Thursday, January 24, 2013

The Vikings

Having watched The Long Ships last month, dad convinced me to try The Vikings, even with the presence of Kirk Douglas and his crater chin.

It starts with Ernest Borgnine as Ragnar, raping a queen by the name of Enid. After he killed her husband, naturally. With the king dead, and Enid keeping her pregnancy a secret, this jackleg Aella is named king, and Enid has to send her son Eric off to a monastery in Italy for safety, with the stone off the end of the handle of his father's sword around his neck.

Decades pass, Aella's still in charge, still fretting rumors of Enid's son, and finally decides to marry a princess so he can produce his own heir. Enter Morgana (Janet Leigh). He also takes the announcement of this as an opportunity to arrest a traitor, Egbert, who subsequently escapes and hides out with Ragnar's people. Where we meet Einar (Douglas), Ragnar's son out of wedlock. The one he knows about, I mean. There's also a slave, rather handy with a falcon, who Einar (an arrogant prick if there ever was one) dislikes. That the slave, who just so happens to wear a stone around his neck (and is played by Tony Curtis), uses his falcon to remove Einar's left eye doesn't help matters.

Eric survives the punishment, and Egbert, who recognized the stone, claims him. Meanwhile, Einar abducts Morgana off Egbert's suggestion. Of course, Egbert was thinking of ransom (though quite why he expects Aella to pay, rather than Morgana's father, I don't know), but Einar's got other things in mind. So does Eric, who was moved by the prophecies of Kitala, the rune reader of the village, and has concluded he and Morgana are destined to be together. So he decks Einar, and off they go. They try teaming up with Aella, but he's still a pain in the ass, so Eric has to team up with Einar, temporarily. Have fun storming the castle.

I'm a little surprised neither side were the "good guys". The English (or Saxons, whatever), are primarily represented by Aella, who is a petty, sleazy, insecure guy, with a serious ingratitude problem. Or they're represented by Egbert, who's a traitor concerned only with his own wealth. Of course, the Vikings aren't any better. Ragnar's a drunken boor who talks fondly of how much Einar's mother fought him, and he encourages Einar to see Morgana's resistance as a good thing. Which makes it almost, not funny exactly, but kind of fitting that Morgana refuses to give Einar that when he approaches her quarters wanting her to fight. She won't even give him that satisfaction. Not that I think it would have mattered much in another minute or so, but Einar's a spoiled, vain brat, so it's good to see him not get his way.

The only people I suppose are good are Eric and Morgana. And Kitala. I'm not clear on what her motivations were for trying to save Eric from Einar's revenge, but she did make the effort, and she provided him with the key to navigating in fog, which was the only reason Einar was willing to work with him. Maybe she thought saving him would save Ragnar, or maybe she sees Eric uniting the Vikings and the Saxons into a superpower. Or maybe she just calls it like she sees it, regardless of the consequences. The runes said it was a bad idea for anyone to kill Eric, so she said that.

That is one problem with the movie, the secondary characters tend to drop out abruptly until they're needed to advance the plot, even when they shouldn't. Kitala accompanied Eric and Morgana on their trip to England, but one they arrived, she's nowhere to be seen until after the return to the Vikings' village. You'd think a seer who figured out the compass would be of some relevance in negotiating with a king. Also, Egbert kind of dropped out of sight during the pursuit of Eric and Morgana, which is odd since he was planning on using Eric for his own gains, and Eric stole Egbert's boat.

Also, there's one black character (Sandpiper, played by Edric Connor), a deaf mute slave friend of Eric's. He's basically just there, the closest he gets to useful is he's the one carrying the compass while Eric steers Einar's fleet through the fog (as Eric wisely didn't explain how he can navigate through fog). Could have at least given him some lines.

It's basically what you'd expect of a movie of the era. Guys settle things with violence, women are pretty much reduced to putting on brave faces or being scared. I would have really enjoyed it if Morgana had picked up the sword Einar set out for her and tried to kill him. I know, that was when he wanted to fight, and she was taking the passive resistance route. Maybe after Eric knocked him out she could have stabbed Einar?

Tony Curtis is a little too neat to be a Viking. He has a beard, but it's very short and neatly trimmed. Still more than you can say for Douglas, though they lampshade that when Ragnar explains his son is too vain to cover his face. Borgnine's the only one who got into it. He has the gray, scraggly looking beard. It's probably fake, but at least it looks like something I can picture a Viking having.

The castle siege was pretty good. I had my doubts about their strategy of ponderously wheeling this battering ram across the English countryside in broad daylight, but it worked out. Also, the solution to the 2nd drawbridge was established in an earlier scene about how Vikings settle marital disagreements.

That being said, some of the arrow shooting, and especially spear-throwing was pathetic. You wonder if some of these people understand how to throw anything.

Einar's description of his father's bellowing as 'a moose giving birth to a hedgehog' was pretty clever. And it's gross enough I can picture a Viking saying it.

We can't discuss the movie without mentioning Odin. These guys invoke his name constantly. Every time you turn around, someone is beseeching him, or just calling his name. I picture Odin up in Asgard, grumpy because he's trying to deal with Loki's latest attempt to destroy the Golden Realm, or he's trying to settle into the Odin Sleep, but these damn Vikings keep interrupting, asking him to help them in battle, or call up a wind to reverse the tide. He's a busy god, you know, he's got other stuff on the itinerary. I was disappointed nobody went Shatner in Star Trek 2 with their "ODIN!" shouts. I know, the movie predates that by decades, but still, someone could have gone for it. It's right up Douglas' alley. I really thought he would at the end, but no.

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