Pathfinder (2007)
By: Craig Villinger on September 6, 2009  | 
20th Century Fox (Australia). Region 4, PAL. 2.40:1 (16:9 enhanced). English DD 5.1, English DTS 5.1. English, English (FHI) Subtitles. 102 minutes
The Movie
Cover Art
Director: Marcus Nispel
Starring: Karl Urban, Moon Bloodgood, Russell Means, Clancy Brown
Screenplay: Laeta Kalogridis
Country: USA
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Vikings are awesome. It's a scientifically proven fact. Just listen to a few Manowar albums if you don't believe me! And as a basic movie premise "Vikings vs native Americans" is very awesome. Unfortunately though it takes more than one awesome idea to make an awesome movie – that's another scientific fact, and one that Pathfinder proves categorically.

We're back in a time when mighty helmeted warriors walked the earth, where we find a viking warship that has come to a messy halt on the rocky shores of a land that, six hundred or so years later, would be discovered by Christopher Columbus and called America. The only survivor of the shipwreck is a young boy, who is taken in by a kindly native American couple and raised as their own.

Fifteen years later the boy has grown into a man known as Ghost (Karl Urban, of The Lord of the Rings trilogy fame), a buff warrior type who has embraced his native American upbringing but is also haunted by his past – a fact that sees the tribe as a whole reluctant to fully accept him. Soon enough though another group of Vikings shows up, this time with the intention of settling in permanently – a process that involves cleansing the land of its native inhabitants via much sword swinging and orgiastic bloodletting. Naturally Ghost steps up to be the saver of the day, combining the skills he has acquired from both cultures and his knowledge of the complex local environment to protect what's left of his adoptive people and kick much Nordic butt!

A vague remake of the 1987 Norwegian mythical adventure movie Ofelas (which received an Academy Award Nomination for "Best Foreign Language Film") Pathfinder is one to file in the "Could have been..." folder. The "Vikings vs Indians" (pardon my political incorrectness) premise may indeed be an awesome one, but as a movie Pathfinder has far too many flaws to be considered anything other than a failure.

Basically, it's a mess.

A stylishly shot mess mind you. Director Marcus Nispel (The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2003), working again with Texas Chainsaw Massacre old and new cinematographer Daniel C. Pearl, has crafted a visually stunning picture. Bereft of all but the basic colours, every frame looks picturesque, and a lot of detail has obviously gone into each and every shot, but Nispel clearly put so much elbow grease into the visuals that he forgot to tell a coherent story, or give his actors any sort of direction. After its basic premise had been set-up Pathfinder began to feel like a random collection of set-pieces as the characters wandered aimlessly through the woods without any particular logical purpose, and they didn't do a lot of talking either - though that's probably a good thing as the dialogue, on the occasions it's used, is an awful mix of subtitled Viking posturing and native American mysticism (spoken in English, though I suspect the native Americans of the era weren't fluent in the language).

As a plus Pathfinder's sporadic action sequences are spectacularly violent - limbs and heads fly and blood spurts arc gracefully through the air in slow motion as the mighty Vikings bring their axes and swords down upon hapless natives, but when the characters aren't scuffling you'll begin to wonder what happened to the plot, or what's going on inside the characters' heads. I don't normally notice, or care about, such trivialities, but this was one of the most plotless movies I've seen in a long while, filled with wooden acting performances (Urban seemed to be on auto-pilot, and Clancy Brown as the lead Viking looks to have had his usual menace stifled by the uncomfortable head gear) and underdeveloped characters. I'm guessing this movie either didn't have much of a script, or massive chunks of it were removed to make Pathfinder nothing more than a string of sword battles and journey sequences.

Slick it may be, but Pathfinder is a polished effort that delivers little beyond its eye candy. If anything it's probably too slick. The greatest sword epics are usually smothered with layers of fatty cheese and sexism (or, homo-erotica), but Pathfinder takes itself too seriously and its female characters aren't exploited nearly enough to ever evoke the feel of true 80s sword clanging classics like Conan the Barbarian or The Beastmaster. Given a little guidance by the likes of Roger Corman this "Vikings vs Indians" premise couldv'e delivered something truly awesome, but in the hands of a pretentious modern day major studio it became nothing more than a flashy bore.
Presented in a 2.40:1 aspect ratio with 16:9 ehnacement, Pathfinder has been given a flawless DVD transfer. Despite the muted colour palette Nispel had chosen to go with the scenery still looks striking, and I noticed virtually no grain or annoying artefacts.
Dolby Digital and DTS 5.1 soundtrack options are available, and both pack a mighty wallop. When the vikings ride their horses you'll feel every footfall, and the surround channels are used to an adequate degree, though I could've done with just a little more rear channel activity during the larger chaotic action set pieces.
Extra Features
Fox's DVD comes with a healthy selection of extras. More than I cared to sit though to be quite honest since I wasn't particularity keen on the main feature.

Kicking things off is an audio commentary by director Marcus Nispel. He speaks enthusiastically about the movie and keeps up the chatter without any significant silence breaks while giving us plenty of anecdotes and technical explanations rather than just pointlessly describing what's happening on the screen.

Next up are seven deleted scenes that were thankfully omitted from the main feature as their inclusion would've made it longer. There's nothing significant here – the footage is non-anamorphic, time-coded and fairly rough, though it's interesting to hear the Viking characters sounding slightly different as the actors deliver their lines without bass heavy post-production alteration. These scenes can also be watched with an optional commentary from Nispel.

The "Featurettes" option takes us to to seven separate featurettes that run from between 5 to 6 and a half minutes each and feature a mix of interviews with cast and crew and on set footage. These are actually much more in-depth than the usual PR fluff that is passed of as supplementary material on a lot of big budget Hollywood DVDs and are actually worth checking out, even for those who, like me, weren't necessarily fans of the main feature. "The Beginning" looks at the screenwriting process (Nispel claims that the very first draft was done without any dialogue); "The Design" focuses on the look of the film, particularly the Vikings; "The Build" shows us the construction of some of the films' sets and props; "The Stunts" gives us a behind-the-scenes look at Pathfinder's action set-pieces, many of which were shot "old school" without a lot of green green or CGI, resulting in bruised stunt performers aplenty (Karl Urban proudly talks about putting himself in the middle of as much action as possible while Clancy Brown admits that at this stage of his career he is happy to let the stunt doubles earn their pay); "We Shoot Now! Marcus Nispel on the Set of Pathfinder" is pretty much what the title implies; and finally "Clancy Brown: Cult Hero" is an all too brief tribute to one of the great hard arse/villains of modern cinema.

A Concept trailer, theatrical trailer, and a plug for the Fox movies website end our selection.
The Verdict
Presented on a DVD that is much better than the movie rightfully deserves, Pathfinder is an incoherent viewing experience, and were it not for the occasional bursts of gruesome swordplay action it would be a boring and almost unwatchable motion picture.
Movie Score
Disc Score
Overall Score

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