When I sat down in a creaky seat at my local movie theater to watch 'Pathfinder' earlier this year, I didn't expect much. After all, director Marcus Nispel was the man responsible for the 2003 remake of 'The Texas Chainsaw Massacre' -- a terribly neutered, sun-soaked rehash of its source material. Like the director's first outting, 'Pathfinder' is also a remake of sorts, this time drawn from an '80s Norwegian film of the same name, which in turn inspired a Dark Horse graphic novel that more directly influenced Nispel's film.
The film itself tells the watered-down story of a young Viking boy abandoned in North America during a ninth century raid. Adopted by a Native American woman, the orphaned boy grows into a pale-skinned warrior (played by Karl Urban) known to the tribe by the name of "Ghost." Fifteen years after the first Viking party left, a second band lands on the shores to further pillage the newly discovered continent. When the tribe's elder Pathfinder (Russell Means) is killed, Ghost joins forces with a young woman named Starfire (Moon Bloodgood) to help defeat the menacing horde.
'Pathfinder' certainly isn't the first movie to manipulate historical accuracy, but it's definitely one of the most mediocre. Everything from the paper thin script to the bland performances scream "straight-to-video." Nispel creates an intriguingly dark and dreary North American landscape, but fails to fill it with interesting characters or villains. The Native Americans are stereotypical mystics who seem completely ill-equipped to take on such a legitimate threat. Likewise, the Vikings are grunting brutes who arrive to pillage, but never actually steal a thing. The only thing that seems to drive their campaign against Ghost's tribe is an illogical bloodlust, making the Vikings quickly devolve into nothing more than amoral villains. I desperately wanted to connect with the actors on either side of this primal conflict, but I found myself bored with their clichéd characters and simplified antics.
And don't get me started on the plot holes in 'Pathfinder' -- I could rant on that subject for hours. I usually have an easy time suspending my disbelief, but I couldn't help but be distracted by a series of obvious blunders in the script. The original Norwegian film and the Dark Horse graphic novel provided smooth narratives that imbued the opposing sides with goals for victory and the consequences of defeat. Both sources also had a backstory, another key element that 'Pathfinder' has forgotten to provide its audience. As such, Nispel's remake strips the story of its coherency and relies on only the cheapest comicbook sensibilities to save the day.
Worst of all, 'Pathfinder' lacks perspective and purpose -- I don't require a heavy-handed message, but even on the level of purely entertaining crap, 'Pathfinder' fails to deliver. The characters rarely have any motivation beyond survival and seem exist simply as fodder for the film's heavily-edited action scenes. The dialogue doesn't enrich the story, it simply pushes each event along to make way for the film's dramatic mountaintop showdown. Alas, by the time 'Pathfinder' finally lumbered to its conclusion, I had absorbed all the poorly conceived action beats I could stomach.
In the end, 'Pathfinder' is a cookie cutter tale of revenge that doesn't take the time to weave an engaging story or develop compelling characters. If you happen to be a fan of brutal sword fights and mindless entertainment, it may still prove to be worth a look, but make no mistake -- this isn't a great (or even a good) flick by any stretch of the imagination.
(Note that this Blu-ray edition of 'Pathfinder' features the "Unrated" cut of the film, but while eight additional minutes may sound like a lot, the inserted material is ultimately inconsequential to the story, amounting to one major scene and a handful of trivial extensions.)
I have to say, I'm really getting tired of comicbook actioners mimicking the bland monochromatic look of the 'Underworld' series. Still, I suppose I shouldn't complain if it results in the kind of impressive high definition imagery on display here. 'Pathfinder' arrives on Blu-ray with a striking 1080p/MPEG-2 transfer that bounces back and forth between smoky-blue moonlit scenes and muddy-toned daytime shots. Personal taste aside, the transfer's primaries pop and the colors themselves are strong and stable. Contrast is spot-on and black levels are deliciously inky -- the story may stray from its comic roots, but the visuals are quite reminiscent of the grimly painted artwork in the Dark Horse graphic novel.
Even better, detail is strong and textures of varying scale are crisply rendered on the screen. Compared to the standard DVD, the Blu-ray edition offers an enormous visual improvement -- I could make out the finest strands of hair, the slightest bristle of fur in the wind, and the tiniest droplets of splashing water and falling snow. The source is extremely clean and the transfer isn't disrupted by artifacting or other noise. In fact, if I have any issue with the transfer it's that the picture's fine details are occasionally lost within the heaviest shadows (which suffer from intermittent black crush). It doesn't help that the film is covered with a moderate veil of grain that tends to spike during brighter scenes. In the end, 'Pathfinder' is a technically proficient monster that's only hindered by the limitations of its director's asthetic decisions.
'Pathfinder' is gifted with a pounding Lossless DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio track (1.5 Mbps core bitrate) that made my home theater rumble from beginning to end. Dynamics are worth the price of admission alone, and the LFE channel makes its presence known in every element of the soundscape. Dialogue is crisp and well prioritized, but it's also driven by a weighty bass undercurrent that makes the Vikings sound larger than life. Likewise, enhanced sword clangs and ax thunks make falling bodies sound like falling trees. Better still, the chaotic battles erupt from every direction and leave the echoes of war strewn about the soundfield. It may not be the most realistic or subtle mix, but it certainly makes for great demo material.
The surrounds are used to nice effect throughout the film and become particularly aggressive during more frenzied scenes. For a sample, skip to the end of the film and listen as Ghost leads the Viking horde along a snowy mountain path -- take note of the rear channels as they create a convincing series of echoes, wailing winds, and avalanche debris. The effect is immersive and all-encompassing. My only issue with the audio on this disc is that quieter scenes don't showcase nearly the same attention to detail as the action scenes. The acoustics of the makeshift huts are fairly boring and their interior ambiance is often neglected. Still, if you're looking for a film that'll deliver all-out ruckus in your home theater (and really, who among us isn't), you need look no further than this Blu-ray edition of 'Pathfinder.'
'Pathfinder' arrives on Blu-ray with all of the fluffy features found on the standard DVD that was released earlier this year. Seeing as I didn't care all that much for the film itself, I had a hard time sitting through the onslaught of self-congratulatory opinions that pepper the supplemental material, but fans of the film may have an entirely different opinion.
Although the film itself didn't impress me in the least, this Blu-ray edition of 'Pathfinder' makes for a surprisingly strong disc, thanks to a striking video transfer, a robust DTS HD MA audio track, and a fairly decent smattering of supplements. Fans will be extremely pleased to see how well 'Pathfinder' has made the transition to high definition.