Vikings and Viking Folklore have been getting increasingly popular over the past couple of years. We've been seeing more television shows and movies related to this medieval culture on various networks and in our theaters. And British filmmaker Farren Blackburn is the latest director to give us his view of the Vikings. Blackburn is mostly known for directing British televisions shows such as 'Luther' and 'Dr. Who', but with 'Hammer of the Gods', we get an ultra violent and blood soaked action movie with a few cliches and a giant homage to 'Apocalypse Now'.
It's true, Blackburn must be a huge fan of 'Heart of Darkness' and Coppola's Apocalypse Now, because 'Hammer of the Gods' has a very similar story. Sure, this film has some decent action scenes and tons of blood, but the slow-motion fight choreography that has been done repeatedly in every action movie, the modern-day cursing that plagued HBO's 'Deadwood', and the silly script have all brought down this would-be fun and thrilling movie. I think if it stuck to exploring the Viking culture with a bunch of bloody battles, this would have been a better film, but that's not the case. If you watch Vikings on the History Channel, you might already have a decent notion of Viking culture. Hell, even one of the main stars of 'Hammer of the Gods' is a re-occurring character on 'Vikings'. Talk about type-casting.
The year is 871 A.D., and the Vikings and Saxons are in the middle of a brutal war that is costing many lives. We meet Steinar (Charlie Bewley), who is the younger son of the big Viking King, Bagsecg (James Cosmo). Bagsecg was wounded in battle and is on his deathbed, when he is contemplating on who will take over his spot once he is gone. He sees that none of his progeny is worth his throne, thus he tells Steinar to find his long lost older brother Haken, whom he banished when he was young, and hasn't seen since.
And now our story has finally started as Steinar and a few of his friends have set out to journey the dangerous forests and lands to find his brother and next King. On their journey, the Saxons are constantly on the lookout for any Vikings, and always seem to find Steinar and his crew, no matter how quiet they are. There is a sub-plot with a rescued slave-girl who learns to fight and stand up for herself, and a few other character realizations during this 99 minute run-time.
Through a few bloody battles that will excite gore fans and an arm-wrestling match that rivals 'Over-the-Top', the search party finally stumbles upon Haken. And if you remember when I said this resembles 'Apocalypse Now', here is where it hits you on the nose with a giant hammer. I really expected somebody to say "The horror! The horror!"
'Hammer of the Gods' isn't a terrible film, but it isn't exactly a good one either. It tries to hard to be something more than just a plain fun action movie with a treasure trove of blood and guts. And with the stylistic slow-motion fight scenes and synth-pop musical score, I can easily say that these bloody battles were sloppy eye candy more than an epic fight.
'Hammer of the Gods' comes with an impressive 1080p HD transfer presented in 2.40:1 aspect ratio. I was surprised on how good this image looked, as I expected a few issues to crop up, but they never did. The detail is great and very sharp with well-defined textures in the costumes that show off every individual stitch and blemish in the armor. You can make out facial pores and individual hairs as well. The wounds and scars on the actor's bodies look very real, even if some of the blood looks more black than red at times.
The colors look good here too, but are not bright and vibrant. Instead there is a dark overtone to the color scheme here. The blacks are always deep and inky with the skin tones looking natural and smooth. There is a little bit of CG here, which causes a tiny bit of motion blur, but other than that, there are no compression problems. This is a great video presentation.
This release comes with an equally great lossless DTS-HD 5.1 audio mix. They really did a bang up job on this, technically speaking. In the opening scene, the sound will hit you in the face hard as waves come crashing in and a giant Viking ship enters the frame. The surrounds pour out every sound and the bass kicks in and rumbles the walls. And the sound keeps up throughout the rest of the film through the battles and a psychedelic trip scene.
The ambient noises and sound effects are well-balanced and come often through the rears, which fully immerses you into the battlefield and time period. The dialogue is always crystal clear and easy to understand. The dynamic range is very wide here and the track is free of pops, cracks, and hissing. You'll be able to hear every bone crunch and weapon flying through the air with this one. While the score doesn't necessarily fit the movie, it sounds great and never drowns out any dialogue or sound effect. This is a great audio presentation.
You should enjoy 'Hammer of the Gods' if you're wanting a cheap action movie with a lot of blood. But if you're looking for something a little more, I imagine you'll walk away unhappy. The video and audio presentations here are top notch, with some decent enough extras, yet repetitive. This is certainly not as fun as 300 and nowhere near as good as 'Apocalypse Now', so I suggest renting before purchasing.