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Pathfinder (2007)

20th Century Fox Home Entertainment
DVD Released: 7/31/2007

All Ratings out of
Movie: 1/2

Review by Mike Long, Posted on 7/16/2007 (Updated 11/21/2007)

As someone who have been a movie lover since their earliest memories, I no longer expect to find anything original in mainstream movies. But, that doesn't mean that a modern film can't show me something that I haven't seen very often, and I have to admit that I haven't seen many Viking movies. Thus, I approached Pathfinder with an open mind as I was interested to see this Viking-centric action film could show me. What I found was a film with one, and only one, unique idea.

Pathfinder takes place in North America, over 1000 years ago, long before Christopher Columbus came to these shores. As the film opens, a Native American woman finds a wrecked Viking ship where it has run aground. Inside, she finds a scared and lonely boy, and takes him back to her village. The story then leaps ahead 15 years. The boy, known as Ghost (Karl Urban), has grown to be a productive member of the tribe, despite the fact that his differences make it difficult for him to fit in at times. One day, while Ghost is out exploring, a group of Viking invaders pillage his village, killing nearly everyone. Ghost returns to find these marauders at work, fights them, and eventually gets away. He enlists the help of a neighboring tribe to help him, and is assisted by Jester (Kevin Loring) and Starfire (Moon Bloodgood), to whom Ghost finds himself attracted. However, their knowledge of the terrain may not be enough to outsmart the determined Gunner (Clancy Brown) and his band of violent Vikings.

Wow! Vikings versus Native Americans! That's got to be one exciting movie! Well, not exactly. Director Marcus Nispel, who made his feature-film debut with the atrocious 2003 remake Texas Chainsaw Massacre, tries a different path with this period action film, but he again proves that he has difficulty telling a story and sustaining any suspense. The film features several battle scenes, but Nispel's directing style drains the life out of them. The film is very dark, mostly blue, and the red blood certainly flies during the action scenes. But, the battles are shot in a dreamy fashion, with lots of slow motion which robs the violence of any passion. At the outset, the decision to make the Vikings look like monsters, which they probably did to the Native Americans, came off as a neat idea. But, the continued anonymity of infiltrators makes the battles feel redundant.

In my recent review for the film Perfect Creature, I commented that I was distracted by the fact that the movie reminded me of so many other movies. I had a similar response to Pathfinder. This movie has shades of First Blood, Last of the Mohicans, Braveheart, King Arthur, and Conan the Barbarian. But, more than anything else, I kept thinking of Apocalypto, and that was a much better movie. (And I'm sure that when the makers of Pathfinder saw the trailer for Apocalypto, they thought, "Oh great! Now what do we do?") Not only does Pathfinder recall these other movies, it mimics them as well. I'm not the kind of person who attempts to guess what's going to happen next (I leave that to my wife), but I saw most of Pathfinder coming. The second that the other tribe was shown, I knew that Ghost would have to turn to them for help. And from there, most of the film unfolds exactly as most would expect. A pivotal scene on the side of a mountain clearly echoes one in Last of the Mohicans.

I always give credit where it's due and the idea of invading Vikings squaring off against protective Native Americans is a very good one. Unfortunately, Pathfinder goes downhill after that. The movie is quite boring and slow at times, and the story offers few surprises for the audience. Director Marcus Nispel may have an eye for shooting his films with interesting lighting, but he has a lot to learn about storytelling.  The DVD's cover art may fool some into thinking that the  "sword and sorcery" cycle of the mid 1980s is back, but trust me, that picture is more exciting than the movie.

Pathfinder discovers its way onto DVD courtesy of 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment. The film has been letterboxed at 2.40:1 and the transfer is enhanced for 16 x 9 TVs. This film has a very desaturated and muted look, but the transfer is fine. The colors in the film are dominated by blues and whites, which makes the very red blood stand out. The image is sharp and clear, as it's mostly free from grain and shows no defects from the source material. I noted some video noise in landscape shots, especially snow-covered ones, but otherwise the video is fairly stable. The DVD sports a Dolby Digital 5.1 audio and a DTS 5.1 audio track. Both tracks provide clear dialogue and sound effects. There is a nice use of surround sound and subwoofer effects here, and every single "crunch" can be heard in the battle scenes. Galloping horses provide nice fodder for the subwoofer. The subtitles, used when the Vikings speak, are the original "burned in" titles and are somewhat small.

Pathfinder has come to DVD in two separate versions; the R-rated theatrical cut and an unrated version, which runs some 7 minutes longer. I haven't seen the R-rated cut, so I can't comment on the differences, but there is certainly a lot of graphic violence in the unrated edition. The unrated DVD contains several extra features. We start with an AUDIO COMMENTARY from director Marcus Nispel. Nispel is an enthusiastic speaker and he talks consistently throughout the film, commenting on the on-screen action, and talking about how the film came together. His talk is certainly full of information, complete with details about his childhood. The DVD contains 7 DELETED SCENES, which run about 10 minutes and have optional commentary by Nispel. All of these scenes are semi-interesting, but nonetheless, disposable. The DVD contains seven featurettes which focus on various aspects of the production: "The Beginning" (5 minutes), here we learn how Pathfinder was adapted from a Norwegian film; "The Design" (7 minutes), which examines the look of the Vikings and the Natives; "The Build" (5 minutes), which has more about the Vikings and some about the sets; "The Shoot" (6 minutes), this segment has a lot of behind-the-scenes footage, showing action scenes; we get more action with "The Stunts" (6 minutes); "We Shoot Now! Marcus Nispel on the Set" (3 minutes) is a brief video diary from the director; and "Clancy Brown: Cult Hero" (3 minutes) profiles Mr. Krabs. The extras are rounded out with the "Concept Trailer", an interesting 4-minute clip which was used to sell the idea of the film, and the THEATRICAL TRAILER for Pathfinder.

On November 20, 2007, 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment released Pathfinder (Unrated) on Blu-ray Disc. The transfer is an MPEG-2 1080p HD which averages around 35 Mbps and the film has been letterboxed at 2.35:1. The image looks OK, but the grain goes from slight to very noticeable throughout the film. It's unclear if this has to do with the transfer or if this is an indication that the digital intermediate process may not also result in the best video transfer. The image is never overly dark and the few glimpses of color here look fine. The image doesn't have the depth which I've seen on other Blu-rays. The disc has a DTS HD 5.1 Master Lossless Audio track which provides clear dialogue and sound effects. The stereo effects in the musical score are very impressive (that's something that isn't also notable!) and there a nice presence from the subwoofer. The surround sound effects are acceptable, but one expects more from an action film. The bonus features on the Blu-ray are the same as the DVD, save for some exceptions. "We Shoot Now! Marcus Nispel on the Set" and the "Concept Trailer" aren't included here. But, we do get "The Path Revealed: Secrets On-screen" which offers pop-up video trivia.

Review Copyright 2007 by Mike Long