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Richard Fleischer directs this 1958 MGM production that, as the title implies, follows a group of Vikings in their quest for power. The main characters in the film are two Viking half-brothers, Einar (Kirk Douglas) and Eric (Tony Curtis). Einar, the older of the two, is hardened and battle-scarred, a true warrior and a man who is as quick with his sword as he is of steely demeanor. Einar, on the other hand, was once forced to work as a slave and is understandably less experienced for it. But as much as these two know about one another, there's just as much they don't know. There are mysteries in their respective backgrounds.
When our two Vikings find themselves, through no small chance of fate, in Northumbria in the village lorded over by Ragnar (Ernest Borgnine), a Viking king of sorts, their respective pasts will come back to haunt them but as the Vikings in the area make plans for further conquests along the shores of England, King Aella (Frank Thring) plans to strength his forces by marrying Princess Morgana Of Wales (Janet Leigh). When the Vikings capture Morgana, both Einar and Eric plan to make a respective move on the fair princess, but it's Eric that comes up the victor here. He and she run off from the Viking village but along the way she is thrown in prison and he is brutally injured. Once back on Viking soil, with help from Eric he plots his revenge.
Shot on locations in France and Norway (with plenty of work done in the studio as well), The Vikings is an impressively lensed picture making great use of the 2.35.1 widescreen format. Plenty of wide establishing shots of the coast and the sea help to put us in the action while the shots that take place in the villages and fortresses are also quite handsome. There's nice detail in the sets, in the costumes and Jack Cardiff's cinematography is reason enough for some to want to check this out. If nothing else, this is a colorful and at times beautiful looking film. The attention to detail in the ships, the costumes, the armor and, well, pretty much everything else Fleischer puts up on screen is impressive and admirable.
As far as the plot goes, it's not too hard to figure out the twists that the plot incorporates as they're a little bit old hat, but doesn't make the film any less entertaining. There's the right mix of adventure, action, heroism, romance, drama and yes, even intrigue here, so much so that you never find yourself looking at your watch or reaching for the fast-forward button on your remote. In particular, the story moves at a good clip and features enough impressive action choreography that the film winds up to be quite engaging. A genuinely epic, rousing score from composer Mario Nascimbene highlights much of this action in a big way, and during the picture's quieter, more intimate moments, manages to place a nice accent on those as well.
The cast is a bit odd, when you think about it, but if you don't, you won't mind. Really, the big stand out here is Tony Curtis as a tough and grizzled Viking man. If you let your mind go there, you might have trouble buying him in the part but to his credit, he makes the role his own and doesn't do a half bad job here. If it's not the type of part you typically associate with Curtis, he still does just fine. Douglas, much more the tough guy persona, is really strong here. He excelled in historical action pictures such as this, it's not a stretch at all to have him lead the charge even if he's noticeably older than the character he's supposed to be playing. Borgnine as the Viking king us a lot of fun in his part (even if he was younger than Douglas in real life!) and Janet Leigh, married to Curtis at the time this was made, also does a solid job and is quite beautiful here, well cast as a princess indeed.The Blu-ray:
Kino presents The Vikings in an AVC encoded 1080p high definition transfer framed in the film's original aspect ratio of 2.35.1 and it looks quite good. Understandably, the scenes that are shot on the boat outside in the foggy night look less crisp and detailed than the others but the day time scenes show nice color reproduction and good clarity. Some scenes are softer than others, but more often than not things shape up pretty well. Sin tones look lifelike and natural and there's good texture evident in the costumes on display. Black levels are pretty good if not quite reference quality and while minor print damage does appear throughout the movie in the form of small white specks, there isn't any major damage (meaning you won't notice any large scratches or blemishes). There's no evidence of noise reduction or edge enhancement here. This isn't going to win transfer of the year but it's a nice picture.Sound:
The only audio option for the feature is an English language DTS-HD 2.0 Mono track. There are no alternate language options provided and subtitles are available in English only. The track is clean, clear and nicely balanced. The orchestral score has good range and depth to it while the dialogue is easy to understand and follow. There wasn't any hiss or distortion noticed during playback, the audio here is just fine.Extras:
The main extra on the disc is a featurette called A Tale Of Norway, a twenty-eight minute that includes some input from Richard Fleischer who shows off some of the photographs that were taken during the film, tells some stories about what it was like on set, offers plenty of insight into how much preparation went into the production's pre-production phase, how they all strived for authenticity, the importance of Kirk Douglas' involvement in the movie and quite a bit more. There's a lot of great photos here, concept art, schematics for the ships that were built, pertinent clips from the feature and a fair bit more. This is genuinely interesting stuff, anyone with an interest in the feature would do themselves a favor by checking this out.
Outside of that we get a trailer for the feature, bonus trailers for a few other Kino titles (The Evil's Disciple, Taras Bulba, Marty and Mr. Majestk), static menus and chapter selection.Final Thoughts:
The Vikings is very much a grand adventure film in the old Hollywood tradition, made with a good budget, a talented crew and an A-list cast. It holds up well, mixing excitement, action, drama and romance together in equal doses and moving at a very fine pace. Kino's Blu-ray release presents the film in nice shape with a solid transfer, good audio and a decent featurette as well. Highly recommended.
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.