Last Monday Variety reported that Mel Gibson is going to direct a Viking movie with Leonardo DiCaprio set to star. The screenplay is by William Monahan. The project will be financed by Mel Gibson and Graham King.
The Viking film is expected to begin shooting in fall 2010. Before it happens, Gibson will star in How I Spent My Summer Vacation, a Mexican prison drama. Even earlier, we’ll see him in Edge of Darkness and Jodie Foster’s The Beaver. As for Leonardo DiCaprio, in 2010 he stars in Nolan’s Inception and Scorcese’s Shutter Island.
Gibson’s Viking movie project is very promising. Indeed, when a top notch filmmaker, who won Best Director and Best Picture honors for Braveheart, directs a new period drama set in the Viking Age context, it is a good omen. DiCaprio, with his blue eyes, blond hair and great artistic talent, can be easily imagined as a Norse Viking warrior. It is interesting that Gibson’s Viking project is the first time when Gibson and DiCaprio are working together. As it seems, the connecting link for that project is Graham King: he produced both Edge of Darkness (with Gibson) and The Departed (with DiCaprio, and with Monahan as the screenwriter).
Mel Gibson’s previous movies, Braveheart, set in the 13th century, The Passion of Christ, first century, and Apocalypto, 16th century, all show his great ability in directing period dramas. According to Graham King, the new Viking movie “will be an awe-inspiring story.” All this shows great promise, indeed. However, I cannot help but worry about it. The last more or less decent Viking film that can be mentioned is The 13th Warrior (1999) with Antonio Banderas as Ibn Fadlan. Despite its obvious goofs and weaknesses, this movie remains one of the favorites with all those who are interested in the Norse cultural and historical heritage. Neither Outlander nor Pathfinder reached even that level. Both Severed Ways and Valhalla Rising are disastrous.
William Monahan, who is writing the screenplay for Gibson’s Viking movie, also wrote 2005 Kingdom of Heaven, directed by Ridley Scott. Academics criticized the plot saying that peaceful relationships between Christians and Muslims in Jerusalem, as they can be seen in the movie, never existed. Crusader historian Jonathan Riley-Smith even stated that “nonsense like this will only reinforce existing myths.” Paul Halsall defended Ridley Scott and remarked that the filmmaker was “not writing a history textbook.”
Vikings are not as hotly debated as Christian-Muslim relationships. However, also in a Viking Age story, “not writing a history textbook” is not a license to “reinforce existing myths.” We know that myths about Vikings are no less enduring than myths about the Crusades. To be sure, William Monahan’s task in connection with Mel Gibson’s Viking movie is very challenging.
No tresses, horned helmets and double axes go without saying, but a few things to focus on should be mentioned:
By all means anachronism should be avoided. Vikings cannot wear 16th century Spanish helmets, as they do in The 13th Warrior. Pekin ducks that waddle around in Pathfinder were not introduced to the Americas until 1873.
The language has to be treated carefully. Be it Old Norse or any other dead or even non-existent language, it should be handled carefully; it is disgusting when people take a passage from Caesar and say it is a medieval charm. Inviting Paul Frommer to design a language for Na’vi people in James Cameron’s Avatar is a very good example of responsible approach.
Both fantasy and mockumentary do not seem to be justified in a good Viking movie; demonic Vikings in Pathfinder look like Nazgûl from Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings. Vikings in Valhalla Rising look real but the film is just boring.
Would you like to state what you expect from Mel Gibson’s forthcoming Viking movie? Do not hesitate to leave comments below.
Photo courtesy Steve & Jemma Copley. Used under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share-Alike 2.0 Generic Licence.