What are Viking movies?

An introduction to Viking movies; why they are not just a subgenre of historical epics or pure fantasy, and what lies behind the genre name.  

You’ve got your fantasy films,vikinglongship historical epics, ancient kings going to war, barbarians invading sword-and-sandal emperors, cool characters like Conan, big franchises like Lord of the Rings…. mix all that and you get; Viking movies! One would think that most countries with a movie industry would churn out Viking movies on a regular basis, considering how popular movies with the above ingredients have been the last 15 years. Not so! In fact, looking at all the action-adventure-fantasy genres, Viking films probably come last in terms of number and reputation, in spite of having the potential to offer everything people love in their imaginary entertainment.  This underrated genre has its fans, and the fans now have www.VikingMovies.info to keep them informed!

Underrated? Even movie fans struggle to mention more than five Viking movies, let alone five good Viking movies. Viking films – the few that exist – may have a bad reputation, but nevertheless they are often great fun and offers a way to explore themes in a raw and imaginative way that is rooted in reality, not fantasy. Usually, a movie about wild fur-clad barbarians that throw axes, burn down churches and steal women will have to be a fantasy movies like Conan the barbarian or Conquest. Great as they are, they are pure fantasy (although often inspired by Viking mythology), whereas Viking movies are always based on actual history. Granted, many Viking films either border on fantasy or cross over to fantasy completely, and most of the genre’s films take huge liberties in terms of historical accuracy, but there is still that core of truth which has been confirmed by archeologists and historians. This makes Viking movies different – they are “fantasy movies based on actual events”.

Unfortunately, the genreerikthevikingdvd is so small that there are even people who don’t know what or who the Vikings were, so here’s a quick introduction. Around 1000 years ago, the Northern-most areas of Europe (known today as the Nordic region; Norway, Sweden, Denmark and Iceland) were not divided in countries. These cold and distant mountains, fjords and forests were populated by people who were farmers, fishermen, hunters, traders and craftsmen. Local clans, kings and lords divided the land between them. Around the year 790, the northmen created a new business; raids on more or less distant neighbours. The first recorded raid was in 787 in Dorset in England, while others count the attack on Lindisfarne in 793 as the start of the Viking age. With ocean-going longboats, they murdered, raped, stole and burned through Ireland, England, France, Germany, Italy, Russia, wherever they could travel. The Viking age lasted only a few hundred years, from the 8th century to around 1100. The battles at Stamford Bridge and Hastings in 1066 is often seen as an end of the Viking era. While Viking raids, their laws and culture existed before and after this period, one usually limits the Viking age to this period due to defining events that were documented.

Centuries later, Vikings would become the symbols of Scandinavia; Norway, Sweden, Denmark and Iceland take pride in their Viking history. Barbaric business aside, Vikings were also brave adventurers who discovered Iceland, Greenland and North America, and traded with civilizations as far away as North Africa and the Middle East. The word “viking” is difficult to translate from its original meaning; it could mean “a raider at sea” or “a journey”.

Naturally, authors and movie producers have tapped into this rich and exciting culture, and created books, TV and movies more or less based on actual events, historical people or the culture itself. Let’s not be hypocrites about it; most Viking movies can not be taken literally, as they are too fictional and take great liberties with historical accuracies. Some movies have one leg firmly in history and the other leg in fantasy, but that is perhaps because everything about the Vikings kickstart the imagination so much? It’s not really a surprise that the biggest fantasy classic of all times, Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, were heavily influenced by Viking mythology and culture. The fact remains; you cannot really know exactly what, how, and why Vikings acted. A lot of the content that can be seen in the movies could potentially have happened. If you forget about aliens, monsters and time-travel, Viking films are about real people, not about superheroes or magical worlds. Part of the fascination lies in how all the adventures could have taken place. Unlike, say, the adventures of Sinbad that clearly are made up in someone’s imagination, and must remain in fantasy land.

The first Viking movie is believed to be The Viking (1928), a story about how Erik the Red discovered Greenland east of Iceland. It was also the first colour movie to have a complete soundtrack. Since then only a few dozen Viking movies have been made, including the ones that cross over into fantasy or is based on legends that are similar to Viking stories, such as Beowulf adaptions. Nobody has yet compiled a complete list, but I would be surprised if the list reaches 100 titles. Peel away all the fantasy ones, and you might end up with only 50 movies and TV series.

