PopMatters is moving to WordPress in December. We will continue to publish on this site as we work on the move. We aim to make it a seamless experience for readers.

Reviews

Pathfinder

Jesse Hassenger

Pathfinder is like building a time machine to watch Sunday-afternoon cable in 1987.


Pathfinder

Director: Marcus Nispel
Cast: Karl Urban, Moon Bloodgood, Russell Means, Clancy Brown, Jay Tavare
Distributor: Fox
MPAA rating: R
Studio: 20th Century Fox
First date: 2007
US DVD Release Date: 2007-07-31
Website
Trailer

The Hollywood B-movie factory is truly in dire straits if it can't make something entertaining out of Pathfinder. The film is the latest to carry on the tradition of seeking out ancient cultures and building ultraviolent thrillers around them. Pathfinder gets creative (or greedy) and chooses two: barbaric Vikings (in this case a young one) and Native Americans (who adopt the boy). The boy grows up into Karl Urban and confronts his past when the Vikings return for a fresh round of pillaging.

The unrated DVD release of Pathfinder includes a sleepy commentary from director Marcus Nispel (theatrical advertisements included the subtitle The Legend of the Ghost Warrior, absent from earlier trailers and now the DVD ads, its presence presumably depending on the most up-to-date market research about whether moviegoers prefer onerous Pirates of the Caribbean-style titling). Nispel notes at the outset that he wanted to make a gladiator picture only to be outgunned by Gladiator, and that he later tried to sell studios on a pirate adventure before Disney's franchise hit it big. He mentions these pitfalls in big-budget filmmaking with good humor, but it's difficult not to view his work as an also-ran epic.

Indeed, Nispel's film is so slow-moving that it blows its one lead -- it was actually completed before the battle-heavy spectacle of 300 and Apocalypto, but still manages to look and sound like a leaden knockoff. Its delayed release (which put it out after those films) feels more fitting than unfair. Nispel claims an interest in capturing this time period, but his enthusiasm barely registers on the commentary, let alone the film itself. Elsewhere on the DVD, several deleted scenes provide additional torpor.

Another, less dull DVD feature, "Clancy Brown: Cult Hero". profiles character actor Brown. Viewers probably won't know him by name, but may recognize him once the feature shows him out of Viking garb: he's played bit-to-supporting parts in movies like Starship Troopers and The Shawshank Redemption; guest-starred in TV shows like Lost, The Riches, and ER; and has a lucrative side career doing voiceover in action / fantasy cartoons. In Pathfinder he plays the fearsome but not particularly distinctive bad guy Gunnar, and the "Cult Hero" feature sheds a spotlight on his intensity in this rare semi-leading part.

The crew's admiration of Brown's dedication and fierce physicality is more interesting than his actual character, which, despite the imposing figure he cuts, is really just an extension of Brown's voiceover work. The feature, in fact, made me want to see a whole documentary on character actors rather than another epic-warrior that disguises them in costumes and guts.

Guts are a Nispel speciality; he directed the middling 2003 Texas Chainsaw Massacre remake, which now looks positively visionary in comparison. It's not the dopiness of Pathfinder that sinks the film, though; it's the tedious middle ground it occupies. Though the special blood effects (presumably augmented by additional digital buckets for this unrated edition) look a bit like those in 300, it doesn't have that film's fearless leaps over the top, nor can it boast Apocalypto's bizarre, fascinating mix of naturalism and auteurist nuttiness.

Of course, a seriously good Viking movie would be fine, too; imagine a Last of the Mohicans set even earlier. But genuine curiosity about these cultures is clearly saved for claims of research on the commentary track and behind-the-scenes footage; the best Pathfinder can realistically hope for is visceral thrills and/or camp. The closest it comes to the latter is when Nispel's bluish visuals start to resemble cheesy album covers -- use precise DVD freeze-frames to simulate your own '80s dorm!

That's the era Pathfinder, despite its sets and costumes, conjures most effectively: not an ancient North America, but a time when this kind of leaden schlock could get a theatrical release if the leading man looked enough like Arnold Schwarzenegger. It's like building a time machine to watch Sunday-afternoon cable in 1987.

2

Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology provider that we have until December to move off their service. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to fund the move and further development.


