"Ragnarok" Comes To America Review

We'll be on David Letterman!

One thing that internet companies like Netflix and Amazon have done is bring unsolemn international films to American attention. A few years ago, one might have been excused for thinking that the French only made dire existential films about deteriorating relationships in Paris or the Swedish only made...dire existential films about deteriorating relationships in the country. No longer! The transatlantic trade in mainstream adventure and sci-fi now goes both ways and whether great, decent, or trash, we have access to it all. Ragnarok (2014) is one such decency from Norway about a pair of archaeologists who go in search of Vikings and, instead, find a massive ancient creature. The film's American influences are apparent and well replicated. All hail globalization!

Sigurd (Pål Sverre Hagen) is an archaeologist in Oslo, studying Vikings and artifacts. One such find, a burial ship for the Queen Åsa, reveals greater range than had been previously realized. Then there's the bit about the end of the world, the mythical Ragnarok. The latter leads to Sigurd's near obsession with the topic and essentially ruins his career when his good friend Allan (Nicolai Cleve Broch) shows up with a rune stone showing the way to the Eye of Odin and, Allan thinks, buried treasure. With basically no job, his wife long dead, and two urchins to take care of, Sigurd heads north to the Russian border for summer vacation to search for traces of Vikings. He is aided by a very rude guide (Bjørn Sundquist) and the most competent assistant in the world, Elisabeth (Sofia Helin).

Part Jurassic Park III (2001), part National Treasure (2004), one might expect that director Mikkel Brænne Sandemose had similarly lofty goals tripped up by being the copy of a copy of a copy. While Sandemose resorts to cliché short hand, dashing through as many moments of depth and emotion as the (real) originals in half the time, he doesn't have the handicap of working with American professionals whose instincts enable the creamier forms of hackery. That is to say, Nicolas Cage knows how to turn around, look off into the middle distance with a look of ambiguous strength to the sound of dissonant horns in a way that poor Pål Hagen has to take on with some sort of honesty.

Sigurd's children, especially the daughter played by Maria Annette Tanderø Berglyd, certainly look like stand-ins for the siblings in Jurassic Park (1993)--especially when she complains about dad's lack of a good computer--but they're doing more with less. Berglyd is allowed to inhabit a silent strength in a way that Ariana Richards had to be ostentatious. The same is doubly true for Sofia Helin--from the very popular Scandinavian series The Bridge (2011)--who is a badass of the Clint Eastwood-Man-with-No-Name variety. In fact, the men in the cast are undisguisedly inept when it comes to physical conflict with Helin's character being the steadying force.

The film itself is well produced. It isn't in the realist style one associates with Scandinavian films (or foreign films in general) with static camera angles or conspicuously bright or dark lighting choices. The colors are vivid, there are broad and beautiful landscapes filmed from a roving helicopter a la Peter Jackson. In other words, it is thoroughly orthodox. The monster is a bit strange. Technically, there's no problem with it. This isn't a shoe-string monster. But it's design is unique. For my part, spoiler alert, it put me in mind of the one-eyed creeper in the Death Star's disposal unit. Either that or a particularly gruesome turd. Watch the featurette for more details.

Bonus Features

A featurette, "Ragnarok: The Visual Effects", and a trailer. It also comes with a pretty unimpressive English dub that I highly recommend you avoid unless you are genuinely illiterate.

"Ragnarok" is on sale November 18, 2014 and is rated PG13. Adventure. Directed by Mikkel Brænne Sandemose. Written by John Kåre Raake. Starring Sofia Helin.

Jason Ratigan • Staff Writer

A lawyer-turned-something-else with a strong appreciation for film and television.  He knows he can't read every great book ever written, but seeing every good movie ever made is absolutely doable.  Check out his other stuff on Wordpress.


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