Viking movies can roughly outlanderposterbe divided into four categories; the realistic, the fantasy based, the reversed perspective ones, and comedies/children’s movies. Many films place themselves in two or more categories. The realistic ones features no dragons, otherwordly beasts or magic. They focus on either actual history, or things that could physically and mentally happen in the Viking age. The White Viking (1991) is an example of that, with its story about Scandinavia turning into Christian territory towards the end of the Viking age. Possibly the most famous Viking film, The Vikings (1958) with Kirk Douglas and Tony Curtis is also in this category, even if the historical accuracy fails. At least they battle eachother, not aliens or monsters as in fantasy based Viking films, a relatively new subgenre. Island at the top of the world (1974) is an early example, but in later years we have had big-budget films like Outlander (2008) and Beowulf (2007) that threw new and much needed fuel onto the Viking fire. Strictly speaking, Beowulf is not really straight Viking material, but many adaptions place Beowulf and Grendel in a Viking setting, and the poem does take place in Viking era Scandinavia. The third category, reversed perspective Viking films, deals with Vikings from the perspective of non-Vikings, such as their victims or the consequences of Viking raids. Alfred the Great (1969) is a well known example, and Asterix and the Vikings (2006) could be said to belong to that category, as well as being an animated movie mostly aimed at children. Vikings are more often that you’d think featured in children’s entertainment, although usually highly exaggerated and simplified. Some adult comedies are treasures though, like Erik the Viking (1989), starring some of the Monty Pythons. In Sweden, the sitcom Home to Midgard (2003) was aimed at adults, so there are all sorts out there.

Here at vikingmovies.info we’ll write about all sorts of Viking films and TV shows, from the silly ones made in Turkey via BBC documentaries to “real” Viking films made in Scandinavia. We will also cover the outskirts of the Viking genre, such as the Arn trilogy which is set after the Viking age or movies that include Vikings but not as the primary characters.

Bookmark and enjoy!

Thunder gods for Hollyweird

Remakes, re-imaginings, reboots, re-inventions; Hollywood seems to like re-cycling of ideas and have been in serious innovation drought for years. I know, remakes of classic (and not so classic) movies are nothing new, neither are sequels – but there are a few things they could do in order to inject some imagination into their fantasy films.

oldthorFortunately, the sci-fi and fantasy film genres have been spared the biggest remake waves. Horror has been hit much worse, with classics such as Carrie, Texas Chainsaw Massacre, The Hitcher, Friday the 13th, and Helloween having been remade, among many others. Even Evil Dead was remade not long ago. Is nothing holy to Hollyweird?

Fantasy films are in a slightly different position. While horror movies have been huge since the 1970s and established long before that, fantasy and science fiction films were mocked and looked down upon longer, and it wasn’t until the mid or late 1990s that fantasy in literature became the foundation for a wave of movies. Granted, fantasy movies have been around for a long time but in fact the growth in the 90s in numbers of young people who read fantasy stories paved the way for movie adaptions of popular novels. With The Lord of The Rings and Harry Potter it was proven true that popular fantasy books could translate well to box office success.

In other words, the makers of fantastical cinema have a vast library of already proven stories to choose from, a library that is not yet empty. They don’t need to recycle, but still it was just a matter of time before remakes of popular 1980s movies started to appear; we already got Total Recall, and V was remade for TV. They have been preparing a remake of He-Man, and reboots of comic franchises Superman and Batman are coming out every few years.

So, Hollyweird, let me give you some advice. A free tip, an original and new idea you have not explored much before. You can pay me a hefty royalty if you want. Here it is: Nordic mythology.

I am not talking about Viking movies. Vikings have appeared in front of the camera since at least the 1920s, usually with a large dose of, shall we say, artistic freedom. Adaptions of Viking history are, if not a staple, at least well known among movie fans. No, I am talking about Nordic mythology; the gods, beliefs, myths and legends of the Vikings. You know, Thor, Loki, the giant jotnar creatures, Odin, the eight-legged horse Sleipnir, etc. Also, a whole range of worlds and universes inhabited by magic, spirits and supernatural creatures. There’s much to dig into!

I am not suggesting a mough not as a rule when making fantasy films inspired by the past, or even when making “plain” Viking epics. Tolkien took alot of inspiration from ancient Scandinavian culture when writing both The Silmarillion and The Rings trilogy, in fact so much that the mythology crept into popular culture and has become clichés. The John McTiernan-directed The 13th Warrior (1999) is borderline historical fantasy as it involves the fictional and non-historical cave cannibals attacking a Viking village, and Outlander (2009) sees Vikings and space aliens clashing, a rare thing even in fantasy movies. None of these two movies draw much from actual Norse mythology per se, but perhaps Hollyweird could look to Scandinavia for some juicy inspiration for original stories. It has been done before, in all fairness, althg mythology, though no doubt they were more original than your typical Viking-massacre action film. Beowulf (2007), which is often considered a classic Viking fantasy story, is not really Viking at all, since it’s an English poem from several hundred years before the Viking age, but the many adaptions deserve thumbs up for trying.

Apart from the Thor comic books from Marvel Comics, Nordic mythology is not exploited enough in popular entertainment. In stead, Greek legends, Arabian folk tales and Asian history forms much of the basis for fantasy epics, with the occasional dip into Britain’s Merlin or American Indian folkore. I guess there is a lot to explore in sub-Sahara African legends too (Tarzan aside – it wasn’t really an African legend) but being a Norwegian myself, I’d like to see more Nordic mythology on the big screen.

So there you have it, Hollyweird. Why don’t you google or wiki terms such as Jotun, Yggdrasil, Valhalla, Ragnarok, the vættir, Freya. You don’t even have to pay authors any rights, because all Nordic mythology is in the public domain, one could say.

I am of course available as historical consultant, and won’t charge you more than you can afford.