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