The Vikings come to DVD in the new IMAX release, “Journey to New Worlds.” More of a history lesson backed by goofy recreations than any sort of travelogue, this picture can be something of a drag. But stick around for the Icelandic vistas; they are worth the time spent watching this mediocre large format production.
The idea of watching an IMAX film in the comfort of your home has always confused me. These productions are meant to be seen in the large-format environment, surrounded by impressionable children, and admission prices that hover around pure insanity. Unless you’ve fallen in love with the picture and want to sustain the experience after the theatrical showing, I wouldn’t recommend a DVD first viewing for these mini-epics. Especially for a film that’s only mediocre to begin with.
“Vikings” is a terribly ambitious film. It’s a schoolroom lesson on the legendary society, hoping to encompass hundreds of years of history and myth in just under 40 minutes (and that includes opening titles!). That’s a pretty tall order, but director Marc Fafard puts forth an incredible effort to give the viewer a peek behind this historical curtain, shedding needed light on an often misunderstood culture.
Fafard doesn’t have much documentation to work with here outside of the Icelandic Sagas, a type of Viking oral history that is considered by many to be the best record of their existence. To combat the film droning into a college lecture, Fafard employs a host of period recreations to pad out the experience. Some are successful, and some look like a bunch of obscenely bearded ex-truckers hamming it up in front of a blue screen. Either way, the recreations tend to distract from the historical perspective of the film; they feel like filler in a film that doesn’t have time to be screwing around.
“Vikings” aims to debunk many common misconceptions. One of the more interesting revelations is the scope of their global reach, as the Vikings settled all over Europe, Russia, and the Middle East during their reign. Another is the whole Christopher Columbus “discovering America” mumbo jumbo; “Vikings” seems almost perturbed to note that these guys were traipsing around North America 500 years before Columbus and that his history-book-hogging behind stole the spotlight.
We learn a little about the iconic Viking longships that ruled the waters, a little about Eric the Red and his travels to Greenland with son Leif Eriksson, and the eventual disappearance of the Vikings from the land due to warring indigenous tribes. It’s interesting material, but truthfully you’re only getting scraps of information, leading to a fractured overview of a multifaceted society.
As with the best IMAX experiences, “Vikings” finds its beauty in the flyovers of Iceland and Greenland, where the natural beauty that enraptured the Vikings is given the royal treatment. This is where large-format films excel, and “Vikings” is no different. It’s gorgeous country, presented in immaculate detail with splendid color and crisp atmosphere. “Vikings” comes alive when it stops trying to cram history into narrow spaces and lets the vistas do all the talking. Only then does the viewer see what these legendary men spent their lives chasing after: utopia.
Well, it isn’t exactly IMAX proportions, but the image here is crisp and clear, displaying the clarity of a traditional IMAX production. Those with smaller televisions might have trouble reading the tiny subtitles, since they were created with the large format in mind, not home exhibition.
“Vikings” features a robust Dolby Digital 5.1 mix, matching the charging thunder of the title characters well. For an educational film, this disc rumbles nicely, and should give the average audio system a good workout. Also included is a DTS track.
A 20-minute documentary (“The Making of Vikings”) covers the production, interviewing the cast and crew as they try to mount this ambitious IMAX film. Much like the feature, the doc is dry and measured, but if you found “Vikings” enjoyable, this short look at its creation will unlock some of its technical secrets.
A theatrical trailer for “Vikings” is included here, along with looks at several other IMAX titles.Rating: C-