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Erik the Viking main cast
"Ooh! Scary! Scary! Don't we look mean?"

November 2006 SITE MAP   SEARCH

Erik The Viking - director's son's cut
cast: Tim Robbins, Mickey Rooney, Tim McInnerny, Eartha Kitt, and John Cleese

director: Terry Jones

90 minutes (15) 1989
widescreen ratio 16:9
Arrow DVD Region 2 retail

RATING: 6/10
reviewed by Jonathan McCalmont
At its release in 1989, Erik The Viking seemed destined for success; it boasted a decent budget, a strong transatlantic cast and the writing and direction of Terry Jones, a former Python, and history buff who, as that time, was riding high after the moderate success of his first solo directorial gig Personal Services. However, despite these undeniable strengths, the film did badly at the box office and was slated by critics everywhere, effectively ending Jones' career as a director and consigning this strange blend of Viking saga and Pythonesque whimsy to the rubbish bin of history. With this re-release featuring a new cut of the film by Jones' son, is it time to re-evaluate this film as a lost classic? Frankly, no... But that doesn't mean that the film is without charm.

After discovering that he has no taste for rape and pillage, Erik visits a local sorcerer (bizarrely played completely straight by the notoriously camp Eartha Kitt) and discovers that men fight because they are in the age of Ragnarok, an apocalyptic end of times that can only be brought to an end by waking the gods and petitioning them directly. After convincing the men of his village to go with him, Erik sets out on a quest to find the Horn Resounding, which will take him to Valhalla and wake the gods. Along the way the group have to deal with dragons, enchanted islands and the brutal sadist Halfdan the Black (brilliantly played as a mild-mannered British bureaucrat by John Cleese), not to mention the disconcerting realisation that the gods are actually children.

Jones has said that he knew this film was in trouble from the start and ultimately blames this on his lack of involvement in the editing process. Because of this, this new DVD includes an alternative edit of the film created by Jones' son. However, if this alternative cut of the film proves anything, it is that the film's problems are nothing to do with editing.

The most obvious criticism that one can lay at the feet of Erik The Viking is that it is simply not funny enough. Despite a number of excellent comic performances (including that of Tim McInnerny as a reluctant berserker), the jokes are spread quite thinly throughout the film, perhaps prompting the director and cast to milk them for all they're worth when they do pop up. This makes for unfortunate and jarring changes in tone as the film lurches from whimsy and silliness to the kind of tragedy you'd expect from a story about Vikings. These changes of tone and direction make the film feel as if it is less a coherent narrative and more of a collection of set-pieces, some of them funny, some of them poignant and some of them violent. As a result the film is difficult to really get a hold of and will leave most viewers perplexed.

The second criticism is perhaps more damning for Jones as his love of history and his erudition shines forth from every scene of this film. Indeed, from naming characters after real historical Vikings to brilliantly summarising the squabbling and irritable nature of Norse mythology by presenting its gods as children, Jones clearly knows his stuff. However, for all of the director's erudition, Erik The Viking is eager to play fast and loose with the source material by both taking an axe to it, when the plot demands it, and displaying the same ambivalence towards his protagonists as he does in his previous film Personal Services.

In Personal Services, Jones attempts to sit on both sides of the fence at once by praising the fetish community for their idiosyncratic and bold-faced oddness while simultaneously playing those differences for laughs and making fun of fetishists everywhere. This inability to integrate the dramatic thrust of a film with the need to produce laughs also affects Erik The Viking as Jones finds himself continuously hopping from leg to the other; one minute praising the heroic character of his protagonists only to make fun of their violent machismo the next. In fact, this film can be characterised as an action film about how stupid action is as a means of solving problems. This creative incoherence serves only to dissolve the film's emotional and moral centre, further accelerating the break-up of the film's narrative structure.

In conclusion, we have a film that despite some memorable scenes and performances ultimately fails. While Jones is correct to blame himself for the film's shortcomings, it is silly to suggest that these could have been solved in the editing suite. Erik The Viking's failure was caused by Terry Jones' inability to successfully make the transition from comedy to drama, by finding a way to write jokes without undermining his characters. Indeed, given the strength of some of this film's imagery and the quality of some of the ideas, it is intriguing to speculate as to what Jones' fellow Python Terry Gilliam might have made of Erik The Viking.

This two-disc edition comes with the director's son's cut as well as the original British theatrical cut, a commentary track by Terry Jones, and interviews with the cast and crew.

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