s the best way to get Asmund’s admiration, but in fact he plans to kill her in the cave. And no, we don’t see the Kraken, in what is something of a tease akin to those old Arabian Nights-based adventurers were characters would often talk about things like the Cyclops and the Roc but we would never see them until Ray Harryhausen changed things. Through a series of events, Asmund winds up dead and Helle has to go on the run.
The film now takes a curious digression. The vivid greens of the forest rather startle the eyes after all the browns and grays we’ve got used to as Helle encounters a group of brightly dressed peace-loving hippies and even joins them. The New Age style music is a welcome break from the Remote Control-on-a-budget stylings of Tom Morrison’s very bland scoring, but it really feels like we’re not only in a different film but also in a different century – though of course you know that this isn’t going to last and that Bard will try to find her. There really aren’t any surprises in store in terms of the rest of the plot, but there are some strong details. For example, could this be the first film in which a character uses a caged severed head on a chain as a weapon? Bard also shows the kind of guy he is by slitting a woman’s throat during sex as he tells her, and the viewer, something very important. This is something he probably does very often, every now and again feeling the urge to get a certain secret out and have some sadistic fun in the process. It probably sounds as if the ’18’-rated film is packed full of sex and violence, though – possibly due to the budget – it actually cuts away from many of the ‘worst’ moments. Considering what they get away in a ’15’ these days, its rating surprises me. Of course CG blood does rear its head and looks as rubbish as usual though even I managed to wince as a slashed nose.
While hardly going for realism with leanings towards the Hong Kong style of action staging, the choreography really is quite good and, while director David L. G. Hughes way overdoes the slow motion and perhaps employs a few too many cuts in places, at least you can see what’s going on and there’s nice use of aerial shots at times. Hughes, in his second film [the first was the not-very-well-received crime drama [Hard Boiled Sweets] makes one strange choice near the end which doesn’t come off, having flash forwards to the subsequent fighting during what should be a rousing battlefield speech, though generally he does a solid job, and Sara Dean’s photography gives us a few surprisingly painterly shots along with what looks like admirably subtle use of digital colouring [check out some of the night scenes]. The performances are generally decent across the board despite the variety of accents on display, and Timo Nieminen really makes for a terrifically hissable bad guy whom you can’t help enjoy watching even when he’s committing the most horrible of acts. There’s nothing really special about Of Gods And Warriors, but it’s certainly a better than average [at least for these days] stab at a Viking adventure on a budget and, while I gather that reviews of it are generally less than stellar, I honestly don’t think that Hughes has anything to be ashamed of. And I really hope that Demetriou, who prior to this movie had only appeared in a short and voiced a video game, gets another chance to shine, and in something that will give her wider exposure.
Despite its low budget, Of Gods And Warriors looks pretty good on Blu-ray, the slightly different colour schemes in the cinematography and in particular the gorgeous forest scenes making for quite a visually pleasing watch. Detail is excellent too. The disc comes with ten minutes of interviews, which is basically typical promo-type piece, but all the major cast members and some of the major crew members all chip in to make positive comments while there’s some nice footage of one of the battles being shot. Hughes says that the film is his answer to having had to repeatedly watch Disney princess movies with his daughter, and his wish to give her a heroine to respect even though she’s not old enough to watch the film yet.
It’s possible that I’ve overrated this film, but I found it to be a bit better than I expected and I think you may too if you’ve experienced a lot of straight to DVD crap. Just about Recommended.