Based on a fairy tale book which he himself wrote, Terry Jones' Erik The Viking is an amusing kid-friendly film that incorporates a few Monty Python-esque moments of absurdity into its structure but which, for the most part, stands fairly far removed from the work that Jones did with The Flying Circus boys.
The movie follows a Viking named, surprise surprise, Erik (Tim Robbins) who accidentally kills a girl who he had just started to develop a crush on. Since this incident, Erik has been pretty temperamental and has found himself in a bit of a funk. He realizes that he's tired of his life and figures that there has to be more out there than just raping and pillaging and so he looks for something more. He finds it in a quest given to him in which he must travel to the land of the gods in order to wake them from their slumber to bring back the sun... and the dead girl he liked so much, if she'll have anything to do with him at this point.
Sounds easy enough, right? Of course not! Erik and his rag-tag crew (including his grandfather, played by Mickey Rooney) run into problem after problem on their quest, having to deal with a dragon suffering from hay fever, strange singing natives, and a warlord (John Cleese) who would love nothing more than to keep the world in the Dark Ages for all of eternity.
First things first, this is NOT a Monty Python film even if the marketing materials allude to that. This is a family film, a fairy tale, and those expecting the farcical and dirty humor that the Pythons were known for will be disappointed. That said, keeping expectations in check and viewing this as a family film, Erik The Viking isn't a bad movie. Cleese is laugh out loud funny as the craggy warlord and Mickey Rooney steals almost every scene that he's in. Robbins does a fine job of playing that morose lead character and it's hard not to laugh at Jones himself (who plays the King of Hy-Brasil where Erik begins his quest) when he appears in his ridiculous wig.
The set design, costumes and effects work are all appropriately soiled looking, everything appears to be fairly gritty and on that level the picture resembles Jaberwocky a little bit, but it works and there's certain primitive charm to the look of the film. Much of the enjoyment of the film, however, comes not from the look or the story but from spotting the various character actors who pop up in the picture. Eartha Kitt, Freddie Jones, and quite a few other familiar faces all show up in the picture at one point or another, allowing viewers to play their own game of 'spot that recognizable actor.'
While Erik The Viking is far from a classic, it's a reasonably entertaining family film that plays as much like a low-fi version of Pirates Of The Caribbean than a follow up to something like Monty Python And The Holy Grail. It's unlikely to set your world on fire but it does have its moments and it isn't as bad a movie as its many critics would have you believe... at least it was...
Notes About The Director's Son's Cut: Jones states in the extras that due to contractual obligations he was unable to finish editing the picture to his liking and now, through the magic of DVD, he and his son, Bill, have gone back to tweak the film. There are subtle differences, such as the credits appearing right away rather than a few minutes in as they did in the theatrical version, and quite a few scenes have been rearranged. That said, a lot of material that was in the theatrical cut (roughly 24 minutes worth) has simply been cut out of the picture. This does tighten up the running time but those familiar with the theatrical version will be disappointed to know that the older cut of the picture has not been included and none of the excised material even appears as deleted scenes or supplements - it's simply gone, albeit at least we're given an explanation for it. The faster pace of the film comes at a price, however. Much of the character development and some of the more subtle parts of the story are missing and the film definitely feels like it's been 'dumbed down' for those with shorter attention spans. Had both versions of the picture been included on this release it wouldn't be that big a deal but considering that t he theatrical cut is not available on DVD domestically at the time of this writing, it's quite frustrating - almost a full quarter of the footage is missing.
Erik The Viking is presented in a decent 1.85.1 anamorphic widescreen transfer that presents the film in its original aspect ratio. There's a bit of grain and some mild print damage around if you want to look for it as well as some mild compression artifacts but there isn't any heavy edge enhancement to complain about and aliasing is isn't ever much of an issue. Color reproduction is decent and black levels stay fairly strong from start to finish. This is far from a reference quality transfer but it's certainly a very decent one.
Audio options are provided in English Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound and Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo Surround with optional subtitles in English, French and Spanish and with closed captioning provided in English only. The 5.1 track is better than you'd probably expect it to be, providing solid and tight bass response and using the rear channels to fill in the background of the action and fight scenes quite nicely. Dialogue comes primarily from the front center channel but it is spread out properly when it needs to be. No problems to report with hiss or distortion though there are a couple of spots where the levels fluctuate just a tad. Aside from that, the movie sounds really good on this DVD.
First up is a commentary track with writer/director Terry Jones and moderator Jeff Wiseman. Jones, who has no shortage of topics to discuss when it comes to this production, talks about why he changed the scene order in the film and why he chopped out certain bits to tighten the pacing. They talk about which parts of the film were directed by Jones and which were directed by the second unit, and they do a good job of supplying some generally interesting trivia about the cast and about the location shooting in Malta and the soundstage studio shooting in London. Jones talks about some of the original concepts that he had for the film and why they didn't make it into the picture, and they talk about working with miniatures and props in the picture. It's a fairly active track delivered with a jovial sense of humor and the moderator does a good job of prompting Jones for information during the few moments where he becomes a little quiet (which isn't often!).
Up next is a featurette entitled Behind The Director's Son's Cut (10:14, anamorphic widescreen) that begins with Terry Jones explaining how the fairy tales of the Brothers Grimm that he used to read to his kids influenced him to write the film, which started off as a story he wrote for his son, Bill. Terry and Bill then go on to talk about the different facets of the film and the cast that show up in the picture, while Jones addresses the initial response that audiences had to the film, saying that many were disappointed with it as they were expecting a Monty Python film and not a fairy tale. Jones talks about editing the film, and how he wanted to cut the film to remove about ten minutes to quicken the pace of the picture, which leads to the version of the film found on this DVD, which he's worked on with his son, Bill. The Jones' didn't have any alternate footage to use, instead what they've done is move things around and take things out to cut from the film from 100 minutes to 77 minutes.
From there, check out the 1989 Making Of Featurette (30:00, fullframe) that actually shows us some interesting footage of Terry Jones on set directing and that also delves into Jones' background a little bit. Jones talks about wanting to capture some of the visuals from his original story, while the narrator talks about the many character actors who show up in the film. Tim Robbins expresses his admiration for the script, while Cleese talks about the psychology of the character he's to play. Some great behind the scenes footage makes this worth watching, even if the production is fairly promotional in nature.
Rounding out the extra features are the film's original theatrical trailer, trailers for a couple of other MGM comedy DVDs, and Giant Visions In The Sky From The Gods Of Valhalla (which is just a fancy name for a still gallery). Menus and chapter stops round out the package. The keepcase fits inside a cardboard slipcase and inside is an insert containing two pages of liner notes from Terry Jones that explain the intent behind re-cutting the film.
While the new cut of the film certainly moves at a much faster pace than the theatrical version, this release really should have contained both versions of the movie for posterity's sake. That said, fans of the picture might want to check this disc out for the supplements, which are quite interesting despite the faster pacing/missing footage (which will understandably annoy purists and long time fans). Consider Erik The Viking - The Director's Son's Cut as a rental - it's nice to see the film on DVD, but this isn't the version that those of us who are familiar with the movie actually want to own.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.