Robert Eggers, famed director of “The Witch,” brings his primal sensibilities to the age of the Vikings in the historical revenge drama now available on the 4K disc format in The Northman: Collector’s Edition (Universal Studios Home Entertainment, rated R, 2.00:1 aspect ratio, 137 minutes, $44.98).
Based on a Scandinavian legend that eventually became the template for Shakespeare’s Hamlet, viewers are introduced to Amleth, a young Viking prince that witnessed the death of his father King Aurvandil War-Raven (Ethan Hawke) at the sword of his bastard uncle Fjölnir (Claes Bang) and subsequent capture of his mother Queen Gudrún (Nicole Kidman).
Amleth escapes into the woods and vows to kill Fjölnir and save his mother.
As an adult, Amleth (Alexander Skarsgård) works with a team of wolf-imitating berserkers viciously pillaging villages and then makes a calculated move to get captured as a slave under his uncle. Amleth eventually finds a kindred spirit in the sorceress Olga (Anya Taylor-Joy) to help him avenge his father.
Of course, revenge has many layers, and Amleth finds multiple truths from his mother that makes his ultimate confrontation with his uncle more of a desperate attempt to preserve a king’s bloodline than a simple act of satisfying murder.
Viewers should pay close attention to the additional star power in the cats including Willem Defoe as a demented court jester and shaman, and pop music diva Björk as a Seeress.
Fans of the History Channel’s canceled show “Vikings” will most love “The Northman,” with a visceral narrative drenched in blood, lore and the supernatural to deliver a barbaric version of “Hamlet.”
4K in action: Despite a very organic and mooted visual presentation often obscured by mist, smoke, snow, dust, rain, fog and darkness, the UHD upgrade and high dynamic range tweaks still manage to spotlight Mr. Eggers’s painstaking recreation of a dirty and rotting historically accurate medieval world.
That translates into admiring the tattered costuming and armor, bloodied muscle definition of Amleth, the elaborate headdresses of spiritual advisers during ceremonial and a mind-bending sword fight at the crater of an active volcano with combatants covered in ash as fiery lava jumps out at them. Screen-filling blues and greys are punctuated by fire and blood.
Best extras: All of the bonus content resides on the 4K disc and begins with an optional commentary track from the director who also was the co-writer of “The Northman.”
Mr. Eggers mixes in production highlights and challenges starting with pointing out his homage to “Conan the Barbarian” at the beginning of the film, touching on the challenging shoot and then liberally mixing in a history lesson in cultural archeology.
He reiterates his goal of crafting the most accurate portrayal of the Viking culture that movie viewers have ever seen. Examples of this include the visual effects genesis of the Tree of Kings (based on a Viking burial tapestry), creating an accurate Viking helmet, and building a headdress of Odin based on one used in Germanic spear dances.
Fans of Mr. Eggers’ work will dive into the near nonstop exploration while those looking to understand the obsessive mindset of a brilliant filmmaker will also appreciate his words.
Next, 35 minutes of featurettes cover the production, casting, the ritual to bring Amleth into manhood, shooting the long takes on the berserker raid and exploring the game knattleikr (rugby with bats).
The only miscue, and under the head-scratcher topic, I would not consider this a “Collector’s Edition” release. Viewers do not get any type of extended or director’s cut, special packaging, extra hard copy goodies or bonus disc to warrant the moniker.