In the year 2050, we will be driving around in flying cars, hybrid machines capable of sustaining our transportation needs within a more environmentally-friendly…err, environment. We’ll be conducting lessons with a digital interface, for lecturers are no longer required to come in and to physically and personally conduct such classes. You’d think that would be a bit of a problem, but then again, we’re talking about a generation which has very bad handwriting simply because they no longer use pens and pencils for their notation needs.
That will be the time when we look back in history, highlight the year 2013, and note it for a number of different reasons. Within a Malaysian cinematic context, that is also the time when ‘Vikingdom’ will be identified as a culturally and historically significant film.
Of course, it would be nice if it can happen a lot earlier than 2050, but you catch my drift. In America, a lot of such cultural artifacts considered to be important enough are preserved in the Library of Congress. In Malaysia, given our general fear/apathy of places of knowledge and books, that might mean a bit less, but that would be a bit of a pity, for they will miss out on a film that is quite well worth the watch.
‘Vikingdom’ tells the story of Eirick (Dominic Purcell), a man who was a king and who was alive. Funny story that, for it turns out that there are benefits to being in love with a goddess. Anyways, he died, but was brought back to life, and decided to…do nothing more than to hunt for bears and live alone. His old mate, Frey (Jesse Moss), turns up asking for his help to defeat Thor (Conan Stevens), who has a plan to destroy them all during the Blood Eclipse, a once-in-a-800-year-lifetime event. Should this come to fruition, the god(s) of men (such as Jesus Christ) will never be able to truly rule. It’s a bit weird, I know, positioning gods of one type against another, but there is some logic to this, for the Viking gods themselves think they have been betrayed by men after all these years. So on some level, it makes some sense.
Of course, Eirick refuses to go along with the idea, but Frey (not Sebastien) twists his arms a bit, and he’s off. Along the way, he picks up companions to help him out, with or without his blessing, such as Sven (not Goran Eriksson, played by Craig Fairbrass), Yang (not Ying, played by Jon Foo) and Brynna (not…err, I don’t know how to complete this hat-trick here…; played by Natassia Malthe). They prove to be quite fun without stretching the limits of their tropes, but I do feel that Yang is somewhat underutilised; after a while, the size jokes becomes a bit tiresome, to be honest (because he’s Asian, and so he’s small. Geddit?).
What is interesting about this film is the removal of Malaysia from its content. I know that sounds weird, and so let me explain. Many Malaysian films and texts and works of art have been produced within a very specific context easily relatable to Malaysians. Different Malaysias, different Malaysians, yes, but the context is still local. I rarely come across films, songs and others that do not echo, one way or another, the reverberations of a locality that rings true for a significant enough number of natives (in the sense that any text is always localised, one way or another). Here, even within the small picture that is the Malaysian film industry, it can be considered as the text that could possibly appeal to the middle-class demographic who have always expressed a preference for more foreign or international tastes.
The removal of such a context occurs within very international efforts, one that is usually beyond the means and wishes of many film producers outside of the West. Why? Well, it is a costly affair, and ‘Vikingdom’ has been promoted as the most expensive Malaysian film of all time. The story is not set in Kampung Baru (‘Melayudom’, haha), and the language used is not one that is native to the land. Neither are there primary characters being acted out by Malaysians (unless you’re one of those who claims that Natassia Malthe is Malaysian). Does it mean that it is not a Malaysian film? Absolutely not. How Malaysian, though, is it? That is a bigger debate to be had way beyond the confines of a mere review, but the major financial and creative forces are still Malaysian in nature. In that regard, then, I applaud KRU Studios for having crafted a film that challenges the contexts of its production.
Context, however, is still relevant, for no texts are created in vacuums. Within the bigger picture, this film does not necessarily pretend to be more than it actually already is. It has a distinct B-movie feel to it, one that people will download out of curiosity of the cast members involved. Going further than that, perhaps at best it will live as a kind of cult movie, the type not particular all that great in many respects, but one that will have a following of a certain kind. People from all over the world won’t necessarily line up the torrent files of ‘Nasi Lemak 2.0’ or ‘Psiko Pencuri Hati’ in uTorrent, superior though such films may be in providing a more local content. I can, however, see that happening for ‘Vikingdom’.
But what is the film like, though? A lot of noise has been made with regards to the special and visual effects being created for the film. I have to admit that the majority of the scenes were fairly well done, considering the budgetary constraints that the filmmakers might have faced in producing such an effort. I actually watched the film in 3D, just to see what it was like, and while it was OK, I felt that it did not necessarily maximise the 3D aesthetics that other films have done by now. You don’t get the kind of shots that truly portray a shallow depth of field in a 3D sense. I think back to films like ‘Despicable Me 2’ (not the best comparison, I know, but bear with me for now). These films have sequences that appear to make the best use of the 3D aspect of the film, such as rollercoaster action sequences, and bubbles that tempts to reach out for. We could argue that in that case, letting technology influence the storytelling is not a particularly good thing, but it does maximise the 3D experience a bit more for the audience. As a result, I suspect my enjoyment of the film won’t have been majorly affected had I watched it in 2D. Ultimately, though, let me put it this way: this film was made with a tenth of the budget for a film like ‘Transformers’, but I did not feel like I was getting a tenth of the experience. I think that says something.
Storywise? Well…what do you want me to say? Have a look at the poster, and you’ll have a fairly good idea of what the treatment of the story will be like. It’s fairly generic in its characterisation, as they largely rely on the performed sexualities of old to portray themselves. The strong and silent heroic type, the underrated female who has a fantastic skill and body. The villain who looks like he could smash rocks simply by batting his eyelids at them. Things follow along the paths well trodden by others before, including the film’s deliberate manipulation of history.
It claims, on some level, to be a clash between myth and history, but come on, people…that’s nothing more than just good copy for a marketing gimmick. While I welcome challenges to accepted discourses of truth, these challenges are to be taken with the pinches of salt they come covered in, and ‘Vikingdom’ is a very salty dish in that respect. There is some degree of backlash against this film, on accounts of the filmmakers claiming it to be ‘based on history’ or whatever, but how much of that did you really believe to begin with? To hold up the film against suddenly-high standards is perhaps a reflection of people’s feelings about the film’s makers as much as the film itself. Perhaps there are other sociopolitical elements at play here, but I didn’t see such a backlash against Jerry Bruckheimer’s interpretation of King Arthur as an officer, also claimed to be a vigorously researched interpretation. Then again, social media wasn’t what it is now, so maybe there were people who did voice out, I just didn’t happen to see it.
Coming back to the story, there are more twists near the end that I did not particularly like, but then again, what I like and what the film aims for may not necessarily be the same thing. In this case, there are some parts that I feel could be improved upon, but discussing this further would spoil the movie for many. It suffices to say that it is all related to the final segments of the film, parts of which I wish could have been treated differently. Disappointing, that, but as ever, the things related to characterisation and story, the things that cost nothing to sort out to begin with, is never done as properly as I want them to be done. Or maybe I’m just a little too anal.
Tell you what, though. The build up to that final segment itself, the climactic battle scene…what a build up! That, ladies and gentlemen, is how to do it: men unsheathing their cloths, portraying their hard body politics of masculinity, all while the rock music on the soundtrack is rising to a crescendo.
THAT…is how you do it.
Fikri‘s former student, a stuntman in the making, was involved in this film. He died seven times in the film, apparently.