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Erik the Viking gathers warriors from his village and sets out on a dangerous journey to Valhalla, to ask the gods to end the Age of Ragnorok and allow his people to see sunlight again. A Pythonesque satire of Viking life. Written by
Alexander Lum <firstname.lastname@example.org>
British comedian Terry Jones found fame and fortune as a member of the legendary comedy troupe known as Monty Python, where along his teammates revolutionized comedy with their sketch show "Flying Circus" during the 70s. While this is probably his most well-known activity, Jones is also a popular historian, specialized on the European Medieval period, who has published several books on this and other subjects of ancient history. In 1983, after the dissolution of Monthy Python, Jones published a children's book named "The Saga of Erik the Viking", where he explored this interest of him in the story of a young Viking. Years later, he wrote the screenplay for a movie version inspired in the children's book, although dealing more mature themes. "Erik the Viking" was the name of the movie and it is possibly the movie that best describes Jones' persona, as it mixes the style of Monthy Python comedy (although it is not a sketch-based movie) with Jones' special taste for ancient history.
The film is the story of Erik (Tim Robbins), a viking who after the murder of an innocent woman during one of his tribe's expedition, discovers that he is not really happy with the whole raping and pillaging customs of his people. Looking for advice, Erik asks the wise old woman Freya (Eartha Kitt) for a solution, and she tells him that since Fenris the Wolf has swallowed the sun, the age of violence, Ragnarok, has begun. Worried by this revelation, Erik decides to travel to the legendary land of Hy-Brasil, in order to find the Horn Resounding, the magic artifact that will take him to Asgard and awake the Gods. With this in mind, Erik prepares an expedition and sails to adventure; but Halfdan the Black (John Cleese) and Keitel Blacksmith (Gary Cady) are not so happy about finishing the lucrative business of war, so both decide to follow Erik in order to make him fail.
While the movie is not exactly an adaptation of Jones' children's book, his love for history is still all over the movie, as it's filled with countless references to Norse myths and Viking culture. Python's style of comedy is present in a subtler (although no less hilarious) way, and like in his previous work, Jones uses "Erik" to make fun of concepts as the social establishment, war, and religion. This last theme is represented in a very interesting way, with the concept of faith and beliefs playing a very important (and amusing) part of Erik's quest to awake the Gods. However, despite Jones' love for history, people expecting a true and realistic representation of a Norse Edda will be sorely disappointed, as Jones takes many liberties for the sake of comedy (and probably to make his movie easier to understand for people not familiar with Norse mythology).
In this his third "solo" effort as director (two of the Python films were co-directed with Terry Gilliam), Terry Jones shows the evolution of what was started in "Life of Brian", as while his movie is a story of epic proportions, he keeps the film focused on his characters and their many funny traits. This really works for the movie, as while Erik's crew is numerous, each one is highly detailed and Jones dedicates enough time to get to know everyone of them, developing them as characters and as a team, and making the audience care for them. This take is also beneficial as lessens the damage done by the poor special effects (due to low-budget) of some scenes, although to Jones' credit, the way he fuses realism with magic surrealism is also a brilliant move. The somewhat restrained way that Jones uses to approach to comedy this time (keeping it focused to the plot instead of using sketches) is also more in tone with "Life of Brian" than with the other Monty Python films.
Tim Robbins is perfectly cast as Erik, as his really becomes this good hearted, yet extremely naive adventurer, decided to stop the wars of the world. Robbins' career was at an early stage when he did this film, but already shows his talent and is very good with Jones' style of comedy. Monthy Python's John Cleese is fabulous as Halfdan the Black, and steals most of the scenes he is in. Overall the actors playing Erik's crew are really excellent and truly are a key factor in this success of the movie. Imogen Stubbs plays Aud, the princess of Hy-Brasil who tries to help Erik in this quest. Stubbs is effective for the role, although sadly the rest of the cast overshadows her without problem. Mickey Rooney and Terry Jones himself have small yet very funny roles too, and both make the most of their small scenes.
Personally, I think that the movie's biggest problem is actually Terry Jones' background with the Pythons, as this may make fans to expect something keeping the style of the troupe's previous films. While "Erik the Viking" does have it's fair share of Python's humor, it would be wrong to call it a Python movie. Other than the probably too high expectations it probably won't meet, the movie really doesn't have many flaws and it's an excellent satire that delivers the goods without false pretensions. True, it has some serious problems with special effects that could had been better with a bigger budget, but Jones makes the movie work with his mix of wit and charm, as well as his knowledge of medieval cultures.
"Erik the Viking" is definitely an unfairly underrated comedy that while never on the level of classic Monty Python's Flying Circus, it provides some fun intelligent comedy paired with an interesting story of action and adventure. It's flawed, but has a special charm that just makes the whole movie work without problem. As a satire it's really good, and despite its few historical inaccuracies, it's a nice piece of Viking action. Truly a movie that really deserves a viewing. 8/10
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