Music

Books

Film

Recent
Books

Is Carl Neville's 'Eminent Domain' Worth the Effort?

In Carl Neville's latest novel, Eminent Domain, he creates complexities and then shatters them into tiny narrative bits arrayed along a non-linear timeline.

Film

Horrors in the Closet: Horrifying Heteronormative Scapegoating

The artificial connection between homosexuality and communism created the popular myth of evil and undetectable gay subversives living inside 1950s American society. Film both reflected and refracted the homophobia.

Music

Johnny Nash Refused to Remember His Place

Johnny Nash, part rock era crooner, part Motown, and part reggae, was too polite for the more militant wing of the Civil Rights movement, but he also suffered at the hands of a racist music industry that wouldn't market him as a Black heartthrob. Through it all he was himself, as he continuously refused to "remember his place".

Music

John Hollenbeck Completes a Trilogy with 'Songs You Like a Lot'

The third (and final?) collaboration between a brilliant jazz composer/arranger, the Frankfurt Radio Big Band, vocalists Kate McGarry and Theo Bleckman, and the post-1950 American pop song. So great that it shivers with joy.

Music

The Return of the Rentals After Six Years Away

The Rentals release a space-themed album, Q36, with one absolute gem of a song.

Music

Matthew Murphy's Post-Wombats Project Sounds a Lot Like the Wombats (And It's a Good Thing)

While UK anxiety-pop auteurs the Wombats are currently hibernating, frontman Matthew "Murph" Murphy goes it alone with a new band, a mess of deprecating new earworms, and revived energy.

Music

The 100 Best Albums of the 2000s: 80-61

In this next segment of PopMatters' look back on the music of the 2000s, we examine works by British electronic pioneers, Americana legends, and Armenian metal provocateurs.

Music

In the Tempest's Eye: An Interview with Surfer Blood

Surfer Blood's 2010 debut put them on the map, but their critical sizzle soon faded. After a 2017 comeback of sorts, the group's new record finds them expanding their sonic by revisiting their hometown with a surprising degree of reverence.

Music

Artemis Is the Latest Jazz Supergroup

A Blue Note supergroup happens to be made up of women, exclusively. Artemis is an inconsistent outing, but it dazzles just often enough.

Books

Horrors in the Closet: A Closet Full of Monsters

A closet full of monsters is a scary place where "straight people" can safely negotiate and articulate their fascination and/or dread of "difference" in sexuality.

Music

'Wildflowers & All the Rest' Is Tom Petty's Masterpiece

Wildflowers is a masterpiece because Tom Petty was a good enough songwriter by that point to communicate exactly what was on his mind in the most devastating way possible.

Music

Jazz Composer Maria Schneider Takes on the "Data Lords" in Song

Grammy-winning jazz composer Maria Schneider released Data Lords partly as a reaction to her outrage that streaming music services are harvesting the data of listeners even as they pay musicians so little that creativity is at risk. She speaks with us about the project.

Music

The 100 Best Albums of the 2000s: 100-81

PopMatters' best albums of the 2000s begin with a series of records that span epic metal, ornate indie folk, and a terrifying work of electronic music.

Books

The Power of Restraint in Sophie Yanow, Paco Roca, and Elisa Macellari's New Graphic Novels

The magical quality that makes or breaks a graphic novel lies somewhere in that liminal space in which art and literature intersect.

Books

'People of the City' Is an Unrelenting Critique of Colonial Ideology and Praxis

Cyprian Ekwensi's People of the City is a vivid tale of class struggle and identity reclamation in the shadows of colonialism's reign.

Music

1979's 'This Heat' Remains a Lodestone for Avant-Rock Adventure

On their self-titled debut, available for the first time on digital formats, This Heat delivered an all-time classic stitched together from several years of experiments.

Film

'The Edge of Democracy' and Parallels of Political Crises

Academy Award-nominated documentary The Edge of Democracy, now streaming on Netflix, lays bare the political parallels of the rise of Bolsonaro's Brazil with Trump's America.

Music

The Pogues' 'The BBC Sessions 1984-1986' Honors Working-Class Heroes

The Pogues' BBC Sessions 1984-1986 is a welcome chapter in the musical story of these working-class heroes, who reminded listeners of the beauty and dignity of the strong, sooty backs upon which our industrialized world was built.


Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews



Features
Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.