Sunday, June 10, 2012

Pathfinder (2007)

Pathfinder was released April 13, 2007.  It was directed by Marcus Nispel (Conan the Barbarian (2011)) and written by Laeta Kalogridis, loosely based on the Norwegian screenplay by Nils Gaup.  The story is set some 600 years before Columbus when Vikings first landed in North America.

A Native American woman discovers a crashed Viking ship with a surviving child. She adopts the boy and the village eventually welcomes him after fearing he would become what his fathers had been.  They call him Ghost for his pale skin and light eyes.  Ghost is played by Karl Urban, following his success in The Lord of the Rings trilogy.

One day, when Ghost and most of the other young men are out hunting, three Viking ships arrive and destroy his village.  Everyone, including his parents and sister, is killed.  Ghost hears a Viking horn and returns to the village too late to save anyone. He battles the Dragon Men and manages to kill several of them before he is struck by an arrow.

Seriously injured, Ghost manages to escape and he is found by a hunting party from the neighbouring village.  They are able to save his life and Ghost warns that they should all run.  The Vikings will have tracked him to their village.

The Vikings destroy the hunting party and take Ghost and the Pathfinder's daughter, Starfire, captive.  Each village is led by a pathfinder or chief who decides the course for his or her people.  Starfire's father eventually sacrifices himself to save Ghost and his daughter.  The Vikings keep them alive so Ghost can become their pathfinder and lead them to the next village.

Realizing the Vikings have no experience with American spring, Ghost leads them through the mountains and manages to use the terrain and weather to defeat them. His final enemy is Gunnar (Clancy Brown), the leader of the Vikings.  Ghost struggles with him in a climatic mountainside battle and emerges victorious.

Starfire takes her father's place as the new pathfinder and she and Ghost begin a family.

The story is obviously nothing new or complex but Nispel tells it visually very well. The first half of the film is very dark with a great deal of high contrast.  The Vikings' faces remain hidden behind historically inaccurate but cool looking helmets.  The visuals successfully convey a sense of fear and impending death.

Later, as the film progresses, and we begin to see that Ghost has hope of defeating his enemies, the Vikings' faces begin to be revealed and we emerge from the dark, claustrophobic forests into the brighter mountains.

I enjoy the work of directors like Nispel who come from an artistic background. They have a sharp eye for detail and composition.  Nispel also doesn't rely solely on close-ups like many directors of his generation who have been spoiled by TV.  This film has many long shots so you really gain a sense of the geography and the entire field of action.  Pathfinder was shot in British Columbia and film benefits from the incredible landscape.

I tend to think of Viking films as being part of the sword & sandal genre even though they probably don't technically belong there.  This film definitely won't change your life but it will entertain you for two hours.  It's available on both DVD and blu-ray. The 1987 film upon which this is based is also available on DVD.