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The Northman is a 2022 American epic historical film directed by Robert Eggers, who co-wrote the screenplay with Sjón. Based on the legend of Amleth, the film stars co-producer Alexander Skarsgård, Nicole Kidman, Claes Bang, Anya Taylor-Joy, Ethan Hawke, Björk, and Willem Dafoe. The plot follows Amleth, a Viking prince who sets out on a quest to avenge the murder of his father.

The Northman
The Northman.png
Theatrical release poster
Directed byRobert Eggers
Written by
Based onThe legend of Amleth
by Saxo Grammaticus
Produced by
Starring
CinematographyJarin Blaschke
Edited byLouise Ford
Music by
Production
companies
Distributed by
Release dates
  • March 28, 2022 (2022-03-28) (Rigoletto Cinema)
  • April 22, 2022 (2022-04-22) (United States)
Running time
137 minutes[1]
CountryUnited States
Languages
  • English
  • Old Norse
  • Old East Slavic
Budget$70–90 million[2][3]
Box office$68.9 million[4][5]

Skarsgård had wanted to make a Viking film for several years, and Eggers decided to make the film his third project after the pair met to discuss possible collaborations. Much of the cast joined in October 2019, and filming took place in locations throughout Northern Ireland and Iceland from August to December 2020.

The Northman had its world premiere in Stockholm at Rigoletto Cinema on March 28, 2022. It began theatrical release in some countries on April 13, 2022, and was released theatrically in the United States on April 22 to critical acclaim, with particular praise aimed at its direction, production values, and the performances of the cast. Despite this, it performed poorly at the box office, grossing $68 million worldwide against its $70–90 million production budget, though the film performed well on the VOD and DVD/Blu-ray markets.

Plot

In AD 895, King Aurvandill returns to the island of Hrafnsey after his overseas conquests, reuniting with his wife, Queen Gudrún, and his heir, Prince Amleth. To prepare Amleth for his eventual ascension, the two participate in a spiritual ceremony overseen by Aurvandill's jester, Heimir. The next morning, Aurvandill's bastard brother Fjölnir murders the king, raids his hillfort and carries away Gudrún. Amleth flees by boat swearing vengeance.

Years later, Amleth lives as a berserker with a band of Vikings. After an attack in Gardariki, Amleth encounters a Seeress in the temple of Svetovit; the Seeress predicts that Amleth will soon take revenge on Fjölnir, and that his path is intertwined with a Maiden-King. Amleth learns that Fjölnir was overthrown by Harald of Norway and lives in exile in Iceland. Posing as a slave, Amleth sneaks aboard a ship. He encounters a Slavic woman named Olga, who claims to be a sorceress. They are taken to Fjölnir's farm, where he learns his mother has married and bore a son named Gunnar with Fjölnir.

One night, Amleth encounters a He-witch, who facilitates a spiritual dialogue between Amleth and the late Heimir, revealed to have been murdered by Fjölnir. He then tells Amleth about Draugr, a magical sword at the Gates of Hel. Amleth enters a mound and obtains the blade after fighting the undead Mound Dweller. The next day, Amleth is selected to compete in a game of knattleikr against another farm. The game turns violent and Gunnar is almost killed, but Amleth saves him. As a reward, Fjölnir's adult son, Thorir, grants him overseer duties and allows him to choose a woman.

During the evening celebrations, Amleth and Olga have sex; they promise to overcome Fjölnir together. Amleth kills several of Fjölnir's men, and Olga mixes their food with fly agaric, a potent hallucinogen. The ensuing chaos allows Amleth to enter Fjölnir's house. He meets his mother who reveals that she was originally taken into slavery, and that Amleth's conception was the result of rape. She reveals that she wanted Aurvandill and Amleth dead; she tries but fails to seduce Amleth. Enraged, Amleth kills Thorir and steals his heart.

Gudrún reveals Amleth's true identity to Fjölnir, and calls for him to kill him. Fjölnir threatens to kill Olga, but Amleth offers to trade Olga's life for Thorir's heart. After a severe beating, Amleth is released from his restraints by a flock of ravens. Olga rescues Amleth and the two escape by boat. Amleth has a vision and discovers that Olga is pregnant with twins, one of whom will become the Maiden-King prophesied by the Seeress. Fearing that his children will never be safe, Amleth decides to kill his uncle and jumps overboard, despite Olga's pleas.

Back at the farm, Amleth frees the slaves and kills most of Fjölnir's men. While searching for Fjölnir, Amleth is attacked by his mother and drives Draugr through her heart. Gunnar attacks Amleth, stabbing him repeatedly in the back before Amleth kills him. Fjölnir, discovering his wife and son dead, tells Amleth to meet him at the Gates of Hell—the crater of the volcano Hekla—to resolve the conflict via holmgang. At the volcano, Amleth and Fjölnir engage in a fierce swordfight; Fjölnir is decapitated, and Amleth is fatally wounded. As Amleth lies dying, he has a future vision of Olga embracing their twin children, before a valkyrie appears to carry him through the gates of Valhalla.

