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Cleanse the Land
A Dark-age Fantasy Movie Review
© 2012 James LaFond
One of my favorite subjects is early contact between Native Americans and Europeans. In fact, this is the premise behind Of The Sunset World, my first time-travel novel. I have seen two movies about the Norse coming to North America. One was a pretty terrible flick staring Lee Majors in the late 1970s, in which the Vikings were the good guys. The other was Pathfinder, in 2007, a movie that got little play, and cast the Vikings as the bad guys.
Before I go on to review the later, I might as well give a quick rundown of early North American contact with Europeans. Some Norse did settle in what is now Canada, and possibly made it as far south as the Chesapeake Bay or as far west as the Great Lakes, although there is little evidence to support either claim. Eventually they were driven off of Canadian soil, and, finally, driven from Greenland by various Native American and Inuit peoples, which they called Skraelings ‘little screechers’.
In the first half of the 16th Century an Italian in service to France landed in Virginia and kidnapped a woman and a child. This was followed by the Ponce de Leon and Navarez entradas into Florida, which were brutal assaults that were bloodily repulsed by the natives. Then a few French expeditions down the Saint Lawrence River in Canada convinced the Natives that whites were thieving, lying kidnappers that could not fight and could not be trusted, but did have some neat stuff, and might be tolerated. This seemed to encourage the Iroquois [who the French attacked along with Algonquin allies] to begin forming a confederation.
Finally, just before mid-century, the Coronado and Soto entradas kicked off from Mexico and Cuba at virtually the same time. This resulted in a few genocides, the wiping out of a vast cultural basin in what became the Confederate States of America, the theft of all of the pearls belonging to the most beautiful woman in the world [like aliens mugging Angelina Jolie] and the introduction of the horse to the plains Indians. Coronado was a rich brutal prick that had little short-term impact, but huge long-term effects, on the South West. Soto was a full-blown psychopath in command of a personal army that, would, in today’s terms, be the equivalent of a U.S Marine Corp mechanized task force, including naval assets and main battle tanks. The Vikings, having failed to impose their will on a stone-age enemy with their iron-age technology, looking down from Valhalla, were no doubt jealous to the core…
Pathfinder
20th Century Fox
2007, 99 minutes
The cinematography had a ‘fantasy’ feel to it. The action was good, and the acting passable. The best part about this movie was the Vikings. Although the story is set in the 10th Century, the Vikings appear as a cross between 13th Century Norse main battle forces in Europe, like the Varangian Guard in Constantinople, and Soto’s 16th Century Indian-hunting army. I really liked the fact that the Indians spoke English and the Norse spoke a Germanic language that was subtitled in the movie. It gave the feel of an evil alien invader. Since it was billed as fantasy I have no problem with the time period mixing. The visual nature of the battle scenes seemed to be heavily based on Frank Frazetta’s interpretations of Robert E. Howard’s Conan stories, particularly his painting of the Frost Giant’s Daughter. The protagonist who fights the Vikings has a Conan look and the Vikings come off more as armored giants than men.
The story line is simple enough that I don’t want to give any part of it away. So I’ll leave that alone. I would, one day, like to see a movie about the Norse-Indian encounters that takes in both sides of the clash. Overall it was a good time, and did an excellent job of depicting the nightmare that the natives of Florida faced in the early 16th Century.
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