:: The Vikings of Bjornstad :: What Is The Best Viking Movie
It's a frequently asked question and
the answer is always going to be an opinion.
Typically, that opinion is based on the
relative importance we each place on the elements that make up a film - and we
those elements differently. Further, we each rate films differently based on those elements.
So ... there's really no objective method of making the choice. However, Bjornstad has developed a list of the elements we
think should be considered when making the decision.
The categories are listed below, and the movie that
wins in each category - in my opinion. The choices are informed, supported
- and frequently countered - by lots of input from the contributors listed at the bottom
of the page.
More than any other movie, The Vikings tells a Viking story, set in Viking times, in
Viking settings, displaying a wide array of Norse cultural elements with
recognizably Viking characters.
This is the winner for many reasons, some of which are indicated - with a
little supporting commentary - in the "award"
categories that follow.
Other "Viking" movies incorporate
a few semi-Norse costumes, a ship, a nod to a saga if we're lucky and the rest of
the movie is so generic it could be
set anywhere at any time in history. And, much of the time, the ship is either a model or a
computer generated image. Not so with The Vikings.
The movie is filmed on location and puts on the screen the considerable
research done to portray Viking life accurately. A few of its story
elements are based on the sagas, including the character Ragnar
Lodbrok, the English king Aella and Ragnar's death at his hands. The costumes could be improved
considerably, the castle is several hundred years out of
period and some elements, like the use of a magnetic artifact for
navigation, are pure invention. But at the end of the movie, you come
away with a surprisingly comprehensive view of the life of a Viking - not
Norse who tilled fields outside Birka or traded soapstone in Kaupang, but the kind of fearsome raider
who terrorized Europe for three hundred years.
Einar, played by Kirk Douglas, captains a ship, runs the
a merchant ship, kidnaps a princess for ransom, drinks heavily, rides a fjord
horse, chases village girls,
demonstrates skill in feasting games, invades England, fights with sword and axe, hunts with falcons and is given a burning ship
funeral. What more could we ask of a Viking?
Filmed in Iceland, Beowulf and Grendel does an admirable job of
minimizing filmmakers' usual urges to glamorize (i.e., make less authentic)
costumes. There are still things to criticize, including the lengths
of belts and the height of the men's boots, but so much is done well this
film deserves to be recognized for the accuracy of its costumes.
Beowulf promising to rid
Hrothgar of the monster Grendel. This is the best
depiction of a Norse long hall - and its inhabitants - on film.
Images from www.beowulfandgrendel.com
The best depiction of Viking village and home life
No film better captures more aspects of Norse life than
does The Vikings. It portrays the unsurprising feasting,
drinking, raiding and ships, but also includes slavery, navigation
limitations, siegecraft, massed archery, Scandinavian overcrowding as a
driver for the Viking age and plot-affecting references to Norse mythology. Some of these elements can be found in no
other movie. Not to mention an educational title sequence employing
art from the Bayeux Tapestry and Orson Welles as a narrator.
The scenes shown here were filmed in Sognefjord,
Norway. Three boats in the movie are sailed, rowed, docked
and/or beached in authentic locations without CGI support. It doesn't get any more authentic.
Screen captures from The Vikings (1958)
And: The construction and testing of a longship figure
importantly in The Long Ships (1964).
Filmed in Yugoslavia.
The 13th Warrior has a powerful score by Jerry
Goldsmith that is one of the best in the movies. It serves the movie
well in every scene. One of my favorite CDs. If you have your
volume level where you want it, here's a sample action sequence audio clip.
Click on the 'Play' button on the still image below.
Herger and Ahmed have a bad feeling about this ... Image from imdb.com
The 13th Warrior has a great cast, led by
Antonia Banderas. It has a budget sufficient to tell a good story.
It has great music. It has some great action. It has humor and
well-written dialogue. The characters are well-defined and interesting and
it's worth the time getting to know them. British Columbia stands in
well for the forests of Northern Europe. But ... the costuming is marginal,
the armor anachronistic, many
scenes are dark and it just lacks a compelling plot.
British mini-series does a nice job of
telling the story of the Norman Conquest and looks right due to its use of
historical re-enactors. It does make some poor choices in terms of its characters
and counter-productive references to Tolkien's universe. There are surprisingly few
movies set in the 11th century, so the choices are limited. If
category included the Plantagenet era of Henry II of England, Eleanor of Aquitaine and
their son, Richard the Lionheart, there would be more films to consider.
Screen captures from 1066: The Battle for Middle Earth (2009)
A better movie in some respects and a close second:
The War Lord (1965).
Set in the 10th century (sort of): Dragonheart (1996). Movies set later in the Norman period and a little too late to be Viking: The Lion in Winter (1968 and the
best written of any movie discussed on this site), Becket (1964), a bunch
of Ivanhoes and, for that matter, all those Robin Hoods.
A spare, awkward little film with some top-notch actors.
It's about that troubled Danish prince who has some serious family issues, moved from a
Shakespearean setting to early, low-budget Denmark. A little too early
for a true Viking movie, but the plot has stood
the test of time pretty well.
Screen captures from Royal Deceit AKA Prince of Jutland
The holmgang between Herger the Joyous and Angus is
tense and involving, emphasizing advancing the plot and character
development over skillful swordsmanship. The use of three shields and
its inception over personal honor are very Viking.
