Erik the Viking
directed by Terry Jones
(Orion, 1989)

In the blood-soaked days of the Vikings, one man wonders what it's all about.

Erik (Tim Robbins) has no moral dilemmas about raiding, killing and pillaging, but he balks at raping a young woman he finds hiding in a cottage in a devastated village. His bravado fails to conceal a bad case of nerves, and he awkwardly tries to turn rape into romance. But his awkward efforts to woo are interrupted by a pair of Vikings with no such qualms -- and his vigorous defense of her honor ends with both interlopers dead and the girl mortally wounded.

That sparks Erik's quest to wake the gods and end Ragnarok, the final, violent days of Norse mythology, in the hilariously witty film Erik the Viking.

Erik's village, led by his grandfather (a grizzled Mickey Rooney), is content with its endless cycle of raiding, fighting and debauchery until Erik challenges the young men to join his quest to find Asgard and entreat the gods to help mankind. Their voyage is a heroic undertaking, during which they battle the massive Dragon of the North Sea, dodge the fearsome crew of Halfdan the Black, survive drowning in an ocean far shallower than they expected, and see the sun for the first time. They land on the mythical isle of Hy-Brasil, where the sun always shines, the people are always friendly and scantily clad, violence doesn't exist and music is, well, cacophonous.

But their efforts to acquire the Horn Resounding, a key piece in their quest, lead to a dire conflict with Halfdan's mystical warriors (portrayed in classic slapstick), and an unexpected betrayal causes the entire island to sink beneath the sea (something the majority of Hy-Brasilians refuse to believe is happening). Then it's off to the edge of the world, the rainbow bridge Bifrost and Valhalla, the ancient hall of heroes in Asgard.

But gods, Erik and his fellow voyagers learn, are seldom what you expect.

The movie, despite some serious themes, is without question one of the best fantasy comedies you'll find on the market. Written and directed by Terry Jones (of Monty Python's Flying Circus fame), the story blends elements of real history, mythology and philosophy within a fantastical framework.

Tim Robbins leads the way as Erik, the noble-minded Viking with a heart of gold and a healthy dose of naivete. Backing him is a stout crew of Vikings, a grandly comical ensemble, including notables such as Tim McInnerny as Sven the Berserk, Charles McKeown as Sven's nagging father, Richard Ridings as the fearless Thorfinn Skullsplitter, Gordon Sinclair as the cowardly Ivar the Boneless, and Danny Schiller as the aptly named Snorri the Miserable.

Samantha Bond (best-known as Miss Moneypenny in the Pierce Brosnan James Bond films) is Helga, the ill-fated woman who sets Erik on his quest. Eartha Kitt (the second Catwoman in the '60s Batman series) provides Erik with clues as the seer Freya.

Freddie Jones is a constant source of chuckles as the hapless but unwavering missionary Harald, who has failed to make a single convert in 18 years and whose unflinching faith makes him unable to see the fantastic things happening around him.

Terry Jones makes an unforgettable appearance as King Arnulf, ruler of Hy-Brasil. And Imogen Stubbs is absolutely enchanting as Aud, princess of that magical isle, whose selfless love for Erik saves the day on several occasions.

John Cleese, like Jones a Monty Python alumnus, is the comical despot Halfdan the Black, dryly evil in a casual, off-handed way. And Antony Sher is a the detestably sniveling blacksmith's assistant, Loki, who tries to foil Erik's quest because it might interfere with the sword-and-axe business.

It all comes together in a film which will keep you laughing through repeated viewings. Erik the Viking is a keeper you'll want to share with friends.

[ by Tom Knapp ]

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