Written by Matthew Read (the man who wrote Pusher and Valhalla Rising) and directed by Farren Blackburn (his feature film debut after working steadily directing in television for some time now), 2013's Hammer Of The Gods tells the story of a Viking named Steinar (Charlie Bewley), the son of King Bagsecg (James Cosmo). When it turns out that Bagsecg is dying, Steiner is asked to head into Saxon territory in search of Hakan (Elliot Cowan), the brother he's never before met and the hopeful heir to Bagsecg's thrown.
And so, not wanting his people to fall into chaos should his older brother, Harald (Finlay Robertson), wind up the new king, he agrees to this quest despite the fact that the Vikings are currently involved in the midst of a bloody war against the Saxons. He gathers up some of his best men, including close friends Hagen (Clive Standen) and Grim (Michael Jibson), and sets out deep into enemy territory. Along the way he and his crew will battle plenty of Saxon foes, question Steiner's ability to lead and come to terms with conflicts not only brought about by combat but also the spiritual side of Viking life. Compounding this is the presence of a human war machine named Ivar (Ivan Kaye). And once they actually encounter Hakan? Things start to get strange…
So what we have here is a group of warriors going deep into enemy territory to find an almost mythical man, the kind who has been talked about but rarely seen, and which then results in violence and spiritual territory. If this sounds like a Viking styled take on Conrad's Heart Of Darkness, yeah, that's not far off from the truth. With that said, this doesn't exactly have the same sort of cinematic or thematic depth as Apocalypse Now and the movie comes off as little more than a ‘story about some Vikings looking for a weird guy in enemy territory.' Which is all well and good so long as you keep your expectations in check. This is a reasonably entertaining movie and occasionally it's quite exciting, but it isn't one that leaves much of a lasting impression.
The cast do a decent enough job here. All of the men cast in the more important roles are, with a few exceptions, remarkably buff. If you're into guys, there's plenty of eye candy here. They handle themselves well in the combat sequences and the fight scenes in the picture definitely deliver some impressive set pieces of stark violence and strong gore. All of this plays off against a sufficiently bleak looking (but at the same time fairly picturesque) landscape shrouded in dark skies and muddy earth. It reflects the atmosphere and mood of the story being told rather well, and we wind up with a movie where the visuals do a good job not just of portraying the events we see but also in complimenting them.
The score completed for the movie is a little odd but not entirely out of place once you get used to it. The production values are good for a movie that was made on a modest budget. We're not at Hollywood blockbuster levels of financial backing here, but the filmmakers did a good job of putting what they had all up on screen. The storyline never really effectively exploits the religious and theological ideas that it toys with and at times it does feel a little long for what it ultimately is. This movie might not always feel completely authentic, and at times its definitely puts action over plot and style over substance, but it's an entertaining enough action picture if you're in the right frame of mind for something fairly superficial.
Hammer Of The Gods is framed at 2.40.1 widescreen and presented in AVC encoded 1080p high definition and it looks excellent. For a film that plays out in a dark and dreary landscape, the transfer does a nice job of bringing the colors to life. Though the movie is very heavy on Earth tones as far as its color palette is concerned, splashes of red, green and blue look nice and make for good contrast against the greys and the browns. Black levels are solid, detail is generally very strong and often times quite impressive. There are no noticeable compression artifacts or edge enhancement nor are there any noise reduction issues. The movie looks very good in high definition on this disc.
The English language DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio tracks is also of very good quality. There's plenty of surround activity present during the combat sequences and lots of great directionality here. Even the quieter moments generally have something going on in the surrounds, be it the score or ambient/background effects. Dialogue stays crisp and clear throughout playback and the levels ace nicely balanced. There's good depth and range here and there are no problems to note with any hiss or distortion.
The main supplement on the disc is a twenty-two minute featurette entitled The Making Of Hammer Of The Gods which is, as you'd expect, a look behind the scenes at the making of the movie by way of some footage shot on set and some interview clips. Also on hand is a six minute piece called Behind The Visual Effects which, as you could probably gather, is a peek at how some of the SFX work was done for the movie. It complements the main featurette nicely and covers some different territory. Tech junkies and BTS fans will appreciate both pieces. Also on hand are thirty-eight minutes worth of Cast Interviews that are basically chats with actors Charlie Bewley, Clive Standen, Guy Flanagan and Michael Jibson. They talk about their characters and give run downs on what their experiences were like working together on this project.
Rounding out the extras is an EPK piece called AXS TV: A Look At Hammer Of The Gods that runs three minutes and is basically a glorified commercial, a trailer for the feature, trailers for other Magnolia properties, menus and chapter selection. All of the extras are presented in high definition and the standard Blu-ray case comes housed inside a slipcover for those who keep score of these things.
Hammer Of The Gods isn't particularly deep even if at times it does feel like it has the potential to get there. Rather, it's a movie with reasonably lofty aspirations that it never quite gets to and which instead delivers a fairly brainless action/quest story, the kind we've seen told before and told with more interest than we see here. With that said, if you like the ideas of a lot of Vikings fighting a lot of Saxons with some pretty brutal action set pieces showing how it all plays out, this'll fit the bill. It looks good and it sounds good and the Blu-ray features a few decent supplements as well. Rent it.
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.