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Sunday, April 15, 2007

The Pathfinder

It’s been a dreary, cold and rainy weekend, with snow flurries and the threat of a booming N’oreaster before it is over, which is hardly what one hopes for in the middle of April, even in Vermont. I mean… It’s Vermont, for criminy sakes. Vermont means “Green Mountains” in French. I’d like to see some one of these days soon, and it is beginning to seem that the only place I might find any greenery is in the movies, so off I went to the Essex Cinemas to see something called The Pathfinder. I figured with a name like this it had to be a great outdoorsy kind of story about a pimply-faced adolescent boy who, after being rejected by other boys in his gym class for being too scrawny, too nerdy, and just too Napoleon Dynamite rip-off-ishy, eventually guides the popular guys, lost in the forest during a Boy Scouts camping trip, out of the woods and to safety using his home-made robot. Either that or it would be a fragile coming-of-age story about a girl away from home for the first time at summer camp and the touching tale of her making her “path to womanhood” as she learns of love, life and menstruation between her eleventh and twelfth year. I didn’t really care which scenario The Pathfinder followed just as long as it was a summertime treat, with grass, greenery, and blooming flowers to remind me that there are other seasons besides Winter.

I don’t suppose I need to tell you that I was wrong on both counts. There were no zit-covered teenage boys or budding bleeders driving
The Pathfinder. Oh, there’s plenty of blood, to be sure, but it’s not coming from natural acts, unless you consider decapitation by sword “natural.” No, The
Pathfinder is a bloody, gruesome adventure about ~ get this ~ the ongoing conflict about 800 years ago between the indigenous people of Eastern Canada and the invading Vikings from Norway. Think of it as an Apocalypto for the pre-Columbian Indians (long before they were ever even thought of being called that dumbass misnomer). Worse yet, the whole thing takes place at the tail end of (sigh) Winter, so it’s full of snow and cold rain just like Vermont today.

There’s not much to say about The Pathfinder in terms of plot development. Once it is established that the main character (who, oddly enough, is not The Pathfinder) is a Viking boy who has been left by an invading horde and then raised amongst the Native Americans who would not abandon or kill him because doing so who make them as savage as the nasty Norwegians who tried to slaughter their village, the scene is set. The screen turns dark and then returns with the none too surprising “15 years later” subtitle and we see that the boy has grown into The Beastmaster. Well, no, but close enough, what with his rippling six-pack, muscles oiled to perfection, long blonde locks perfectly coiffed to look perfectly mussed, and him posed and swinging his Viking sword in moves lifted from every kung fu slice-and-dice movie this side of Kill Bill or Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. Exactly how he learned to become such an excellent swordsman is a mystery never explained but it is noted that the rest of the Native Americans have no idea what this weapon is until our “hero” called Ghost (Karl Urban; Out of the Blue) tells them.

Apparently Urban garnered his name because of his white skin even though he must have had a Viking name he could have used since he was at least ten when he came to live with the Indian clan who raised him. I guess he really wanted to acclimate to his new culture.

What is truly amazing (and disconcerting) is that the Native Americans in
The Pathfinder speak perfect modern day English while the Vikings speak in old Nordic, a pre-cursor to today’s Icelandic. The actors actually had to learn their few lines phonetically and then they were sub-titled in English on the screen. Okay, it’s nice that director Marcus Nispel (The Texas Chainsaw Massacre) insisted on the language accuracy amongst the Viking characters, but why the silliness with the Indian actors? Geez, they are actual Native Americans and more likely able to speak in a dubbable dialect than the Viking actors. I mean, most Native Americans seem to have a connection to their heritage and native language more than us people with European roots. I don’t know anybody from Norway who actually lights candles in their hair in December to celebrate St. Lucia’s Day or goes to the office in a bunad.

