Review by Egill M. Arnarsson, photo courtesy of Hrafn Gunnlaugsson.
After receiving much praise from all over the world, from film critics, historians as well as the general public, The Raven Trilogy by Hrafn Gunnlaugsson is finally out on DVD. Better yet, the third film in the cult series, The White Viking, has now been released as Embla – The Director’s cut of The White Viking.
Hrafn Gunnlaugsson (born 1948), director of The Raven Trilogy is a colorful character to say the least. One does only have to visit his website to be convinced of that. But regardless of how people may describe Gunnlaugsson, he actually did, in his own words, “put the Icelandic film industry on the world map” with his extraordinary and realistic filmmaking, true to the Viking legends sprung directly from the old Icelandic Sagas.
Gunnlaugsson’s Viking films, made in 1984, 1988 and 1991 are still among the largest, most ambitious Icelandic film productions ever. Although the set of each film was dominated by Scandinavian professionals, Iceland luckily gets the credit.
In 2007, Gunnlaugsson sat down to reedit The White Viking to tell the story of Embla, the bride of the White Viking (Gottskálk D. Sigurdarson (born 1974)) and the daughter of a high priest of Odin. By doing this, he wanted to tell the story as he first imagined it, so he fixed this version around Embla, making considerable changes to the plot.
Instead of telling the story of the brave Viking who had to convert a whole nation into Christianity in order to save his bride, Gunnlaugsson decided to dwell with the captured Embla in her cell as she waits for her noble husband to return and set her free. Strangely enough, this works. The main reason is probably because the White Viking is an extremely dull character and Sigurdarson’s performance is laughable, destroying what could be a much stronger character.
Embla was Swedish-born Maria Bonnevie’s (born 1973) first screen role. On the back of the film’s homemade DVD cover, it clearly states that Bonnevie had only been “fifteen years of age” when she starred in the film. Oddly, according to other sources, such as IMDb and Rotten Tomatoes, she was three years older at the time.
If Bonnevie really was 15 when the film was shot, that is a rather disturbing fact because the actress is stark naked in the film’s first and rather dodgy scene. Nakedness aside, she does a decent job at portraying the strong young woman who continuously shows what she is made of; denying converting to Christianity and even refusing the generous offer of becoming the queen of Norway. Also, Bonnevie’s Icelandic is, strangely enough, perfect, even though her parents are both Scandinavian and she was raised with her mother in Norway.
As for other members of cast, Egill Ólafsson (Med allt á hreinu (1982), delivers the best performance of the cast as the one-eyed King Ólafur Tryggvasson, frantically praising the one White Christ. Apart from that, only a few other performances exceed average.
Some great action scenes are found in Embla, but they are all much too short to reach a climax. Irritatingly, some scenes are brutally cut and in some cases only a few frames of a shot are shown, a huge discomfort to the viewer’s eye.
The same can be said about the film’s somber score, which at times seemed more fitting for a spaghetti western than a brutal Viking film, introducing a shrilling trumpet and a classical piano to the era. With more or longer action scenes, a better ending and a more powerful score the film would defiantly have been more entertaining.
The sets are quite remarkable and probably the most significant sets ever seen in an Icelandic film to date (usually the Icelandic landscape does all the work). It is obvious that a great amount of work was put into making everything look as authentic as possible. Embla’s sets, costumes, props and make-up are easily compatible with today’s low-budget Hollywood or European films.
The Raven Trilogy by Hrafn Gunnlaugsson, cult films or not, are probably Iceland’s most ambitious film productions to date, even though the crew mainly consisted of experienced Scandinavians.
A cult film does not receive stars, it receives respect.
(The Raven Triology is available for purchase on Gunnlaugsson's website.)
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Egill M. Arnarsson is multimedia designer from The School of Multimedia in Reykjavík. He graduated with distinction from the Fine Arts Department of the Vocational School in Akureyri (VMA) in 2004 and in 2005 he studied Film and Television at the University of Wales. He is an amateur filmmaker and graphic designer currently working as a game designer; click here for Arnarsson’s online portfolio.