Cast

(Clockwise from the top left) The Northman stars Alexander Skarsgård, Nicole Kidman, Claes Bang, Willem Dafoe, Ethan Hawke and Anya Taylor-Joy

Production

Development

Born to a Swedish family, Alexander Skarsgård had been fascinated with Viking history and mythology since childhood, and had long sought a Viking-themed project with the help of producer Lars Knudsen.[7] In 2011, Skarsgård was attached to a Warner Bros. epic with the working title The Vanguard, which ultimately did not materialize.[8] Robert Eggers became interested in making a Viking film following a 2016 trip to Iceland with his wife Alexandra Shaker, who is a fan of Old Norse sagas.[3] During the trip Eggers met Björk, who in turn introduced Eggers to Sjón.[9] In 2017, Skarsgård met Eggers to discuss future projects, but the discussion quickly turned to a Viking Age‐themed film.[7][10][11] Eggers subsequently reached out to Sjón and the two began researching and writing the screenplay.[9]

The story of The Northman was based primarily on the legend of Amleth as written by Danish historian Saxo Grammaticus, known as the direct inspiration for William Shakespeare's Hamlet.[12][13] Eggers cited the Poetic Edda, the Prose Edda, Egil's Saga, Grettir's Saga, the Eyrbyggja saga and the Saga of Hrolfr Kraki as additional influences.[12] Archaeologist Neil Price at Uppsala University, folklorist Terry Gunnell at the University of Iceland and Viking historian Jóhanna Katrín Friðriksdóttir served as historical consultants on the film.[14][3] Eggers also acknowledged Conan the Barbarian as a source of inspiration.[12]

In October 2019, it was announced that Eggers would direct an epic Viking revenge saga, which he would also co-write with Sjón. Skarsgård, Nicole Kidman, Anya Taylor-Joy, Bill Skarsgård (Alexander's brother), and Willem Dafoe were in talks to join the film.[15] They would all be confirmed that December, along with the addition of Claes Bang to the cast.[16] The film was officially in preparation in December 2019, and would begin filming in Belfast in 2020.[17][18] In August 2020, Björk, along with her daughter Ísadóra "Doa" Barney,[19] Kate Dickie and Ethan Hawke joined the cast of the film.[20][21][22] In September 2020, Bill Skarsgård announced he had dropped out of the film due to scheduling conflicts and was replaced with Gustav Lindh.[23]

Filming

Principal photography was to begin in March 2020,[24] but it was halted due to the COVID-19 pandemic.[25] Filming started in August 2020,[26] and wrapped early in December 2020, lasting 87 days.[27] Most of the filming took place in Northern Ireland. King Aurvandill's village was constructed at Torr Head on the coast of County Antrim, while Fjölnir's farm was built at Knockdhu near Larne. The scenes in the Land of the Rus were filmed at Portglenone, the Clandeboye Estate, Shane's Castle and on the River Bann. The Hightown quarry outside Belfast stood for the volcano Hekla, where the film's climatic fight takes place.[28] Brief sequences were filmed in Iceland at the Svínafellsjökull glacier and the town of Akureyri.[29]

Post-production

The film cost between $70–90 million to produce, which was higher than its original $65 million budget. Eggers and the studio worked together to find the most entertaining cut of the film. Eggers found this process the most difficult of his career, but the director and the studio were pleased with the final cut, which was approved on November 3, 2021.[3][2]

Release

Marketing

The film's advertising campaign briefly attracted notoriety due to a series of posters commissioned for the New York subway system that neglected to include the film's title.[30] Within a day of the subject going viral on Twitter, the posters were removed.[31] The film's advertising campaign additionally sponsored an episode of the web series Death Battle, with the midway segment of the episode featuring its characters interacting with the film and one of its axes.[32]

Theatrical

The Northman was originally scheduled to be released on April 8, 2022,[33] but was later pushed back to April 22, 2022. It was distributed by Focus Features in United States and by Universal Pictures internationally.[34] Special screenings were held in several cities worldwide ahead of the theatrical release; in Stockholm at Rigoletto Cinema on March 28,[35] in Hamburg at Astor Film Lounge on March 30,[36] in Rome at Cinema Troisi on April 1,[37] in London at Odeon Luxe Leicester Square on April 5,[38] in Belfast at Cineworld on April 6,[39] and in Los Angeles at TCL Chinese Theatre on April 18.[40] Wide releases began early in some countries; on April 13 in Denmark, Norway and Sweden, on April 14 in Czech Republic, Ecuador, Iceland, Mexico, Netherlands, Slovakia, Slovenia and Uruguay, and on April 15 in the United Kingdom and Lithuania.[5]

Home media

The Northman was released on VOD on May 13, 2022, on digital on June 6, 2022, and on Blu-ray, DVD and 4K Ultra HD on June 7, 2022 by Universal Pictures Home Entertainment in the United States.[41][42]

