The occasional joy of a DVD rental site is that you add titles to your rental list, receive them through the post and find that you’re watching an unheralded gem of a film.
Case in point – Serbian romantic absurdist fantasy “Tears for Sale”. I saw the trailer preceding another DVD, became instantly intrigued by the Gilliam/Jeunet-esque visual energy hinted at within and waited patiently for it to turn up. When I did get to see it a few weeks ago it became one of my favourite films of the year.
The same cannot be said for director Marcus Nispel’s ‘Native Americans Vs Vikings’ historical action adventure, “Pathfinder”.
To call this film insulting to it’s intended audience of attention-deficit-afflicted American teenage boys is to do it an injustice – to watch it is to feel yourself becoming progressively more stupid, as the initial promise of the story is swiftly undercut by the director’s apparent desire to ignore that boring, old people crap and instead remake “Predator” with naively sketched Native American heroes facing off against pantomime Vikings in an anachronistic America 600 years before Christopher Columbus’ intervention.
Whatever visual acumen Nispel has – he’s got an eye for an image – is wholly offset by his short-comings as a storyteller. I have no way of knowing how much of Laeta Kalogridis’ screenplay made it through the film-making process but you hope that it was somewhat better than the end product we get to see on-screen – clichéd scene follows clichéd scene, and each one is presented by the director as though the audience should be rapt in wonder at the unfolding spectacle they are beholding. This is pretty rich, as Nispel’s vision ultimately resembles an unholy melange of high-end car commercial, AAA metal band video and a feature-length trailer, with coherence sacrificed for posing that looks kewl…
The shame of it is that a team of talented professionals behind the camera are at the mercy of Nispel’s relentlessly empty-headed artistic vision. For the most part, the technical personnel do a great job – although the quality of CGI in the finale suggests that it is rather more last-minute than anybody connected with the production would probably admit in public: if you’ve ever wanted to see some really dodgy green screen and matte work on screen, check out (or rather, don’t) the Blu-Ray version of the film which manages to underpin just how bad special effects can be, even in this day and age.
Talented actors like Karl Urban, Clancy Brown and Moon Bloodgood are marooned in this film, trying desperately to breathe life into hastily-drawn templates rather than fully-realised characters – the story presents archetypes rather than people. The Vikings are blood-thirsty, gutterally-growling psychopaths clad in elaborate armour, the Native Americans are stoic, soulful, peaceful souls who only move to violence when forced to defend their way of life – there are no shades of grey to behold, only a tale told in the broadest swathes of black and white.
Nispel’s previous films – the “Texas Chainsaw Massacre” reboot, the “Friday the 13th” retread, and this year’s remake of “Conan the Barbarian” (are you seeing a trend here?) – hardly mark him out as a master of subtlety but this is paint-by-numbers, uninspired film-making at its absolute nadir. There’s so little inspiration in play here that you’ve probably seen original Asylum/SyFy movies which out-do “Pathfinder” for wit and execution.
It’s the type of utterly uninspired, disgracefully generic product which so often clogs the multiplexes and most often emanates from the general direction of Twentieth Century Fox – Crass, forgettable Product with a capital ‘P’, and barely worthy of consideration let alone the time that it takes to watch it.