Pathfinder (United States, 2007)

A movie review by James Berardinelli

Pathfinder feels like one of those generic '80s action films where there's plenty of violence with no suspense, lots of stunt work but no excitement, and a cast of characters so poorly developed that it's easier to care about the background scenery. To add insult to injury, the movie is filmed in a way that makes it seem like the camera has epilepsy and the color desaturation renders everything murky. Someone should remind director Marcus Nispel that there's a difference between making a music video and a feature film.

The premise is borrowed from Tarzan with Native Americans standing in for the apes and the Vikings replacing the English. Ghost (Karl Urban) is a Norwegian child left behind when the Vikings first visit the North American continent some 1100 years ago. He is raised by the locals and becomes a great warrior. Eventually, his countrymen return, led by Gunnar (Clancy Brown) and bent on ethnic cleansing. That's where the hacking, slashing, and chasing begins. Ghost is accompanied by two companions: Pathfinder (played by Russell Means, who got lost here on his way to The Last of the Mohicans) and his daughter (Moon Bloodgood), a.k.a. The Obligatory Love Interest.

Pathfinder, which is a remake of the 1987 Norwegian film Veiviseren, is barely tolerable during the action sequences, even though the camera moves around so much it can be difficult to figure out what's going on. Things become tedious during the film's lengthy down times, when we're subjected to what passes for dialogue being uttered by actors who would impress more if they didn't say anything. Karl Urban, for example, looks kind of fearsome, but speaking ruins the effect. Moon Bloodgood could pass for a Native American (even though she's not), but her utterance of phrases like "I'm not gonna leave you behind" hurts the image. Then there's the curious situation of the Vikings speaking Norwegian and the Native Americans speaking English. Huh?

The thing that makes it tough to enjoy Pathfinder is that there's no character worth caring about. Sure, Ghost is supposed to be the protagonist but, in the end, it will be tough to find anyone who's worried about whether or not he'll survive the orgy of bloodletting. The secondary characters are an even bigger joke as far as audience identification is concerned - when one of them is drawn-and-quartered (a particularly nasty form of death), it provokes a shrug. As for the bad guys… Aside from the fact that they're all dressed alike in those bulky Viking costumes which makes it impossible to tell one from another, the don't inspire much in the way of antipathy. Director Nispel tries to re-enforce how big a badass his chief Viking is by having the guy come back from the dead in true action movie villain fashion, but the resurrection will be greeted with a yawn by those who are still awake.

The main problem is that, for all of its sword fights and chase scenes, Pathfinder isn't fun. The story is shallow and uninteresting, the stakes are low, and the camera work and editing are so overly "artistic" that they destroy the coherence of the action sequences. I have heard comparisons made to both Conan the Barbarian and Apocalypto, but Pathfinder is so far below those movies in entertainment value that it feels almost criminal to include the titles in this review. Pathfinder wants to provide a jolt of adrenaline; ironically, it works better as a tranquilizer. And, should you fall asleep and miss the ending, don't worry. What happens is pretty much what you expect.

Pathfinder (United States, 2007)

Run Time: 1:39
U.S. Release Date: 2007-04-13
MPAA Rating: "R" (Violence)
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1