I wanted to like this flick. I really, REALLY did; I love old-school, violent sagas of swords and armor, blood and bone. I still take Milius' Conan The Barbarian down from time to time and check it out, for Christ's sake. And Pathfinder, in theory, had a thing or two going for it. It would look good, I reasoned, since German director Marcus Nispel, responsible for the surprisingly intense and entertaining Texas Chainsaw Massacre redux, was helming. Karl Urban, who I've been a fan of ever since his small yet absolutely asskicking role in Scott Reynolds' little seen gem Heaven, was starring. It was set back before Columbus sailed the ocean blue, and would feature Vikings (no cowboys here) and Indians duking it out. All of which sounded to me like it could be a bit of alright; a simple period action flick with some serious broadsword action. I was in.
Sadly, I then watched the movie.
As it won't take long to sum up: around 900 A.D. or so, on the North American east coast (way up north, this shit looks COLD), an Indian villager comes across a Viking ship crashed upon the rocks. All are dead inside, save for a 12-year old boy with a sword that's more or less as big as he is. She takes the child back to her village and they take him in. Years later, he's grown up into Ghost (Urban), and while he may be respected by the members of the tribe, he's still somewhat of an outsider, never completely fitting in. Maybe it's the fact that he occasionally goes down by the river and swings his sword around in psychotic Viking weapon katas.
Anyway, Ghost has obviously got a thing for a lovely lass from another tribe nearby, Starfire (Moon Bloodgood), daughter of medicine man Pathfinder (Russell Means, a LONG way away from the days of either AIM or Last of the Mohicans). And one day while Ghost is out hunting and pining for the love that can never be, the Vikings return and slaughter everybody in his village. The evil interlopers, led by genre badass Clancy Brown (Starship Troopers, Extreme Prejudice), are momentarily bested by Ghost (who either learned a thing or two about swordfighting before the age of 12, or remembers seeing enough that he takes to it naturally like it's in his blood or something), and the chase is on. Now Ghost has to save the rest of the tribes from sure extinction, and out-think Brown's devilish Gunnar to do so.
That's pretty much it, and what else there is isn't really worth going over. What we have is First Blood set before the first millenium, and that's about the size of it, truly. Nothing particularly inventive or innovative is done, and it wouldn't have been necessary to wish for any had what the movie provided for us be. . .well, exciting. Or consistently thrilling.
Okay, that's not fair. There ARE two sequences I quite liked - one is a fight played out down the side of the mountain on shields and sleds, plowing through the snow. The other is a battle while the participants dangle over the edge of a cliff, suspended in space. Those were cool enough. Sadly, that's about it.
The flick IS violent, yes - almost desperately so. There's some convincing brutality and excessive gore, so if that's your thing you'll have a few moments of pleasure there (like a decapitated head's eyes popping open as it tumbles to the ground). Limbs are lost and skulls are cleaved, with ridiculous amounts of stage blood and/or CGI spurts in high supply. But that's not enough to keep the flick afloat, at least not this one. Some good stunts and choreography, sure - and like I said, there's a whole goddamn lot of it - but still, it can't save the movie.
Nispel does give us some great looks at the wild here and there, as well as some energetic carnage, but doesn't seem to have a coherent vision for the piece. He brought back veteran cinematographer Daniel C. Pearl from his Chainsaw remake, but the look of this film is so grey, washed out and cold that I wonder if that's REALLY what they wanted. Yes, it's gritty and feels oppressive. But it's also seriously fugly, which stikes me as somewhat counterproductive. Realistic it may be, but not pleasant to watch in any way, that's for sure.
The cast is okay, no more and no less. Urban sells the action with no problem at all, and is easily charismatic, but he's BORING here most of the time, which is probably not what they had in mind; his roles in LOTR and The Bourne Supremacy displayed his talent in a far brighter light. Means gets to embarrass himself by playing the cliche "How, white man" Indian and spout what passes for philosophy and deep thinking in this flick. Clancy Brown is hissable and evil, but by now he can do this part in his sleep. Moon Bloodgood (one of the coolest names in recorded history, by the way) is absolutely gorgeous and can probably act, but you wouldn't know it here, with the shit she's given to do and say.
Mostly, that's the worst thing - this movie is plain old-fashioned dumb, and all kinds at that. Some of the dialogue is easily the worst I've ever heard in any flick EVER. Not once were any of the characters' named uttered, except for Pathfinder; I learned their names for the first time during the credits, including our hero. The things the characters do is dictated by the stupidity of the plot and in no way works for most of the running time. There are what appear to be attempts at humor in scenes which do not call for it, and much laughter in repeated situations where we should not be laughing. And then there's the conversation that takes place underwater, in the hero's head. The mere conception of this scene - to say nothing about how it's executed on film - should have never gotten past the spitballing stage. Nor have I mentioned the apparently mute, seemingly mentally challenged villager who becomes Ghost's sidekick for a time, named (of all things) Jester. Yeah, I know.
The DVD looks and sounds okay. There's a few featurettes I couldn't bear to watch, as I'd be viewing people trying to convince themselves that this was more than a paycheck, or deluded individuals who actually believed this fucking thing was gonna work. There's a short piece that the producers apparently used to show the studio what they wanted to do with the flick; it's more or less a shot for shot scene from early in the proceedings, except that Ghost seems to be a couple years away from legal drinking age (to sum up: they shouldn't have bought the pitch). There IS a bonus feature that intrigued me, titled "Clancy Brown: Cult Hero". I love and revere Clancy Brown, and hoped we'd get some footage from the flicks that solidified my affection for him, maybe some stuff as Kurgen from Highlander or whatnot. . .no. Four minutes of ass-kissing and claptrap, and much professionalism from the man himself, which the flick doesn't really earn. There's also some deleted scenes that, again, I couldn't bring myself to check out, since I'd already seen what they felt was good enough to be IN the movie; if this was stuff they deemed unworthy, I was happy to stay away.
To close: Pathfinder is not, certainly, the worst flick I've ever seen. It actually gets an extra skull for three combined things - the copious bloodshed, Karl Urban occasionally being all badass on everything, and the mere presence of Moon Bloodgood (hey, she was something enjoyable to look at during a movie that desperately needed it). Otherwise the flick would be TOTAL SHIT! for being dull to look at and stupid besides. If you come across it on cable and enter in the middle of a fight scene, you could do worse. After that, though, good luck.