Reaching for Valhalla: 'Erik the Viking' Review
I’ve never seen any of the Monty Python films. I’ve heard all the references, seen the many gifs, and felt the overwhelming fan loyalty that accompanies the works of these shining standards of comedy. And yet, despite knowing the best films of the group, being urged a countless number of times by friends to watch them and even having little desire to experience the iconic laughs myself, I’ve never really gotten around to it.
Though not technically a part of the core Python filmography, Erik the Viking does star two of the group’s original members and was produced by the Monty Python company – a seal of approval in and of itself. Despite having never seen any of their most famous works, I can, however, confidently tell you this film should never serve as anyone’s first exposure to the works (direct or associated) of Monty Python. For one thing, their fully-fledged cinematic ventures tend to be funny. The same, unfortunately, cannot be said for this film.
Directed, written, featuring, and based off a story by Terry Jones, Erik the Viking is a film with all the trappings of being an excellently produced rib splitter of a movie if it weren’t for the fact that it’s consistently trying not to be. Or at least that’s what it feels like.
Following the eponymous Erik (Tim Robbins), the film is a story of the young Viking’s first tastes of real Viking life. Pillaging villages, slaughtering innocents, and partaking in copious amounts of drinking. After falling in love with a young village girl moments before he runs a sword through her heart, Erik realizes that he’s not cut out for Viking life. In fact, he doesn’t believe anyone is or should be and thus sets out on a quest to find more in life. Oh, and bring about Ragnarok, the prophesied Norse apocalypse that would mark the end of all civilization – Vikings included.
Now, despite some of the big names attached to the film (Eartha Kitt, Mickey Rooney, John Cleese) and one genuinely hilarious signature Monty Python anachronism of a joke regarding the economics of pillaging and rape, Erik the Viking is ultimately devoid of all gut-busters you may expect from a film so closely tied to the Python troupe. Now, I suppose that’s an unfair comparison to make; after all this isn’t a Monty Python film, it’s just produced by them, stars two of the troupe’s members and tries time and again to capture that same self-aware brand of comedic solecism that the Monty Python troupe made so famous in their cinematic ventures.
Aside from failing to achieve the same standards of humor Python fans have come to expect from a film made in that similar vein, there also exists a slew of terribly written jokes whose presence in the movie follows an unfathomably large exponential curve that serves as an egregious, distracting testament to silly humor. To top it all off, this heavy-handed attempt at emulating the past successes of the Python troupe wastes an enormous, albeit undisclosed, budget on unwanted special effects and boisterous on-screen presence. While trying so hard to mimic what made the core Python films so great, Terry Jones seems to have missed their conservative use of money, instead relying on solid writing and precise comedic timing.
The only gift this film ever offers the audience (aside from ending) is its brisk pace. Quite honestly it is a few days since I’ve seen the movie and already the details are beginning to fade while only the general premise and a few downright pathetic attempts, being so memorable because of their mediocrity, at laughter, remain. Erik the Viking sounds like exactly the type of film the Python troupe would have made in its entirety of all the members and the same intelligent, yet always witty writing.
Only they didn’t.