REVIEW: The Northman
There’s much that is fascinating about the Viking culture, largely because of its organized barbarism while feeling incredibly familiar given how much of their legacy has seeped into world culture. Television has certainly explored these people through several series, but it’s been a long time since we had a good, sweeping Viking saga on the silver screen.
Robert Eggers had long been interested in the Viking culture and when he and actor Alexander Skarsgård began discussing working together, it became clear that the Vikings were the appropriate subject matter. Like the director, whose work I was unfamiliar with before now, Skarsgård was deeply interested in these people.
Working with historian/writer/poet Sjón, Eggers crafted a story drawn from the actual legends, a tale of revenge similar to the Viking tale that inspired Hamlet. Set in the waning years of the ninth century, The Northman opens with young Prince Amleth (Oscar Novak) in a ceremony to prepare him to succeed his father King Aurvandill (Ethan Hawke). The next day, the king is murdered by his bastard brother Fjölnir (Claes Bang) and Amleth flees.
Grown to manhood, Amleth (Skarsgård) is a force to be reckoned with. After an encounter with the He-witch Olga (Ana Taylor-Joy), he learns his mother Queen Gudrún (Nicole Kidman) has married Fjölnir and given birth to his half-brother Gunnar (Elliott Rose). It’s time to go home and set things to right, but it’s an action-packed, violent homecoming.
Toss in Willem Dafoe as the jester and Bjork as a sorceress, you have a strong cast, all of whom rise to the strength of the material, filled as it is with prophecies, magic, enchanted swords, and complex family relations.
The film got terrific reviews but performed poorly at the box office, having more to do with Covid-19 and the economy than its merits. Available now on disc from Universal Home Entertainment, this is a highly recommended viewing experience. You can find it in the usual assortments including the 4K, Blu-ray, Digital HD code combo pack.
The 4K Ultra HD transfer is pristine, perfectly maintaining the color palette with rich blacks. It helps that the film was shot in 4K digital, so everything from skin tones to subtle magical effects are well captured. The Dolby Atmos soundtrack is also near-perfect, with a terrific sub-woofer beat, underscoring the film. The audio track captures the loud violent clashes and the hushed sounds of the wilderness.
The Special Features are a nice assortment with a recommended Audio Commentary from Eggers, with some nice insights into the production process. Additionally, there are Deleted And Extended Scenes (12:28); An Ageless Epic (11:17); The Faces Of Vikings (10:27); Amleth’s Journey To Manhood (3:56); Shooting The Raid (4:10), with director of photography Jarin Blaschke discussing this complex set-piece; Knattleikr Game (2:42), the violent “ball game” is explained; and, A Norse Landscape (4:43).