While Vikings and Viking culture have been a long area of interest for some people and certainly the basis for plenty of films and television shows, it seems that recently there have been more than ever. Because the Viking age lends itself mostly to what we know from archaeology, it’s inevitable that it’s prone to interpretation. Based on fictional representations over the years, it seems that almost anything could be labelled a “Viking” film if it has people in horned helmets (which has no historical basis anyway!)
Perhaps due to the success of a character like Marvel’s Thor in big budget comic book films like The Avengers and the two films named after the character, film and tv producers have realised there’s still a strong audience for Viking and Norse mythology related products. Game of Thrones’ success probably helped too. Whatever the reasons are, it seems clear that the Vikings have returned for the time being.
Last year saw the release of a number of Viking films. Among them were A Viking Saga: The Darkest Day (2013), Vikingdom (2013), Hammer of the Gods (2013)and Thor 2: The Dark World (2013). You’ve probably heard of the latter one, but the first three slipped by almost unnoticed. Of course, the rich mythological aspect of Viking culture is another area that goes hand in hand with most Viking related films and tv shows. The Thor films are obviously the best equipped to tackle this area (having the budget big enough to offer spectacularity), but much like the mythology itself, representation essentially comes down to interpretation. It’s no coincidence that Kenneth Branagh and Alan Taylor were chosen to direct the films, both coming from such “high end” backgrounds in film, theatre and adapting literature to screen. There’s certainly a fine line in dealing with the fantastical elements of Thor, because it’d be very easy to bring it to the point of ridiculousness. Some people might argue it’s already there!
The current tv series Vikings which airs on SBS in Australia as well as internationally seems to be quite popular as well and is another fine example of the level of quality that many current television shows have maintained in recent years. What makes Vikings such an interesting perspective of the era it’s set in is certainly in part due to its authenticity. Similar to the series Deadwood set in the Old West of America, we see characters that are physically dirty, vulnerable and bruised. They are not invulnerable killing machines as other Viking productions would have us believe.
Nicholas Winding Refn’s (Drive, Pusher, Only God Forgives, Bronson) 2009 film, Valhalla Rising starring Mad Mikkelsen is a rare instance of Viking film that is almost unlike any other that came before it. Similar to the surrealism found in Apocalypse Now or Beyond the Black Rainbow, the film is certainly a far cry from the stereotypical clichés found in so many films featuring the ancient Norse. What we see is a reflective, dark and more cerebral take on the legends, which in many ways feels more realistic and authentic to Viking history as it personalises and humanises the characters as opposed to romanticising them.
There’s definitely more Vikings on the horizon that are coming to the screen and it’ll be interesting to see how the interpretations differ. Perhaps the amalgamation of the fantasy of Thor and the gritty realism ofValhalla Rising and Vikings can be realised someday? In any case, this is certainly some kind of golden age for Viking fans.