Erik the Viking gathers warriors from his village and sets out on a dangerous journey to Valhalla, to ask the gods to end the Age of Ragnorok and allow his people to see sunlight again. A Pythonesque satire of Viking life.
"Lucky things! I could do with a holiday, I tell you. All this financial work, you know, the stress really gets you. Eh, flay him alive, garrote him and then behead him."
Considering the wealth of stories to mine, it's often surprised me that the Vikings and Norse mythology haven't made more of a presence in modern cinema. No, I don't really count the recent 'Thor' and 'Thor: The Dark World' as qualified entries. Sure they're steeped in Norse legends and myth but they're also the product of the Marvel machine and don't really bare too much resemblance to the original characters and figure heads. Granted I'm not a scholar on the subject, but it feels like it's a genre waiting to explode onto film - especially with the continued success and popularity of the 'Vikings' TV show. Thankfully we have the Terry Jones written and directed film 'Erik The Viking' to fill the gap. Easily described as a "Lost Python" film - Erik proves to be a madcap trek into Norse mythology that demands you leave your brain at home and just enjoy the voyage.
Erik (Tim Robbins) is tired of the humdrum routine of looting and pillaging up and down the coast. Of course he could join in with his friends in one of the more common acts and take a woman by force, but that really isn't for him. He likes to get to know a woman first before going to bed with her. After the most recent raid, Eirk is given a warning from Freya (Eartha Kitt) that if he doesn't quest to seize the Horn Resounding and travel over the edge of the earth through the bifrost and across the rainbow bridge to Asgard, the age of Ragnarök will never come to an end. With a newly built ship, Erik enlists the aide of his friends and together they set out into the unknown easterly ocean. Of course for Halfdan the Black (John Cleese) it's fine by him if Ragnarök never comes to an end as he stands to make a healthy profit from the looting, pillaging, raping, and exorbitant taxes he levels upon his subjects.
As Erik and his faithful crew travel east they encounter I gigantic fire-breathing dragon, and travel to the eccentric land of Hy-Brasil where they encounter the aloof King Arnulf (Terry Jones), his beautiful daughter Princess Aud (Imogen Stubbs) and the musically talented people of the land. Erik and his crew including Sven The Beserk (Tim McInnerny), Sven's Dad (Charles Mckeown), Thorfinn Skullsplitter (Richard Ridings), Harald The Missionary (Freddie Jones), Ivar The Boneless (John Gordon Sinclair), and Snorri the Miserable (Danny Schiller) must secure the Horn Resounding without killing anyone or risk the sinking of the great land and end their quest before they have a chance to reach the edge of the world or end the age of Ragnarök.
Like any classic Monty Python sketch or film - it's pretty much impossible to give a blow by blow description of the events in 'Erik The Viking.' It's just too zany to be put into simple words, you're just going to have to take my word for it that this movie is smart, witty, and down right gut busting funny at times. I've always thought that the efforts of Terry Jones as a director have long been overshadowed by the more wild and crazy creations of his Python cohort Terry Gilliam. Both men have their own film style, creativity and both have their own brand of comedy. One thing I will say about 'Erik The Viking' that is possibly indicative of Terry Jones himself is that the film is perhaps a bit too smart for its own good. It's exceedingly clever, constantly funny, but it also forces you to work your brain a lot more than one would expect for a comedy of this nature.
All around the performances are great. As perhaps the last truly goofy performance from Tim Robbins, it's a hoot. Watching him pretend to be invisible with a towel covering his head is hilarious and I double over from laughing too hard every time I see that part of the movie. Tim McInnerny's Sven the Beserk who has rage issues is a gas and I love the running gag between him and Thorginn Skullsplitter getting into fist fights over whether or not Sven's Grandfather is in Asgard - the implication being that Sven's grandfather disgracefully died in his bed and not in battle. And then there's Terry Jones' King Arnulf who even when the world is sinking under his feet, he's unconvinced because he believes it can never happen. And thats where the "too smart for its own good" comes into play. You're either going to get these jokes, or you're not. That isn't meant as a question of the viewers intelligence, it's more a statement of humor type. If you get and love Monty Python and the Flying Circus, or feel that a movie like 'The Meaning of Life' is an unappreciated masterpiece - you should be all set for this ride.
Thankfully for fans of this film, Olive Films has seen fit to include the 107 minute original theatrical cut. When the film was released to DVD, it was recut down to a scant 79 minutes and dubbed the "Director's Son's Cut" as Terry Jones' son helped him re-edit the movie. It didn't need to be cut down. It was already a slim adventure as it was and the stuff they cut really worked against the movie. Entire characters and some of the funniest scenes were lost with this new cut. So, if that cut of 'Erik' was your first encounter - I strongly encourage you to pick up this disc and see all of the great stuff you missed! I'm thrilled that I can now put my laser-rot riddled laserdisc to rest.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
Olive Film's brings 'Erik The Viking' to Blu-ray in grand fashion pressed on a BD25 disc and housed in a standard case with beautiful cover art from a rare teaser poster. The disc opens directly to the main menu with a static image of the same poster art.
Considering the sordid home video history of 'Erik The Viking' people need to have their expectations in check to fully appreciate this 1.85:1 1080p HD presentation. In my eyes, the film has never looked better. The shredded cut that was previously on DVD looked overly soft and hazy. Here, film grain is retained and abundant. People who like their HD to be smooth and shiny will probably not enjoy the ever present high amount of grain. On the other hand, I am extremely happy because the detail levels are outstanding. There is so much to see and appreciate in this film's production design I feel like I'm seeing more of the film than I ever have before. Daylight and well lit scenes obviously look the best as darker scenes have a fair amount of crush and really highlight the film's grain structure. Colors are great and perfectly replicated as the film leaves the figged north and travels to the sunny and beautiful Hy-Brasil. There are a number of superimposed optical effects that didn't age well, but there's really nothing that can be done about that. The print is in overall perfectly good shape with hardly any visible wear to speak of. Considering the last time I saw this 107 minute cut on laserdisc, I was prepared for a lot worse and instead was pleasantly surprised.
As with the video quality, I was greatly impressed by the DTS-HD MA 2.0 stereo track that 'Erik The Viking' gets to sail off with. Imaging is perhaps the most impressive aspect here as there is a lot of sound going around. From the opening raid to Erik's voyage to the people of Hy-Brasil's beautiful "singing," there is a lot of movement around the center channels. Levels are perfectly settled here as you never struggle to hear dialogue over sound effects - this is especially important because much of the humor comes from deadpan line reads. Without any hiss or track issues that riddled the old laserdisc of this film, I'm very happy with this uptick in audio quality and fans of the film should be pleased as punch.
Trailer: (HD 2:06) It's a great trailer that is pretty much a two minute version of the entire film.
All I can really say at this point is how great it is to have this film back to it's original 107 minute run time. So much great material was lost with that shorter cut that I think many people got a bum rap when they picked up the DVD - especially if it was their first time seeing it. I'm very happy to say that while not perfect, 'Erik The Viking' probably has never looked or sounded better than it does here. Granted there is a distinct lack of weighty extra features, but if you're a Python fan or love the movie just the same - you should be very happy with this Blu-ray release from Olive Films. I'm calling it recommended simply because the A/V quality was a lot better than I'd hoped for and the longer cut is a very welcome sight.