You’d have thought that a big action movie about marauding Vikings (likes: rape, pillage, bloodshed) fighting Native Americans (likes: hunting, minor drug abuse, bloodshed) would be an easy scalp for the taking – an open goal that just needs the ball tapped into it. It’s therefore impressive that Marcus Nispel – the director behind the passable Texas Chainsaw Massacre remake – and screenwriter Laeta (Alexander) Kalogridis manage to so spectacularly fumble the ball with Pathfinder.
A remake of 1987’s Oscar-nominated Norweigian flick Ofelas, the filmmakers have relocated the story – still set in AD1000 – to the US (where else?) and thrown in a bit of Dances With Wolves to boot. Discovered as the sole survivor of a Viking shipwreck, the 10-year-old Ghost is adopted by the Native Americans. Fifteen years later, the adult Ghost’s (Karl Urban) position as ‘uneasiest member of the tribe’ is rendered moot when the Norsemen make their second stab at settling and slaughter everyone in sight. Alone and angry in the remote icy wilderness, Ghost must fight and flee the bloodthirsty Viking hordes, while steering them away from the other local villages and StarFire (Moon Bloodgood), the girl he fancies.
Urban really blots his scorecard here with a nostril-flaring performance direct from the Joey Tribbiani school of acting. He’s not alone, either. All the Native Americans characters speak very slowly... and... even... more... seriously because, according to the tired clichés of movieland, everything tribal folk utter must be so portentous and mystical it has to be said like it’s coming from a constipated robot. It doesn’t help that the dialogue clangs like Big Ben. “There are two wolves fighting in a man’s heart,” we’re told. “One is called love...” Take a big guess as to what the other one’s called. The Natives, however, are a 3-D portrait of subtlety when compared to the Norsemen. Led by Highlander’s Clancy Brown, they’re a mass of maniacs dressed like a PETA nightmare.
You can almost forgive this during the promising first third, when Pathfinder looks like it might turn into Apocalypto’s little brother, leaning heavily on the broody atmospherics that made Nispel’s Texas Chainsaw a surprisingly tense watch. Opening with a blood-splattered montage of Viking violence that looks like a trailer for a different, better movie, Ghost’s initial resistance is all pretty cool stuff; at one point, he even battles the baddies while sliding full-pelt down a snowy mountainside using his shield as a sledge.
Unfortunately the movie follows him downhill just as fast, the plot-turns slowing the movie to a trudge. Worse, the more Pathfinder begs to be taken seriously, the sillier it gets – especially when Ghost turns out to be about as vulnerable as the Terminator.
One set-piece brings to mind no less than the Judean People’s Front crack suicide squad at the end of Life Of Brian (“That showed them”) and the final payoff is nearly as funny, even if it is unintentional. An open goal, you’d think, but this lot sky the ball high and wide.