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Valhalla Rising

A movie released July 23, 2010

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A hallucinogehic Conquest

  • Dec 14, 2010
** out of ****

"Valhalla Rising" had the potential to be very entertaining. It comes off as sort of entertaining, but not to an extent at all. In fact, one could even call it boring. There is visionary inspiration to be found in this film, but it's far too slow-paced and self-absorbed for my liking. I just can't seem to shake the feeling that "Valhalla Rising" doesn't give a damn about what I or anyone else thinks about it, and therefore it goes all-out with pretentious religious symbolism and flawed quest/story-telling. Instead of entertaining us as much as it could, the film goes off the rails. I'm not saying that "Valhalla Rising" is a bad film, but it is none the less a missed opportunity. I saw it because I was told that it had distinctive visuals, and whoever told me so was indeed right about that. But they forgot to tell me that there should be a story going on, for this is no pointless account. The story should be coherent, but instead it's sloppy and slow. The difference between this and other slow-moving films (some of which are classics) is that those films managed to build something up along the way. I don't feel that "Valhalla Rising" is doing this all for nothing, but what it builds up is nothing short of a pure disappointment. If the ending shouts "sequel", then I will know that this is no better or worse than other generic Hollywood-fare. This is, or course, not a Hollywood produced film. And if you get the impression that it feels like one, then you are sorely mistaken. This has the look and feel of a good ol' indie film, but lacks the heart and spirit to push itself beyond the short-comings. I can't recommend it; but I cannot forbid you from seeing it. You may come across it in your time, although this is another indie film that sounds almost too good to be true. It seems to promise somewhat of a surrealistic Viking adventure, complete with hallucinogenic sequences. If the Vikings tripped acid, this would be their savage trip of raw endurance. It even tests our own endurance. But does that really matter? When a film really has to test how long we're going to stay interest, I don't suppose it does.

This film does not tell a story. It documents a quest, but never goes by a story. It is to be descent into the figurative depths of hell itself, and manages to succeed in doing so in a number of ways. The film's character is One Eye, a mute warrior who has evaded his former captors and gone on an epic quest to discover the Holy Land. Along with him he brings a young boy named Are. One Eye proves to be influential within the film's universe which it creates, although I wouldn't call him a character. I will not further spoil any more plot elements since this film doesn't actually have a plot. It's a journey that goes absolutely nowhere aside from inside the head of its "character". One Eye does suffer from hallucinations, which are more infrequent than they should be. These sequences help to give "Valhalla Rising" a sort of hallucinogenic feel; and it might as well be described as "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas" for the Viking era. That is, if the Vikings tripped acid to begin with. The film is definitely interesting in some instances-particularly the hallucination scenes-although most of the time it feels a bit unengaging. The film attempts to embed complex symbolism into the mix, although fails to do so without feeling over-heated. All in all, the film feels self-absorbed. It's careless about the preferences of others, and it should have been more entertaining than it actually is. "Valhalla Rising" is-so to speak- a brutal loss for the very talented Nicolas Winding Refn.

Perhaps it's a good thing that the main character never talks. That gives him the ominous, anonymous feeling that the director was shooting for. However, he still expects us to want to follow this man in his journey, which is kind of impossible when he never talks. To call Mads Mikkelsen's efforts a performance would be somewhat of an overstatement. It's not hard to keep mute, and maybe that's for the better in spite of the circumstances. The rest of the actors talk, but that shouldn't imply that any of that makes them better. In fact, all men are equal in "Valhalla Rising". The talent in front of the camera cannot be called misused, although it cannot be called talented either. I feel as if something has gone to waste, although I don't want to say that it is the cast. Perhaps it is instead a problem with the man behind the camera. This is his vision, but it's a flawed one in spite of how nice it looks and how much spectacle it has.

If it says anything, "Valhalla Rising" looks mighty fine. I really digged the visual style; I mean, who wouldn't? It's effective in its hallucinogenic appeal, although I can't say it was truly amazing. It's nothing special as far as visual spectacle goes, although it ties in almost perfectly with the vision that has been attempted here. The most entertaining scenes on display here are the ones in which One Eye is hallucinating. These scenes were very well done, but they didn't go on long enough-or appear enough-to satisfy me on a solid level. The music is also fitting to the atmosphere, which did what it wanted to do; make the audience uneasy due to its almost psychological nature. This film is indeed unique in its wish to be a more psychological conquest, but I can't say that it is superior in the vision it conveys. It looks nice, but it's also chock-full of pretentious symbolism, brutality, and ridiculously slow-pacing. Perhaps Nicolas Winding Refn does not care whether the audience wants to watch his film, but he's no Lars von Trier in his wish to create a personal project. He has not-perhaps-created art with "Valhalla Rising". He nearly does, but in a hit-or-a-miss situation, he gets a definite miss. His film is not a bad one, but it's a disappointment by any other name. Alas, it feels like somewhat of a burden to sit through. It's certainly not meant to be amusing, but it's seldom entertaining and lacks any true source of potential greatness. It could have been better, for sure. And it also could have been great. But at last, it's a minor failure for the director. But I see talent in the man. Go on, Refn, and make something more worthy of your visionary talent. Perhaps next time, you won't divide audiences as harshly as you did here. Your aim is stronger than your execution, and that's an uneven sort of thing to be tempering with.

