Joshua E Hultberg
Out of all the films released in the United States concerning Vikings, Pathfinder, is quite possibly the worst. From top to bottom, start to finish, the movie is an utter failure. The film's release had been delayed by over two years, perhaps in that time any semblance of quality had been cut from the movie.
Pathfinder is loosely based on Norwegian Nils Gaup's 1987 script for the film Ofelas. The earlier film is unavailable in the United States, which is a shame because it sounds like what the movie Pathfinder should have been. In the original version the action takes place in Norway during the ninth century. The protagonist is a Laplander whose family and village is wiped out by (according to one synopsis) "barbarians". It is up to the protagonist to exact his revenge on the barbarians. That sounds like a perfectly reasonable movie and according to the information I was able to find about Ofelas the movie was pretty good.
Pathfinder moves the action and story to ninth century North America. A dragon ship is found wrecked upon a beach, the only survivor a boy who is taken in by the local Native American tribe. Now years later the boy has grown to a man (apparently impervious to cold since he sprints around a snowy movie in fewer clothes than leather stockings). His tribe has named him Ghost and though they have accepted him into the tribe he is still considered, in some respects, to be an outsider. One day, out of the gloom, storm a band of Vikings who promptly put most of the tribe to the sword. The evil Vikings do keep some captives for sport, including Ghost. After a brief duel Ghost escapes and the movie never really deviates from any Z-grade film convention. Though I hate to give away the ends of movies Pathfinder ends with: Ghost defeating the wicked Vikings, saving the peace loving Native Americans, becoming fully accepted into the tribe, getting the girl of his dreams, and roll credits.
I can forgive a lot in bad movies. Some would say that I even have a penchant for low end adventure tales. Pathfinder is just unwatchable junk. What particularly stands out to me are (among the other faults) are the glaring historical inaccuracies. These are the worst bunch of Vikings to appear on screen and I don't mean their behavior. Stylistically they are pulled straight from heavy metal album covers and Frank Frazetta paintings. Massive steel helms with sweeping horns abound in Pathfinder. The Viking armor reminds me more of fur fringed Maximillian plate armor than what any group of humans was forging in the ninth century. Hagar the Horrible is more historically accurate than this depiction. Pathfinder cannot even manage to film on the correct coast of Canada (it was filmed in Vancouver, British Columbia).
When Pathfinder was filially released in 2007 a vast majority of reviewers lambasted it. I found two positive reviews, one by The Hollywood Reporter and one by the Boston Globe. The rest ranged from dismissal to outright contempt. Variety called Pathfinder, "historical balder-dash." The Miami Herald called Pathfinder, "too small to be a spectacle, too humorless to take seriously and too stupid to pass muster at a middle school writing workshop."
It is a shame that the subject of Vikings by American cinema is so poorly done. There are a number of films that were recently released that I am attempting to track down. One is Severed Ways: the Norse Discovery of America and a Russian film, Wolfhound. Hopefully these films can make up for garbage like Pathfinder.