Achilles (Brad Pitt) and Hector (Eric Bana) do battle in the climax of Troy
with spear, shield and sword. Exceptionally well staged, this battle
can be watched over and over again and is just breathtaking in its
choreography and execution. These legendary characters, Achaean and Trojan,
should be portrayed at the peak of their chosen profession, and both actors
them expertly. Brad Pitt particularly demonstrates a mastery of both
edged weapons and his shield that is unequaled on film. Every movement
either completes an attack, defends against an anticipated attack, or sets
up the delivery of the next attack. All with a cold, surgical and
arrogant precision. Eric Bana's Hector is an exceptional warrior also,
but there is clear difference, by an order of magnitude, in their abilities.
You'll never see two warriors in combat where their skill levels are so
beautifully shown - and differentiated. In most movie fights, editing is
used to cover poorly executed movements or hide transitions to the next
series of disconnected movements. In Troy, the editing highlights the flow; it shows just how
continuously dangerous this form of combat was. Given the weapons and
armor used, this level of filmed battle could be translated easily to a
Viking age scene - and should be, if only it were staged this well. Richard Ryan
is listed as the sword master in the movie's credits, but no one is
identified as the fight choreographer. Whoever is responsible has
done an amazing job.
Screen captures from
Since I like giving credit where it's due, here's a note from Mike
W., one of our web page visitors:
"Re: your accolades for the Achilles/Hector fight scene, Richard Ryan was in fact responsible for the fight choreography,
as he did for all sword work for Troy. That particular fight scene was nominated for a Taurus (stunt award) and
MTV Film award (ref: www.safd.org/user/18). Don't you just love that VERY memorable leaping/downward-thrust
"kill move" of Achilles??? He was asked to develop special fight moves for each of the main characters to help
reinforce their individual mythologies.
"You'll be happy to know that Richard Ryan was also the Swordmaster, Asst. Stunt Coordinator, and Gabriel Byrne's
stunt double for History's Vikings. How ironic, eh???
"You'll probably also be happy to know that he was stunt coordinator for
Hammer Of the Gods (2013), which you've also referenced.
"BTW, Richard has worked on quite a few highly memorable fight scenes since Troy, including winning a
Screen Actors Guild Award as part of the stunt ensemble for The Dark Knight. How about that very memorable fight scene
in Sherlock Holmes (2009), where Robert Downey Jr. is in a fight pit (slow-motion... Holmes analyzes his opponent to
develop his winning series of moves... "break cracked ribs, traumatize solar plexus, dislocate jaw entirely...").
Richard was fight coordinator there, too." (Mike W.)
The Princess Bride (1987),
Rob Roy (1995),
Musketeers (frequent) and Zorro (pretty often)
Although a product of the '60s in tone and with some iffy shields, Alfred the Great
includes a very rare depiction of a shield wall at work. And an
absolutely unique demonstration of a boar's snout maneuver used to defeat
Screen captures from Alfred the Great (1967)
And: The assault on a later period castle demonstrates the
use of archery and massed shields to provide suppressing fire while the
drawbridge is breached in The Vikings (1958).
A tough call since there are so many bad ones to choose
from, but I'd have to pick Pathfinder. Some Viking
badly cast, many are poorly acted and most are badly written, but Pathfinder
depicts the Vikings who land in North America as faceless orcish brutes in
costumes inspired by Frank Frazetta and Peter Jackson's Lord of the
Rings trilogy. It cynically uses misconceptions about Vikings as
a lazy pretext for a Rambo-style revenge flick. Still haven't been
able to sit through much of it.
Filmed in Iceland by an Icelandic director using a
Icelandic cast, this could have been a better movie. The revenge plot
is vaguely Viking, but way overused in movies. The swords, leather
helmets and khukri knives don't look remotely authentic. The hero
armed with throwing knives seems to be from a different movie. It does
interesting spin on village life and worship of the gods. The Icelandic
horses are great, but this is a pretty narrow slice of the
Viking age, with an overlay of Sergio Leone that drags it off the edge of
We don't get to see much more of the ships,
Gest the former slave wears a raincoat/duster from another era.
The hero juggling one of his throwing knives.
A sword-shaped object of uncertain Oakeshott type.
An authentic longhouse and Icelandic horses.
But this is home for some of the villagers.
Screen captures from
Hrafninn Flýgur, AKA The Raven
Flies, AKA Revenge of the Barbarians (1985)
This really isn't a bad little movie for its time.
The problem is that it's set in Roman Britain and borrows heavily from the
story of Boudicca, an Iceni Celtic queen (AD 60). We're about 8
centuries early for Vikings, so the only thing Viking about it is the title.
Hrafn Gunnlaugsson and Nobel
laureate Halldór Laxness were collaborating on a script for a saga-based
film which never got funding. On a recent visit to Hrafn's house, I watched
as he acted out several scenes, playing all the roles himself. I think it
would have been good. (William Short)
Note also that Mel Gibson
a Viking movie he plans to make on the scale of Braveheart (1995) or
(2006), possibly starring Leonardo DiCaprio. In April, 2012, Gibson
said that Randall Wallace, the writer of Braveheart was writing the
script. (Jack Garrett)
Thanks for contributions, ideas
and suggestions: Brian Agron, Rodney Basler, Charles Gadda, Dan Howlett,
Jaye Moretz, Henrik Olsgaard, Jeff/Seth, William Short, Eric the Unsurnamed, Bruce Willis