Wednesday, 21 March 2007

Pathfinder (2007)

There can only be ONE caption for this image!

There are bad movies, mediocre movies, and B-grade movies - you might think they're all alike, but a B-grade movie is a movie as entertaining as it is bad, while a mediocre movie fails even to entertain and generally fails to create any strong reaction in you, and a bad movie actually inspires you to swear you hadn't watched it. Most people think B-grade movies are just bad movies, but they're dead wrong - it takes special effort and art to create a B-grade movie. One could aim to make a B-grade movie (say, Equilibrium) but more often than not, one ends up with either a mediocre (Ultraviolet) or a bad movie (Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning). And in this age, you just can't find many B-grade movies

Until now, that is. Pathfinder may be the best Hollywood can offer for a B-grade movie this decade, but I'm not complaining. The story's about an orphaned Viking (or Norse, for the politically correct) boy marooned in North America, raised by American Indians, rising up to defend his adopted tribe from the savage Viking raid a decade or so later. It's a little like Apocalypto, with a gentle native using his knowledge of the local scenery to launch hit and run guerilla attacks against savage and evil invaders who are hunting him at the same time. Of course, he miraculously remembers how to wield a sword in battle and even ride a horse (horses aren't native to North America, incidentally) even though he hasn't seen one or practised with both since he was a wee lad... but then again, you probably won't be bothered by this little detail - after all, this is a movie where Vikings land in North America to plunder Amerindian tribes they never really met in actual history. What matters is whether the Viking orphan's guerilla campaign against the invaders is as clever and violent as we expect, and whether it evokes a sense of fun in the audience.

It's clear that Pathfinder is not as stylistically gory as say 300 or any modern war movie with severed body parts flying across a CGI-blood splattered screen; its violence is far less cartoonish, probably achieved with prosthetics and props instead of blue or green screens and computers. The violence is strictly from the best of violent B-grade movies, the type that makes you flinch even though there isn't that much blood and not too much explicit imagery, save for the totally wicked and never-done-before scene where a severed EYE flies across the screen. The war and guerilla fighting sequences won't get crowds cheering and clapping - this isn't some CGI roman bread and circus act, but a well-executed B-grade stalk and kill operation that brings to mind Rambo in the jungles.

Perhaps the strongest B-grade element of this movie is the hero himself, a warrior savant caught in an identity conflict, the orphan is one of the long list of roles that Christopher Lambert, one of the trinity of the B-movie gods (aside from Steven Seagal and Jean-Claude Van Damme) is famous for: witness the genius-level mastery of the sword and the cultural confusion in Tarzan, Duncan McCleod, and Beowulf! While Karl Urban (Eomer from LOTR) lacks Lambert's charisma and intensity, the fact that you can see Lambert superimposed on Urban's face throughout the entire movie (if you squint hard enough) is certification of its B-movie status. The Vikings aren't just big loud scary shouty men with horns on their helmets; they all look like Brian Blessed in his Richard IV role from Blackadder! How can you not feel the B-movie power of Pathfinder? And here's a bonus: look out for the proto-bobsledding scene in the movie, and tell me it doesn't look like the classic James Bond mountain snow chases!

Seriously, even if Pathfinder doesn't star Christopher Lambert or Brian Blessed (but hey, it has The Kurgan from Highlander!), it is probably the best B-movie that Hollywood has made in this past 10 years. One only hopes that this movie sparks off a real B-movie revival, bringing back my heroes Lambert, Seagal and Van Damme back to the big screen!

First published at incinemas on 22 March 2007

No comments: