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Northman [4K UHD], The
Thanks (or damn) the pandemic for hampering it, but Robert Eggers has made three films in seven years, with The Northman being the third following The Witch and The Lighthouse. Each have been full of sometimes stark, captivating imagery, and The Northman takes that rep and builds onto it.
Eggers co-wrote The Northman with Icelandic author Sjon (Dancer in the Dark), and the story is kind of simple in retrospect. Amleth is a son to King Aurvandil (Ethan Hawke, Boyhood) and Queen Gudrun (Nicole Kidman, The Killing of a Sacred Deer). Amleth witnesses his father's murder at the hands of his bastard Uncle Fjolnir (Claes Bang) and his forced to hide in the wilderness for years. Amelth grows older and is played by Alexander Skarsgard (The Legend of Tarzan). And Amleth promises vengeance for his father and closure for his mother, no matter the cost.
Eggers' work in his past two films helps to prepare him for his shots in The Northman. As I said before, by no means is the story revolutionary, but how Eggers' illustrates the way it's told is what separates it from most. He manages to capture the primal emotional nature of Amleth's vengeance in ways better than most filmmakers could do so; consider in the first ten minutes of the film, a young Amleth, his father the King and Heimir (Eggers' Lighthouse) co-star Willem Dafoe) are all on the ground, in front of a fire, howling, barking and making wolf noises. Heimir is supposed to be the kingdom's fool but he is more of a prophet than given credit for, but more than that, Eggers isn't afraid to put that seed of emotion in the viewers' minds early and it works.
Skarsgard also works in the role too; every so often there's a video that pops up of him, drunk off his ass, leading the cheers of a supporters' group at his childhood soccer club. There's a mix of charisma, emotion, leadership and a dusting of incoherence that sums up his work in The Northman. I'm not knocking Skarsgard's work here, there's a mesmerizing factor where he connects with the person watching him, whether it's here with a wolf's head on and smeared in blood or at a Swedish soccer game, that you want to go along with the ride he takes you on, and you want to go through the ups and downs. It's not necessarily a top tier performance, but the elements that make him the lead in The Northman are as good as anything he's done.
The performances from the others are just as up to the task; Kidman is fun in the role and Anja Taylor-Joy (Emma) could very easily into Eggers' repertory company based on look alone, but he has the chops to match and contributes a solid turn as Olga, a princess Amleth runs into and shares more than he anticipates.
Along with imagery, another thing that separates The Northman from most is the journey. Most films would focus on the quest for revenge, which this does, but it also manages to show us some of the results of the path. Amleth and the people he battles for and with are brutal and sometimes make brutal decisions. We see it, and so do those characters, who want something simpler for themselves, and Eggers shows us that desire. And that helps make The Northman both primal and nearly intellectual, resulting in one of the more fascinating films of the year, as Eggers' films tend to be.The UHD:
Look if you're even remotely familiar with Robert Eggers' work before and expecting a 4K disc to look excellent, you'd be right, and this does. The dark Icelandic skies help provide superb contrast when things are moonlit. The orange and yellows of an erupting volcano make for bright, vivid moments also. A scene where Amleth hides behind a tree shows loads of detail in the weathered bark on it, and the brighter moments of the green country and the darker moments of mud are all replicated accurately and without issue. The film juggles a few things effortlessly and looks damned nice on UHD.The Sound:
The 7.1 Dolby Atmos track starts nearly from the top to wow you with the soundtrack pounding drums into your senses and then moving on shortly as a spear whizzes past the soundstage (it's not the only moment like that in the film). Environmental noises when Amleth and Olga move to the country help make for a further convincing atmosphere and dialogue is as balanced as you'd expect. It's a stellar presentation.The Extras:
Eggers has a commentary track for the film in which he talks about inspirations for this film (think Conan), and location and cast spotting during the film. He has an excellent level of production recall for this recently shot work, and discusses how he approached things like costumes, weapons and the like. He raves about the cast when he has a moment and discusses scenes that are shot with CG, or are cheats for real stuff. Solid complement to the film. Next are nine deleted and extended scenes (12:28), including one with Dafoe doing a dance that should be seen to be appreciated. "An Ageless Epic" (11:17) gets into the making of the film with cast and crew, and their thoughts on the production, script and the like. "Faces of Vikings" (10:27) focuses on the cast while "Amleth's Journey to Manhood" (3:56) centers on the protagonist's development arc. "Shooting the Raid" (4:10) examines just that, while "Knattleikr Game" (2:42) takes a peek at the game played in the second act. "A Norse Landscape" (4:43) shows off the locations, while the Blu-ray and (non iTunes) digital copies of the movie complete the set that's labelled a "Collector's Edition."Final Thoughts:
In The Northman Robert Eggers crafts a film that includes polished moments that capture the film's relatable themes of revenge, but also manages to include moments where its violent characters all seek their own moments of solitude, set against the backdrop of some incredible shots by a talented director. Technically the film is breathtaking in 4K and the extras are solid, but could use some beefing up. Either way the merits of the feature are worth exploring by all.