The omnipresent fog that enshrouds Pathfinder‘s 10th-century North America is, one can only assume, intended to enhance the tale’s sense of legendary grandeur. What it mainly accomplishes, however, is turning director Marcus Nispel’s monochromatic blue-gray cinematography hazy and indistinct—and transforming the screen, during swordfights also drenched in mud, splashing water, and spurting blood, into an incomprehensibly darkish muddle. The film strives to be a latter-day Conan the Barbarian, its story one of an orphaned Viking boy who’s adopted by Native Americans, dubbed Ghost (Karl Urban), and, 15 years later, forced to combat a new horde of Viking marauders intent on cleansing the continent of its aboriginal residents and making it their own. Yet for all of the weighty silence—a thankful reprieve from the leaden dialogue—and all the shots of Urban practicing his sword skills in solitude and monstrous Norse invaders encased in wooly garb as they sit astride gigantic black steeds, Nispel doesn’t have John Milius’s aptitude for tapping into the mythical essence of his pulpy primitive-warrior-king material. Instead, he’s a superficial visualist whose slow-motion battles and numerous gory close-ups (of a bug crawling out of a corpse’s mouth, of a scalping, of an empty eye socket being crudely stitched up) are not only meaningless but excruciatingly banal. His depiction of Native Americans, meanwhile, is modeled after Terrence Malick’s The New World, though Pathfinder‘s idea of respectful historical accuracy is to have its loin cloth-draped indigenous characters spout faux-spiritual proverbs in English with modern inflections, not to mention having Ghost’s feisty love interest (Moon Bloodgood) perform that most hackneyed of modern action movie tropes: the defensive crotch shot.
- Marcus Nispel
- Laeta Kalogridis
- Karl Urban, Russell Means, Moon Bloodgood, Jay Tavare, Clancy Brown, Nathaniel Arcand, Ralf Moeller
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