Tie-in media

A 160-page book written by Simon Abrams and Eggers about the film's production and research titled The Northman: A Call to the Gods, is scheduled to be released on September 6, 2022.[43]

Reception

Box office

As of June 20, 2022, The Northman has grossed $34.2 million in the United States and Canada, and $34.6 million in other territories, for a worldwide total of $68.9 million.[4][5]

In the U.S. and Canada, The Northman was released alongside The Bad Guys and The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent, and was projected to gross $8–15 million from 3,223 theaters in its opening weekend.[2][44][45] It made $5 million on its first day, including $1.4 million from Thursday night previews. The film went on to debut to $12.3 million in its opening weekend, finishing fourth at the box office.[46] Deadline Hollywood noted that The Northman and The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent were targeting the same demographic, which impacted their debuts.[47] The film earned $6.4 million in its second weekend, finishing fourth,[48] $2.9 million in its third weekend, finishing sixth,[49] $1.75 million in its fourth weekend, finishing seventh,[50] and $1.1 million in its fifth weekend, finishing tenth.[51] It dropped out of the box office top ten in its sixth weekend with $249,660.[52]

Outside of the U.S. and Canada, the film earned $3.4 million from 15 international markets in its opening weekend.[53] It made $6.3 million in its second weekend after expanding to 41 markets,[54] $4.5 million in its third weekend,[55] $2.2 million in its fourth,[56] $2.5 million in its fifth,[57] $2.9 million in its sixth,[58] and $1.4 million in its seventh.[59]

Home media performance

Eggers commented on the film's underwhelming box office, stating that "[The film] met the expectations of a bad marketplace... Am I disappointed that, three to four weeks in, we're on VOD because that's the way things are done in the post-COVID world? Yeah. But it's doing great on VOD, so there you go."[60] In its debut weekend on PVOD in the United States, the film was the top-rented title on iTunes, third on Vudu, and fourth on Google Play, making about the same amount of revenue as The Bad Guys and The Lost City despite grossing much less than both in theaters. IndieWire wrote that "The Northman looks like the type of film that, even with lower theatrical returns, is greatly elevated by that exposure."[61] The following week it finished third on the iTunes and Vudu charts and fifth on Google Play.[62]

In its debut week on DVD/Blu-Ray market, the film debuted at the No. 1 spot on both the NPD VideoScan First Alert chart (which tracks combined DVD and Blu-ray disc unit sales) and the Blu-ray disc sales chart for the week ending June 11 2022.[63][64]

Critical response

The review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes reported an approval rating of 89% based on 345 reviews, with an average rating of 7.7/10. The website's critical consensus reads, "A bloody revenge epic and breathtaking visual marvel, The Northman finds filmmaker Robert Eggers expanding his scope without sacrificing any of his signature style."[65] Metacritic assigned the film a weighted average score of 82 out of 100 based on 60 critics, indicating "universal acclaim".[66] Audiences polled by CinemaScore gave the film an average grade of "B" on an A+ to F scale, while those at PostTrak gave it a 75% positive score (with an average 3.5 out of 5 stars), with 56% saying they would definitely recommend it.[47]

The Guardian's Peter Bradshaw gave a 5 out of 5 score, praising the film's nihilistic tone and performances by the cast, stating that "It's entirely outrageous, with some epic visions of the flaring cosmos. I couldn't look away".[67] Digital Spy's Gabriella Geisinger gave a 5 out of 5 score and praised Eggers's visionary direction and the film's grisly and surreal atmosphere, claiming that "The world created in The Northman is so totally absorbing".[68] MovieZine's Alexander Kardelo gave the film a 4 out of 5 score and particularly praised Skarsgård's performance and Eggers' direction.[69] IndieWire's David Ehrlich called the film "primal, sinewy, gnarly-as-fuck", "grab-you-by-the-throat intense", and "never dull".[70] Games Radars Matt Maytum commented that the film is a "truly distinctive, unmissable epic" in his review, ultimately giving it a 5 out of 5 stars.[71] The Independent's Clarrise Loughrey gave a 5 out of 5 stars and stated in her review that the film was a "beautiful risk".[72] RogerEbert.com's Robert Daniels gave a 3 out of 4 score and praised the direction, cinematography, and cast performances, but found that the film "often stumbles when it searches for profundity".[73] The Austin Chronicle's Richard Whittaker called the film an "extraordinary feat of cinema", commending the direction.[74] The New York Times's A.O. Scott praised the world-building and cinematography, writing "Eggers's accomplishment lies in his fastidious, fanatical rendering of that world, down to its bed linens and cooking utensils".[75] The New Yorker's Richard Brody found that the film "offers no synesthesia, no evocation of any sense beside vision" and criticized Eggers's direction, ultimately concluding: "The Northman merely serves up its raw material both half-baked and overcooked".[76] Rolling Stone's K. Austin Collins wrote that "It’s an oft-stunning visual feast", but added "It is also an instructive example of how the most visionary intentions can’t always enliven an otherwise rote story."[77]

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