I just thought that I would note that this film does not in any way relate to the novel of the same name, which was written by author Clive Cussler. However, if it had been an adaptation of a book with a solid premise, then maybe it would have been better. But then again, "Valhalla Rising" had a solid premise. It still does. The problem is that it's carried out in all the wrong ways. It does not insult one's intelligence; it is not dumb. But it's not smart either, for it exploits brutality and pretentiousness without much wit or substance to back it up. Overall, it felt bleak and empty to the core. It's not bad; it's not good; and it sure as hell wasn't something I would recommend to most readers. However, if you're a fan of bleak films, then this might be your cup of grim. But how many of us actually want to watch something as grim as this? Be honest with yourself. "Valhalla Rising" is restrained due to a lack of ambition and a sense of self-admiration that can only get it so far as petty mediocrity. It is forgettable in essentially every way. But why do they make films like this? To portray the path of the mute warrior, perhaps? That may be so. It also may be that people are confident that they can make art out of premises such as this one. But why don't they succeed. Well, I can sympathize for them. Especially when they're indie filmmakers. Hollywood filmmakers have too much money to earn my sympathy when it comes to films like this, and I'd think that an indie filmmaker from Denmark could make something better. Alas, this is just one of those times where a good vision descends into nothing more than a depressing, forgettable trifle. That's probably what "Valhalla Rising" is. A trifle.

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December 15, 2010
I guess I'll stay away from this one.
December 15, 2010
December 15, 2010
I had found this in my mailbox without any idea of how it got on our Netflix queue. So, I decided to give it a go and ended up turning it off after about a half hour. It's exactly what you said- visually stunning but, without a clear story or purpose, it bored me stiff. Great review!
December 15, 2010
Thanks for agreeing.
December 15, 2010
No prob, I wish I had had this review before wasting even that half hour LOL! Thanks for posting it here!
December 14, 2010
quite a review you've got here. I have this at home but probably won't get to see it until later in the week. Sounds like the middle of the road because of your 2 out of 4 rating. I'll comment further once I've seen it... Thanks for the great review!
December 15, 2010
Oh Woo- save yourself! It sucks! I turned it off after a half hour....
December 15, 2010
December 15, 2010
I don't think it sucks, but it's far from interesting.
December 16, 2010
Yeah, I am rather curious since from what I can gather the film feels quite dense and I do like depressing themes. So I think I'll still give it a shot (your review will probably make me see it tomorrow night instead of this coming Sunday). The movie is at home anyway.
More Valhalla Rising reviews
review by . December 17, 2010
posted in Movie Hype
An Abstract, Alienating and Moody Tale Of Norse Vikings
I am going straight to the point. “Valhalla Rising” is NOT a movie for everyone. If you’ve seen the trailer, forget about it. Director Nicolas Winding Refn’s film barely has any dialogue (it almost resembles a silent film) and many would even say it even lacks a linear story. This film is an abstract experience, it is a film meant to be experienced by those used to a lot of ambiguity in filmmaking and for the esoteric few. It is a savage, brain-wringing tale about Vikings, …
review by . November 13, 2011
posted in Movie Hype
Diamond in the rough or just a hunk of coprolite?
Is a movie director/writer whose specialty is look-at-me landscapes combined with a lot of the old ultra violence and a big helping of sodden philosophy an inflated artist, an egotist with financing or a 17-year-old who has just discovered Nietzsche? Valhalla Rising, a grandiose movie without a center and the pacing of a lame horse, could make a case for Nicolas Winding Refn being all three.       Something like 1,000 years ago, One Eye (Mads Mikkelson), a mute warrior of …
Quick Tip by . December 14, 2010
While hallucinogenic in its style, "Valhalla Rising" felt too empty to me. It is no doubt more daring and ambitious than most films of its type (Viking movies, cinematic acid trips, etc), but that doesn't make it better, now does it?
About the reviewer
Ryan J. Marshall ()
Ranked #11
It's very likely that the only kind of reviews I'll ever post here are movie reviews. I'm very passionate about film; and at this point, it pretty much controls my life. Film gives us a purpose; … more
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Genre: Drama
Release Date: July 23, 2010
MPAA Rating: Unrated
Runtime: 1hr 40min
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