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1000 AD, for years, One Eye, a mute warrior of supernatural strength, has been held prisoner by the Norse chieftain Barde. Aided by Are, a boy slave, One Eye slays his captor and together he and Are escape, beginning a journey into the heart of darkness. On their flight, One Eye and Are board a Viking vessel, but the ship is soon engulfed by an endless fog that clears only as the crew sights an unknown land. As the new world reveals its secrets and the Vikings confront their terrible and bloody fate, One Eye discovers his true self.
For more about Valhalla Rising and the Valhalla Rising Blu-ray release, see Valhalla Rising Blu-ray Review published by Dr. Svet Atanasov on May 24, 2010 where this Blu-ray release scored 4.0 out of 5.
Director: Nicolas Winding Refn
Writer: Roy Jacobsen
Starring: Mads Mikkelsen, Maarten Stevenson, Gordon Brown (V), Andrew Flanagan, Gary Lewis (III)
» See full cast & crew
Valhalla Rising Blu-ray Review
Reviewed by Dr. Svet Atanasov, May 24, 2010
Screened at the Venice Film Festival and the Toronto International Film Festival, Danish director Nicolas Winding Refn's "Valhalla Rising" (2009) arrives on Blu-ray courtesy of British distributors Momentum Pictures. The supplemental features on the disc include an audio commentary with director Nicolas Winding Refn and journalist Alan Jones, making of featurette, and theatrical trailer. In English, with optional English subtitles. Region-B "locked".
Give Danish director Nicolas Winding Refn a lot of credit - and wish him luck. His latest film, Valhalla Rising, is a brutal masterpiece which, I am convinced, will be passionately criticized by religious fanatics in this country after IFC Films release it in June.
The film opens up in pagan Scotland where a mute warrior, One-Eye (Mads Mikkelsen, Open Hearts; Casino Royal), is held prisoner by a cruel Viking Chief and his men. He manages to break free and kills everyone but a young boy named Are (Maarten Stevenson). Together, they join a group of Christian crusaders heading to Jerusalem to reconquer the Holy Land from the infidels.
The crusaders, however, get lost at sea and instead of reaching the Promised Land arrive at an unknown land. There, they begin to lose their minds. Some of the crusaders question God, as they don't understand why he has betrayed them, and quickly get killed by their leader; others get killed by the unseen natives. Eventually, One-Eye, Are, and the last two of the crusaders leave the dead behind and head deep into the heart of the unknown land.
Valhalla Rising is an intense, brutal and seriously disturbing film. However, it is also beautiful to look at. Most of the footage from the first half of the film, for example, was apparently shot in Scotland, at locations where no film crew has previously attempted shooting - though it really feels as if it was shot somewhere in Scandinavia.
Valhalla Rising is formally divided into six chapters – Wrath, Silent Warrior, Men of God, The Holy Land, Hell, and The Sacrifice – each marking a change in tone and direction within the narrative. All six chapters, however, share identical rhythm.
The dialog is extremely limited. The main character, One-Eye, for example, does not utter a single word, but this seems to have worked to his advantage. Some of the most powerful scenes in Valhalla Rising are the ones where the camera studies his scarred face.
I have difficult time summing up what the message of Valhalla Rising is, though I feel that it has a lot in common with the message of Carlos Saura's El Dorado. Certainly, the manner in which Refn questions man's dependence on religion seems quite similar to the manner in which Saura analyzes religion's relationship with culture.
Admittedly though, what makes Valhalla Rising such an amazing film is precisely the fact that it manages to confuse and ultimately seriously disturb its audience - without ever feeling trivial. With other words, this isn't a film that needs to be understood; rather, it has to be experienced.
Technically, Valhalla Rising looks solid. Refn's direction is assured, and the color-manipulations throughout the film are very effective. Cinematographer Morten Søborg, who collaborated with Susanne Bier on the Oscar-nominated Danish drama After the Wedding, certainly deserves a lot of credit for the film's intense visuals. The music score is also outstanding.
Note: According to TheFilmConsumer.com, Refn was inspired to shoot Valhalla Rising after he saw Mario Bava's cult classic The Planet of the Vampires and a rune-stone in Delaware, and read unnamed 1950s sci-fi novel and comic.
Valhalla Rising Blu-ray, Video Quality
Presented in an aspect ratio of 2.35:1, encoded with MPEG-4 AVC and granted a 1080p transfer, Nicolas Winding Refn's Valhalla Rising arrives on Blu-ray courtesy of British distributors Momentum Pictures.
This is a good but somewhat inconsistent high-definition transfer. Generally speaking, the outdoor scenes look very strong. When the warriors arrive at what they believe is the Promised Land, there are some unbelievably beautiful shots. Here, fine object detail is pleasing and clarity excellent. Earlier in the film, however, I noticed some mild background flicker, as well as soft halo effects. Mild edge-enhancement also pops up here and there. However, because of the unique use of light and color in the film (Refn shot it with the Red One camera), many of these issues are quite difficult to spot. This said, blown through a digital projector, the high-definition transfer conveys wonderful depth and vibrancy. There are no stability issues to report either. All in all, there is certainly some room for improvement with this high-definition transfer, but Valhalla Rising still looks very strong. (Note: This is a Region-B "locked" Blu-ray release. Therefore, you must have a native Region-B or Region-Free PS3 or SA in order to access its content).
Valhalla Rising Blu-ray, Audio Quality
There are two audio tracks on this Blu-ray disc: English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 and English (Descriptive Audio) 2.0. For the record, Momentum Pictures have provided optional English subtitles for the main feature. When turned on, they split the image frame and the black bar below it.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track is very strong. In fact, I would argue that it is one of the key reasons why Valhalla Rising will stay with you for days after you see it. To be clear, the DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track would not test the muscles of your audio system, but the intense atmosphere it maintains - enhancing the variety of ambient effects used in the film - is indeed quite remarkable. Furthermore, the dialog is crisp, clean and exceptionally easy to follow. While viewing the film, I also did not detect any disturbing pops, cracks, or hissings to report in this review.
Valhalla Rising Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
Making of - a standard featurette with raw footage from the absolutely amazing locations that are seen in the film, as well as comments from director Nicolas Winding Refn, his assistant Saskia Pomeroy, and other cast and crew members. In English, not subtitled (23 min, 720p).
Trailer - the original theatrical trailer for the film. (2 min, 720p).
Commentary - an audio commentary with director Nicolas Winding Refn and journalist Alan Jones. I listened to the entire commentary, from start to finish, and found it to be incredibly informative. Director Refn discusses the unique look of his film, the shocking violence, Mads Mikkelsen's stunning performance, etc. In English.
Valhalla Rising Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
I loved everything about Nicolas Winding Refn's Valhalla Rising. It is brutal, it is disturbing, it is beautiful to look at. It is absolutely brilliant! The Blu-ray disc herein reviewed, courtesy of British distributors Momentum Pictures, looks and sounds good. It is, however, Region-B "locked". VERY HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.
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