I’ve heard that historians are really upset because
The Pathfinder depicts the Vikings as wearing horns on their helmets like the god Thor. Apparently Vikings never really wore helmets like this, and the history freaks don’t like the inadvertent reference to one of my favorite movies, Adventures in Babysitting, which features its own horned-helmet wearing character. But I digress.

So Ghost is basically this hot guy who wants to be a Brave, which requires the elders of the tribe to
have a ceremony, sort of like having a Bar Mitzvah but without the kreplach and salmon on the buffet. Unfortunately, in a Don Imus-like move, the Elders gave him the thumbs down because he was a white boy and had issues he needed to resolve first. I’m serious. Issues. Like what? Abandonment? Being treated like an outsider? Being called a “pale-skinned ho?” They weren’t specific at all, but it doesn’t matter because this movie isn’t meant to have a real plot. It’s just supposed to be gory, so that means as soon as Ghost leaves in search of “finding himself”, the Vikings return (What? It takes 15 years?) and the slaughter begins. Heads roll, guts spill, people get burned alive. All of the victims are the passive Native Americans who seem incapable of defending themselves. You can see where this is headed. Or should I say beheaded?

The only surprising element in the rest of the movie is how apparently dim-witted these Neanderthal Vikings seem to be. They actually expect Ghost will voluntarily lead them to other Native villages so the killing and pillaging can continue. Umm. Hello? Has no one seen Rambo on cable like a hundred times already? These guys just killed his entire family and all his friends and they think he’s going to happily play tour guide? I’m beginning to think these Vikings wore the helmets because their heads were already soft.

Somehow, forced into this fiasco of fighting is a chemistry-free “romance” between Ghost and a woman from his tribe whose name isn’t even spoken during the movie. You have to wait until the ending credits to know that his supposed soul mate is Starfire, played by a near comatose Moon Bloodgood (Eight Below) who has about as much enthusiasm for being here as the audience does for having paid to see this instead of Disturbia or Perfect Stranger this weekend. I couldn’t help but wonder if her paycheck hadn’t bounced.

Okay, so I did my best to get into the story, what little there is of it. I tried to appreciate the clever traps Ghost was inevitably destined to set to whittle down the numbers of his opponents until he
would go mano a mano against the beast leader of the group, the unnamed until it’s over, Gunnar (Clancy Brown; The Guardian). Alas, as much as I tried, though, I just couldn’t care. None of the characters were developed beyond their one-dimensional scope as players in a violent video game, which is what The Pathfinder feels like. Nobody, including Ghost, is given any depth or reason for their actions or thoughts. The script is so sparse on language you might think it was written as an exercise is stage direction because the language is not holding the picture together in any way. Why and when Starfire became attracted to Ghost is a mystery as is his bond to her. Any inner conflicts he might have experienced at finding the people who were from his biological roots doing harm to the people who adopted him is never explored. Ghost remains an enigma to the end, just as the movie does.

I didn’t dislike The Pathfinder. It has lovely cinematography and lots of panoramic shots of beautiful British Columbia (doubling for the less glamorous eastern seaboard). It also has a ton of action, a handsome hunk in the lead, and good effects in the gouge and gore department. In other words, except for the acting, no story to speak of, and the crappy snow on screen, it was as much fun as any Conan the Barbarian flick might be. Let’s just hope this doesn’t lead to Karl Urban thinking he has the right to run for Governor now. At least Ah-nold can talk.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

The first contact between Europeans and Native Americans did involved Vikings, but it occurred in Greenland rather than North Amrica, and the Native Americans were the aggressors. Greenland, an alomost continent-size island, was uninhabited when the Vikings discovered it around AD 950. The Vikings built several settlements that flourished for around 200 years. But Native Americans crossed from North America and began attacking the Viking settlements around ADA 1150. After a few small but bloody skrimishes, the two sides settled down to a long stalemate, with the Native Americans living in the north of the island and the Vikings in the center and south. However, the Viking settlements began to decline during the "Little Ice Age." Historians are devided over whether bubonic plague or Native Americans killed the last of the Viking settlers.