Director/Screenplay – Terry Jones, Based on his Novel The Saga of Erik the Viking, Producer – John Goldstone, Photography – Ian Wilson, Music – Neil Innes, Special Effects – Richard Conway, Production Design – John Beard. Production Company – John Goldstone/Prominent Pictures/KB Erik the Viking Productions.
Tim Robbins (Erik), Imogen Stubbs (Princess Aud), Tim McInnerny (Sven), Freddie Jones (Harald), Charles McKeown (Sven’s Father), Gary Cady (Keitel Blacksmith), John Cleese (Halfdan the Black), Terry Jones (King Arnulf), Anthony Sher (Loki), John Gordon Sinclair (Ivar), Samantha Bond (Helga), Mickey Rooney (Grandfather), Eartha Kitt (Freya)
During a raiding party, the Viking Erik bursts in on Helga but his attempts to rape her fail to quite go right. After she is accidentally killed, he becomes disillusioned with the Norse way of life and wants to know if there is more than perpetual drinking, raping and pillaging. He seeks the advice of a crazy old woman who tells him that they are living in the Age of Ragnarok. To deliver the world from this age of violence into an age of peace, he needs to find the Horn of Resounding. And so Erik drums up a quest to travel to the mythical Land of Hy-Brasil and obtain the Horn so that he can entreat the Gods of Asgard to bring Ragnarok to an end.
Terry Jones was of course one of the core members of the Monty Python troupe. It was he who directed the Python’s three principal cinematic outings, Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975), Monty Python’s The Life of Brian (1979) and Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life (1983). Outside of Python, Jones had made occasional appearances as an actor, wrote the screenplay for the Jim Henson-George Lucas fantasy Labyrinth (1986) and several children’s books, even the novelisation for Douglas Adams’s computer game Starship Titanic (1997). He then went onto direct original material with Personal Services (1986), a serious film about prostitution. Erik the Viking was an original work of fantasy, based on his children’s book The Saga of the Erik the Viking (1983).
Nothing seems sorrier than comedy that thinks it is funny and isn’t – and Erik the Viking has all the life of a wet blanket. There are one or two funny jokes – like the subtitled Japanese slavemaster berating slaves with curses about horizontal-eyed people who have never committed ritual suicide, and the opening rape attempt where the intended rapee Samantha Bond has the upper hand on forlorn Tim Robbins.
Mostly, the film consists of extended gags about the Hy-Brasilians inability to make music or Tim Robbins’ hiding in a cloak of invisibility that just drag on and on and on with an unfunny awfulness that leaves one screaming, wishing it would stop. Jones just never seems to know when to bring a scene to an end or when he isn’t being funny. His idea of comedy seems to be having people sitting about and yelling in unison for minutes at a time.
All the supporting cast overact but sadly the greatest offender is Jones himself who acts to excess in a horribly unfunny way as the king of Hy-Brasil. Tim Robbins is at least well cast with a convincing touch of melancholy about him, and the lovely Imogen Stubbs twinkles appealingly.
Although the film had a high profile release, the budget was clearly low and the effects look cheap. There is some very poor matte work going off the edge of the world. The eventual arrival at Asgard is inadequately conveyed in a series of shabby sets and effects that make it come out looking like a cheap Christmas card.
Terry Jones’s only subsequent directorial outing was a live-action adaptation of The Wind in the Willows (1996), which is a much more successful fantasy film.