Great movies come from all around the world, and so do great DVDs and Blu-rays. Import This! is an irregular feature here at FSR that highlights discs and/or movies unavailable in the US that are worth seeking out for fans of fantastic cinema. We’ll cover movies both foreign and domestic, new and old, and while some discs will require region-free players others will play on any DVD or Blu-ray machine. The one thing they’ll all have in common is their status as damn fine films and/or solid entertainment currently unavailable in the US but well worth importing into your collection.
Country of origin: UK
DVD Label: Momentum Pictures/UK
DVD Region: 2*
“In the beginning there was only man and nature. Men came bearing crosses and drove the heathen to the fringes of the earth.”
A group of Norse warriors, or Vikings (maybe, I don’t know), force their captive slaves to fight each other to the death like the Romans or Michael Vick used to do. Their champion is One-Eye (Mads Mikkelsen), a brutal fighter whose bone-crunching, brain-exposing, gut-bursting brawls always end with him as last man standing. “He’s driven by hate,” one of his captors says. “It’s how he survives.” He escapes from bondage and along with a young boy he sets out as a free man. The duo meets up with a band of antsy Christians on their way to the Holy Land hoping to reclaim Jerusalem and together they set sail to join the Crusades in the Muslim world… only to find a fog enshrouded and densely wooded new world instead. Madness, fear, and a loss of faith begin to overtake the lost men. And things go downhill even further when this mysterious land’s native inhabitants appear…
What an odd and beautiful film this is. It’s divided into six parts: Wrath, Silent Warrior, Men of God, The Holy Land, Hell, and The Sacrifice. Each chapter name is more about evoking a mood than highlighting a shift in story as there really isn’t much of a story here at all. Instead, brief (but suitably brutal) bursts of violence are cushioned into periods of narrative inactivity. The characters walk, sail, and stare into a blood-colored mist like madmen, but there’s no effort to propel them forward towards a goal, conflict, or conclusion. It’s most definitely not the movie advertised on the DVD cover. Refn fills his existential Viking film with long dialogue-free stretches and a simple but effective score. More prominent than either though is the natural world around them, from the wind in the trees to the creaking of the wooden boat and the water slapping against the hull. It’s dream-like and so ridiculously free of recognizable narrative that it’s guaranteed to upset some viewers, but there’s a definite journey here, one specific to One-Eye yet applicable to mankind as a whole. Valhalla Rising is a fascinating film, but be aware that the pace and energy are the antithesis of Refn’s last film, Bronson. So don’t watch this one expecting it to scratch your action itch.
DVD: Momentum Pictures’ DVD release of Valhalla Rising isn’t exactly loaded with special features, but it does have two pretty good extras. First up is a commentary with Refn and journalist Alan Jones that touches on the director’s intentions, the film’s visual style, and Refn’s thoughts on his leading madman. Happily, both men speak English. Also included is a “making-of” that covers many of the same topics but that also goes behind the scenes to show the conditions faced by the cast and crew during filming. One of the many highlights is getting to see Mikkelsen talking, smiling, and laughing… things he never does in the film. The DVD is region 2 (and the Blu-ray is locked region B), so you will need a region-free player. The only real complaint I have against the DVD is the ridiculously misleading cover art. As stated above, this is as far from a 300 or a Braveheart as you can get and still technically call yourself an action film. And who are those guys on the cover behind Mads? The only time the movie has more than ten people onscreen at once is the scene involving a pile of corpses.
– Buy Valhalla Rising on DVD from AmazonUK. The film is also seeing a limited theatrical release this week as well as being available on VOD.
*Note: I use a Phillips DVP-5990 region-free player. It’s currently available at Best Buy for under sixty bucks, and it has so far handled every DVD I’ve tossed at it including successfully converting PAL format onto my NTSC television. Feel free to email me with any questions.