The Northman, 2022.
Directed by Robert Eggers.
Starring Alexander Skarsgård, Nicole Kidman, Claes Bang, Anya Taylor-Joy, Ethan Hawke, Björk, and Willem Dafoe.
Robert Eggers’ latest tour de force, The Northman, arrives on 4K Ultra HD disc not long after its theatrical run. The film looks amazing in 4K, as you might imagine, and Universal commissioned a nice batch of extras. You also get a code for a digital copy.
I used to hang around a screenwriting forum owned by a pair of Hollywood pros, and every so often the subject of Viking movies would come up, causing one of them to adamantly insist that there was no money to be made in such subject matter. I haven’t been on that site in a while, but I imagine he’s pointing to the tepid box office performance of Robert Eggers’ The Northman as proof of his claim.
I think box office results continue to be tainted by the lingering effects of the pandemic, but I don’t know that this film would have fared much better in a pre-COVID environment. (Score one for the Hollywood pro.) It’s a relentlessly bleak film, although it’s also useful as an accurate historical portrayal of one part of Viking society. (Well, as accurate as you can get, given the knowledge gaps about that culture.)
Set at the end of the ninth century and in the early years of the tenth, The Northman tells the story of Amleth, a young prince whose father is murdered by his uncle, Fjölnir. Amleth escapes from Fjölnir’s men and flees the island kingdom vowing to avenge his father’s death and save his mother, who has been taken captive by the new king.
Years later, Amleth has descended into berserker madness, mindlessly participating in the destruction of villages and murder and enslavement of their populations, when he encounters a Seeress who reminds him of his childhood vows. He learns that Fjölnir has been overthrown and lives in exile, so he slips in among a group of slaves headed to the deposed king’s farm. Along the way, he meets a woman named Olga and plans to be with her after he has exacted his revenge.
If you think the plot sounds a bit like Shakespeare’s play Hamlet, you’d be right, as Eggers explains in one of the bonus features in this 4K release, which also includes a Blu-ray and a code for a digital copy. Amleth was a figure in Scandinavian legend who served as the inspiration for Hamlet, and in fact many of the characters and situations in this film are drawn from various aspects of old Norse myths.
The Northman’s story is fairly simple and straightforward, albeit with a nice little twist toward the end, but its strength lies more in Eggers’ slavish devotion to historical accuracy, which is also detailed in the extras on this disc. He went so far as to determine what kind of thread they would have used during that time period, striving to be as authentic as possible, and it pays off. If you thought Vikings were just guys in horned helmets who pillaged their way across Scandinavia and longed to go to Valhalla when they died, this film will be a revelation to you. (Well, to be fair, Valhalla does play a major role in this story.)
Not only is the story dark, but much of the environments are too, with many interior scenes lit only by the fires that the Vikings kept burning most of the time. That kind of look can be the test of a solid 4K transfer, and The Northman passes it with flying colors: the shadows are nice and inky black, clothing textures and facial features are detailed, and the few scenes that take place during the day use a muted color palette that still manages to look vibrant onscreen.
The extras on this disc run just under an hour, not including the commentary. Here’s what you’ll find:
• Commentary track: Eggers handles this one solo, and he’s a blast to listen to. His interviews in the other extras showcase his “down the rabbit hole” fascination with this subject, and he goes all out here, discussing everything from his research to the camera tricks he used.
• Deleted scenes (13 minutes): You’ll find nine deleted and extended scenes here. None of them were crucial to the story, which is a little over two hours, but they’re still worth watching to get more glimpses into the world Eggers created.
• An Ageless Epic (12 minutes): This is a very short making-of that details the lengths that Eggers and his crew went to in order to capture an accurate image on film.
• The Faces Of Vikings (11 minutes): Star Alexander Skarsgård had wanted to make a Viking film for a long time, and this featurette digs into how he and other members of the cast immersed themselves in their roles.
• Amleth’s Journey To Manhood (4 minutes): An early scene in the film depicts Amleth participating in a rite of passage with his father and the kingdom’s court jester, who also serves as a spiritual guide for father and son. This featurette briefly covers that scene.
• Shooting The Raid (4 minutes): I’ll admit I didn’t realize how many long continuous takes there are in this film, especially Amleth’s raid on a village during his adult years. This quick featurette explains how they pulled off such a complex single take.
• Knattleikr Game (3 minutes): The ancient Norse played a game called Knattleikr with a ball and sticks, and Amleth is recruited for one such contest during his time as a slave. (Think rugby but even more brutal.) This featurette discusses that scene.
• A Norse Landscape (5 minutes): This examines the shooting locations, some of which were o remote that roads had to be built to get to them, as well as the intricate sets.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★