Erik the Viking
The Director's Son's Cut

Starring: Tim Robbins, John Cleese, Terry Jones, Mickey Rooney and Eartha Kitt
Arrow Films
RRP: 15.99
Certificate: 15
Available 09 October 2006

It is the age of Ragnorok and the daily drudgery of conquest, pillage and rape is getting Erik down, and after accidentally killing a woman he tries to defend, he seeks enlightenment from Freya a cave dwelling seer. This is the Dark Age, she tells him, which will end in an orgy of fighting and destructiveness. Determined to do something about it, he sets out with a long-ship full of squabbling warriors to awaken the gods with the Horn of Resounding so that they may usher in the new era of peace and light...

Erik the Viking never really received the critical acclaim at the box office it deserved. While it is far from a great movie, it's nowhere near as bad as the majority of the original reviews suggested. At its heart it is a good, solid family movie (if you ignore the discussion about rape in the movie's opening sequence).

The film is packed to bursting with great performances and, as Terry Jones remarks in the audio commentary, Tim Robbins is just so poorly cast as Erik... but he works wonderfully in the role. Other notable appearances include John Cleese, as the villain Halfdan the Black, and Terry Jones (who just plays Terry Jones really). The movie also stars Eartha Kitt as Freya, Mickey Rooney as Erik's Grandfather, Tim McInnerny as Sven the Berserk, Imogen Stubbs as Princess Aud, and Samantha Bond as Helga. There are also numerous other British actors, who you'll notice but might not necessarily be able to put a name to the face, that turn in great performances.

Jones mentions, in the extras in this collection, that one of the reasons that this movie didn't do too well at the box office was that people saw his and John Cleese's names attached and automatically assumed it would be in the mould of a Monty Python film. To be honest a lot of this movie does play like a watered down Python film. In fact you can almost see the regular Python cast in the various roles. I could imagine Michael Palin as Sven the Berserk, Eric Idol playing Snorri the Miserable and Graham Chapman would have made a wonderful Erik - incidentally Chapman died in 1989, the year this movie was made. Also Jones reveals in the audio commentary that he did consider Palin for the role of Erik. So surely he couldn't have been too surprised when people were expecting a more Python like movie.

What I did find odd was the need to re-edit the film. I haven't seen it for years, and too be honest could remember very little of the plot, so I watched the new Director's Son's Cut version first. Something seemed odd. The narrative didn't appear to flow right, and there were scenes that made very little sense - characters cracked quips that seemed out of place or reacted strangely to situations. Then I watched the original UK theatrical version (included on this box set's second disc) and everything made much more sense. I know that the stories that this movie was loosely based upon were written for Jones's son, but even if he knows the characters better than anyone it still didn't explain why he was chosen as the person to re-edit the movie.

Several of the key scenes have been moved around and others have been drastically shortened. Moving around the opening scenes seemed a very odd choice. Now Erik goes to see the mysterious seer before we are introduced to his village. It made much more sense for him to trek off to the caves after chatting with his father about the state of his people.

Also a lot of the jokes just don't work any more - mainly due to the fact that scenes have been shortened too much. This is ironic really, as Terry and his son give their reasons for releasing this cut of the movie and one of the most important issues for them was the comedic timing - oops!

Extras include audio commentary (which is the same on both cuts of the film, only juggled around a bit); Interview with Terry Jones and Bill Jones (7 minute featurette on why the need to re-edit the movie); Picture Gallery; Feature Reports; Extended Interviews; and Making of Featurette (which is 30 mins in length and is basically a "play all" version of the Feature Reports)

The extras in this box set really help the viewer understand something about the making of the movie. For example the main reason that John Cleese appears is that one of the movie's backers were German based and they insisted that they would only inject financial support if Cleese starred. A similar reason was given for the cameo of Japan's TV star Tsutomu Sekine - if he didn't appear the movie's Japanese investors wouldn't stump up the cash.

I couldn't work out why this has been given a 15 certificate for the DVD release, there's no swearing in it, or sex, and the extras don't provide any real nasty surprises. Jones was surprised that the cinematic release received a 12 in 1989, so I wonder how he reacted when he saw that the DVD had received a 15 certificate by the censors.

If you fondly remember this film, or have never seen it, then it really is worth getting hold of. And, if your memory of this is not a good one, then I'd still advise you give it another look - you may well surprise yourself. It's an entertaining film with something in it for all the family.

Ray Thompson

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