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April 17, 2007

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Movie Review – Pathfinder (2007)

by HELEN GEIB

Pathfinder is a straightforward Hollywood action movie with a fantastic premise, high production values, good cast and okay direction. I liked it. Whether you will like it depends on how you respond to the premise.

If you saw the trailer and thought, “What a fantastic premise for an action movie – I have to see that!”, then you are like me and you’ll like this movie too. On the other hand, you may be thinking right now, “Is she crazy? That movie looks really stupid. How can she recommend it?” If that’s the case, you won’t like it and I won’t attempt to convince you to give it a try. Everything about Pathfinder derives from the premise.

For those who missed the trailer, Pathfinder is set in a sort-of real, sort-of fantasy pre-Colombian America where Vikings land raiding parties on the Eastern seaboard. One such raid ends in shipwreck on the way home. The sole survivor is a boy young enough to be impressionable and old enough to have learned Viking battle skills. He is adopted into an Indian tribe. Flash forward 15 years. The boy has grown up to be Karl Urban. The Vikings return to do what Vikings did and the action commences.

The action sequences are generally well done. The sword fighting is of the hack and slash variety, which is realistic for Vikings, although not especially exciting. There is very little hand to hand combat and instead a lot of springing of traps, also realistic for going up against Vikings, but again not especially exciting.

Where Pathfinder really works is when the good guys use nature against the enemy. There are good scenes in the forest and an excellent sequence in a cave honeycombed with passages, where the heroes and the Vikings play a most suspenseful cat and mouse game. The action shifts from forest to snow-covered mountains for the finish. Early spring brings cracking ice and shifting snowpacks, providing a spectacular backdrop for the climactic confrontation.

An obvious advantage of the plot is the casting of Vikings in the role of action movie enemy. Viking depredations were the scourge of northern Europe and Britain in the Dark Ages and no apologies or qualifications need be made for their representation here as brutal marauders. There’s some resemblance to orcs, in reality and in this movie, and it’s highly satisfying to exult at their downfall.

Pathfinder’s most significant shortcomings are the direction and the music, which are only competent and needed to be better than that to create and sustain a heightened level of excitement and suspense. The movie’s strengths are in the premise and the execution of the premise: characterization, locations, sets, costumes, weaponry. Those elements work and carry the film over the lackluster parts. Like I said, Pathfinder is all about the premise.

3 stars

2 Comments Post a comment
  1. James
    May 17 2007

    Helen, how did “Pathfinder” compare to “The Thirteenth Warrior” in your mind? Also, have you ever seen the 1958 film “The Vikings” with Janet Leigh, Ernest Borgnine, Tony Curtis, and Kirk Douglas? Assuming you have, how does that compare?

  2. Helen
    May 17 2007

    I saw The Vikings many years ago on TV. I don’t remember it well, but I also don’t remember it kindly. Too much ’50s style fevered emoting.

    The Thirteenth Warrior is definitely superior to Pathfinder. I enjoyed Pathfinder very much as a straightforward genre movie. Warrior I would recommend to anyone as an exciting and interesting drama, as well as a successful action movie. Warrior has a much stronger story and script than Pathfinder. Re-telling Beowulf from the pov of the Arab protagonist was a brilliant idea that pulled in the modern viewer, for whom Anglo-Saxon/Norse culture is equally alien. Warrior also did something important to me (and something unsuccessful films like Troy didn’t do), and that was to respect its source and actually tell the story. There’s a reason people are still reading Beowulf centuries later, and Warrior captured that appeal. And to top it off, the action scenes are well directed and thrilling.

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