2007, Movie, R, 99 mins


Loosely based on the 1987 Academy Award-nominated Norwegian film PATHFINDER (OFELAS), Marcus Nispel's brawny period adventure could have been an impressive-looking historical action adventure along the lines of APOCALYPTO or even 300. But it's undone by a murky palette, silly horror-movie cliches, dumb dialogue and a confusing climactic sequence.

Six hundred years before Christopher Columbus arrived in the "New World," Viking marauders routinely raided the shores of northern North America, brutally pillaging native villages and mercilessly slaughtering the "savages" whose spears and arrows were no match for the armored Norsemen's steel and steeds. One afternoon, a woman (Michelle Thrush) from the native Wampanoag tribe stumbles across the abandoned hull of a wrecked Norse vessel; among the shackled corpses on board she discovers a young boy (Burkely Duffield), the son of a fierce Viking warrior who was been left behind after refusing to participate in the carnage. Over the objections of several tribal leaders, who fear this child of "the dragon men" will one day prove true to his blood and turn against them, the defiant woman adopts the pale, fair-haired child and raises him as her own. Fifteen years later, the boy is a man (Karl Urban) whom the Wampanoag call "Ghost" because of his complexion. Still tormented by visions of his bloody childhood, Ghost wants nothing more than to become a Wampanoag brave. But he's forbidden to enter the elite Circle of the Braves until he has resolved his own identity crisis. The inner conflict between Viking and Wampanoag becomes a literal life-and-death struggle when Ghost returns from hunting to discover his entire village wiped out in yet another Norse raid. Ghost narrowly escapes capture and reaches the neighboring villagers in time to warn them of an impending attack. After convincing the defiant village braves that to stay and fight would only mean certain death, he returns to the forest, followed by Starfire (Moon Bloodgood), the woman he loves and the daughter of the tribe's pathfinder, to wreak his vengeance, halt the Viking rampage and discover his true destiny.

To its credit, the film's costume design is extraordinary — the horned Viking armor really does look like something forged in hell — and Greg Blair's production design conveys a genuine sense of lives lived in balance with the environment: the Wampanoag huts and homes seem as much a part of the organic landscape as the trees that tower over them. That achievement, however, is obscured by the gloom that hangs over every scene, and it's anyone's guess what's happening in that final scene. Set high on a narrow path on a sheer cliff face during a snowstorm, it's hard to know what's happening to whom, and even harder to care. leave a comment --Ken Fox

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