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Not the sum of all its parts
on 2 October 2012
This film has a bit of everything, though fails to succeed to make it all into a wholly enjoyable experience. There are bandits, Bear People, real bears, flaming arrows, ingenious booby-traps, stout Christian princes, murdered princesses, torture, Pagan rituals, and treacherous Viking mercenaries. In between, we have slavery, the internal politics of 11th Century Russia, and the neatest-trimmed beard and hair ever seen on a Viking warrior. There are some skirmishes, a short night battle, and the prospect of a climactic showdown, that never actually happens. Instead, we see the stale ending of a hand-to-hand sword fight between the two main protagonists, followed by the rejected love of the Pagan Bear Princess.
In truth, the whole thing feels like a bigger budget, extra-long episode, of Robin of Sherwood. Despite the amazing scenery, and a really good effort to portray the way of life in the 11th Century, including the impressive building of a large town in wood, it just doesn't work. It lacks epic feel, and falls into the frequently seen Russian traps of long-winded speeches, comedic characters, a bit of slapstick, and some wooden acting by the leads. Russian cinema can do a lot better than this; 'And Quiet Flows the Don', 'Come and See', '1612', 'Fortress of War' , and 'The Star', to name but a few. There is nothing really wrong with this effort, it just does not hold up against the competition, and that is why it only deserves 3 stars, in my opinion.