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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » The Long Ships
The Long Ships
Columbia/Tri-Star // Unrated // June 24, 2003
List Price: $24.95 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Holly E. Ordway | posted June 26, 2003 | E-mail the Author
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The movie

It's true that Viking raiders traveled quite extensively in search of loot, even as far as rich Constantinople, so the premise of a bunch of Vikings coming afoul of a Moorish prince after the same treasure that they're hunting is not, in itself, implausible. Sadly, though, that's about the only part of The Long Ships that can be described in such positive terms.

I'm all for a rousing adventure, which is why I was interested in The Long Ships to begin with, but there has to be something to capture my interest, to make me want to find out how the adventure unfolds. The Long Ships fails utterly on that count, and on many others as well. The film has a script that sounds like it was written by a group of high school drama students. What's worse, the actors deliver their performances with about the same level of quality... resulting in a production that absolutely reeks of amateurism.

The film never gets any momentum going at all. The opening scene, which introduces Rolfe the Viking (Richard Widmark) telling a tale to a Moorish audience, generates no particular sense of wonder or adventure; all right, so there's a legend about a golden bell. So what? We learn that the Moorish prince Mansuh (Sidney Poitier) is obsessed with finding the bell, but why should we care? We don't know anything about him or why he's interested (and we never do, really). The fact that the Vikings get drawn into this quest for the bell doesn't make things any more interesting: all right, we've got more greedy people off to find this object.

It's hard to communicate just how flat all the events are in this film. The quest for the mythical golden bell, undertaken by two rivals, certainly could have made for an interesting movie... but The Long Ships isn't that movie. Perhaps my sense of detachment was due to the fact that none of the characters is in the least interesting: Rolfe seems to be intended as a comic figure of sorts (which doesn't work in the least), his father is a pathetic figure who is irritating rather than either tragic or comic; Poitier's utter lack of expression as Mansuh renders him cardboard rather than enigmatic; and the miscellaneous Vikings and Moors are stock "adventurer's companion" figures with not so much as an iota of personality.

The Long Ships tries to look spectacular, perhaps to balance out the fact that the script and acting are so terrible, but here the film falls lamentably short as well, with all the "impressive" scenes somehow looking either fake or cheesy. If the film had tried to go for a spartan, deliberately low-budget approach, it might have worked better, giving the film a more theatrical look, but as it is, there are many instances of the film reaching for impressiveness and falling short. The early scenes of the Vikings running up to the shore to greet the ship, or at their feast, are full of hustle and bustle, but both look unaccountably phony; not for a minute do they give a convincing impression that these are really Vikings rather than movie extras in furs trying desperately to look like they're having a rowdy good time. On board the ship, it's impossible to believe that the close-up shots are actually taking place on a ship in the middle of the ocean, and the same holds true for the more exotic locations as well. And sometimes the phony spectacle becomes downright ludicrous, as in the case of a battle that features a Viking volley of arrows against an incoming charge of Moorish horsemen, who fall to the ground without any arrows ever entering their half of the scene.

The Long Ships is clearly trying to recapture the epic nature of The Vikings, even down to copying some specific scenes from that film, but it fails utterly to achieve the entertainment value of the earlier film. Based on a novel of the same name by Frans Bengtsson, The Long Ships was probably more successful in the written version; at least there, the reader can fill in appropriately impressive details from his or her imagination, instead of the bad acting and lousy production values of the screen version.

The DVD

Video

The Long Ships is presented in an anamorphic widescreen transfer that preserves its original 2.20:1 aspect ratio. The image quality is acceptable, with the print looking clean and free from noise and flaws for the most part. Colors on the whole are accurate and bright, though skin tones are a touch browner than they should be. The main problems in the image are edge enhancement and contrast. The edge enhancement is fairly heavy throughout the film, resulting in a lack of clarity overall, and in obvious haloes in many scenes. Contrast is not handled as it should be, and dark scenes are usually too dark; it's particularly noticeable in scenes that have a dark foreground against a bright background, since the foreground then becomes overly shadowy.

Audio

The Dolby 2.0 track for The Long Ships comes in at just about average. The soundtrack lacks the punch it might have had with more surround channels, but the balance of dialogue and effects is handled adequately. The volume levels aren't perfect, with dialogue scenes tending to be a little bit too quiet compared to the action scenes, though this isn't a major problem. I did notice an unpleasant tendency toward harshness in the dialogue whenever the volume got high, as when the characters are shouting at each other.

Subtitles in English, French, Japanese, and Korean are available.

Extras

The only special feature is a set of trailers for The Long Ships, The 7th Voyage of Sinbad, and The Golden Voyage of Sinbad.

Final thoughts

I didn't find anything to like about this movie, even with my soft spot for historical epics giving The Long Ships an advantage from the start. Badly acted, horribly scripted, and often dismally cheesy in its production values, this is one adventure movie I recommend giving a wide berth to. If you're looking for something like The Long Ships, only entertaining instead, try The Vikings.

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