Review: Valhalla Rising

Atmosphere:  B-.  Good attention to detail and beautiful scenery.  Stoic and silent Viking portrayal.  Effectively (to say the least at times) conveys mood of primary characters to the audience.

Intelligence:  C.  Has few interesting developments, but then again, doesn’t have high aspirations.

Involvement:  D+.  It will take some real effort to hang on due to art-house direction and amateur scripting.

What will annoy you:

Blood.  Every bit of blood from an impact in this movie is digitally enhanced, and obviously so; in addition it makes positively the wettest sound you will ever hear.  It’s a cartoon-like effect that’s badly out of place with the atmosphere.

Mystical Confusion.  There are certain primeval fears we all share: being operated upon without our consent, parasite infestations, large predatory eyes and teeth, etc.  One of those fears, though not commonly discussed, is suicide of our loved ones.  We all have a basic paranoia that someone we know will try to end their own lives and we won’t be able to stop them.  Whoever wrote this story is completely obsessed with this idea; at some point, nearly every character catches the fever of lost ambition and wanders off in a stupor to die, and the only one questioning their actions is the moviegoer.

Directing.  You know how when you were 14 you thought you could make the greatest movie in the world, never realizing how hackneyed, immature and overbearing it would be?  Valhalla Rising is the movie I would have made at 14.  It’s an art shoot more than anything else.  It’s as if the director said “ok, you guys are really depressed now, so just wander around the area here writhing in your own self-pity and we’ll take all sorts of shots”.  The problem is, they appear to have used every single shot they took.  Some of these overextended model shoots are unbearably long, others instantly expose the director’s desperate and predictable need to affect you emotionally, and all push far, far past the boundary of suspension of disbelief.

Length.  The actual substance of this story, minus the art-house formatting, could be told with feeling in about 10 minutes.

On the death of Games Workshop

When I was 11, my brother brought home some small metal figurines.  I wondered (and asked), how do they work?  They don’t have any moving parts, so what do you do with them?  When my brother told me “you paint them”, I thought, wow, imagine that; you can give them color!  Neat.  He let me have a couple miniatures he wasn’t crazy about, and I painted them up (poorly, but impressive to both of us).  Not long after that, Warhammer 40,000 was released, and the lure of sci-fi warfare left a permanent mark in our hearts that persists to this day.  My brother sent away for his first pack of plastic Space Marines (a box of 30 was $20 if I remember), and we were hooked for life.  I also started getting into Battletech heavily, but only with my own house rules.

Many years later, and still many years ago now, Adeptus Titanicus/Space Marine was released, and I dived in with all my allowance.  I also pursued Space Hulk, Blood Bowl and other small off-shoot games.  But in the next few years, GW started making changes.  They effectively stopped supporting the Epic 40k universe (and other games I loved) completely, started charging unbelievably exorbitant prices, and developed an aloofness and arrogance that I could only compare to companies like Microsoft (and Apple nowadays) and ComEd, or the American car companies before they got hammered, or Sony when they were so certain the Playstation 3 was worth $600 and everyone would buy one.

So when did this:

Turn into this?

My brother and I often lament the great misuse of the intellectual property that is the Warhammer 40,000 universe.  For instance, how did the very dangerous and intimidating Space Marines turn into colorful posers with “accessories”?  Who thought it was reasonable that ultimate soldiers going to war would do so with embellishments and loincloths?  Where is the camouflage and concealed proof of rank?  Where is the maximization of combat effectiveness?  When did these superhuman warriors become primarily religious crusaders?

At the same time, the years have seen many changes in other races.  The Squats, those wonderful space dwarves, were eliminated from the lineup, despite being perennial favorites of so many players who appreciated their greedy-biker-vengeful-blacksmith personalities.  And in place, we were given…  Robot zombies, female Space Marines, and Asian Manga men.  WTF.  Very original.  I even wrote to them and expressed my views over this.  Their response (in my own words):  “Well I guess we made the right decision because everyone’s buying them, so go #&%@ yourself.”  In my opinion, the fact that more consumers were buying their product was part of the problem.  Leonardo Da Vinci might not have died an outcast if he had spent his time producing what the average consumer wanted.

When I first heard about the Tyranids, I thought “well, it’s a knock-off from Aliens and many other things, but they’re not doing a bad job”.  Still, a little part of my mind worried about the future and what else could be around the corner.  Would they continue to refine the original races, or would they “go commercial” and turn from being a small quality studio with dignity to a mass-production company aimed squarely at the average consumer and run by executives?

The final straw for me was when I read something in a new rulebook detailing Chaos Daemon usage.  It was in regards to the effect of a psychic attack the Lord of Change could use which killed enemies in an area and turned them in to Pink Horrors.  To paraphrase, here is what it said: “For each unit killed under the blast template, you may place one Pink Horror exactly in its place.  You must have the real Pink Horror figures available; you may not use any other figure to represent Pink Horrors in this manner.  If no Pink Horrors are available, this has no further effect.”

Yep.  The company that produces the rules to use with the miniatures that I have paid thousands of dollars for at this point is actually telling me, outright, that I am not allowed to use their rules without buying more of their miniatures.  My army actually suffers versus the enemy because I have not given GW enough money.  Instantly, I built a resentment toward GW that had only fledgling support in the back of my mind up to then.  I started to look at all I had bought and all that other people had spent and began to think it was ridiculous.  The prices, the constant recycling of old material to re-release for more money, the wastefulness, the aloofness, the cancellation of some great material…  I started moving my interest more heavily into computers, Battletech and other games at that point.

But it was so tragic to watch the managers of the incredible Space Marines and their Emperor turn the hobby I loved into overpriced geek smut, catering to the masses, caring nothing for the purity and the grit of the original enterprise.  Gaming has always occupied a huge part of my life and I had more than a little heartbreak over this.  I even wrote to them directly several times.  The bad news just kept coming each year; I even found out from insiders just how they planned to cycle games and how often they would abandon support for older ones (I believe it was every two years), so it was confirmed that they planned to dump my beloved Epic game all along.  Finally they took the sales business into their own hands and opened their own stores, legally preventing any other store online from advertising their product.  I made two visits to these stores, and was repulsed by their very aggressive sales tactics and disturbing support of people with clearly pathological addiction to their product.  Every time I hear about a GW Store closing, I do a little dance.

I have many Warhammer 40k novels.  Aside from computer games, that is the only thing bearing any GW property I have paid money for in perhaps 10 years.  I continued to use their rules for many years and wouldn’t mind picking up a game or two right at this moment.  But, when I think of the years I’ve devoted to them and the complete disregard they’ve shown me, I don’t want to give them another penny.  I’m a big fan of many computer games that license their property, but I’ve never paid full price for them.  And again, I like the books from certain authors who can rekindle a bit of my childhood interest in the mystique and adventure of living a Space Marine’s life.  But oh, how I long to have the millions necessary to purchase this intellectual property outright and return it to its right direction.

Alas, I believe the Corpse-God may truly be dead after all.