Before watching the movie:
This just sounds odd. It doesn’t help that all the summaries I’ve seen are one sentence long. As I recall, it runs something like Erik starts Ragnarok because he’s bored. That sounds like a two minute sketch. I don’t see how it can last as long as it does. But it’s Pythonesque, so I have to trust that it’s fun.
After watching the movie:
Erik finds the viking life of pillaging and marauding savage and impersonal. When the woman he’s too incompetent and personable to rape is killed, he sets out to find a way to end the savagery of the world and learns that the world is in the Age of Ragnarok, the sun swallowed by Fenrir the Wolf, and mankind locked in eternal war. In order to ask the Gods to bring an end to the Age, Erik must journey to the island of Hy-Brasil to obtain the Horn Resounding, which will transport him to the land of the Gods on the first note, awaken the Gods on the second, and return him home on the third. He takes a boat and sets sail with the warriors of his village. However, there are those for whom Ragnarok is good who will stand in his way.
I try to stick to theatrical release versions, especially when there are major differences between cuts. Fortunately, the version I obtained was the theatrical cut. Unfortunately, the theatrical cut satisfied nobody. Terry Jones cut 18 minutes out of it for the initial home video release, and his son chopped off another 14 for DVD. I can fully believe the movie would be better if it were 32 minutes shorter. The pace drags for most of the movie, particularly at the beginning. There’s a lot of jokes at the village, particularly in introducing the characters going on the voyage, but the movie didn’t actually hook me until they arrived at Hy-Brasil. There’s a sea battle with a dragon before that point, and somehow it was the absolute nadir of my engagement with the film. It still sags some after arriving at Hy-Brasil, but not nearly as much.
Some lessons suddenly appear toward the end. Some are more overt morals that would feel at home in the children’s book this was inspired by, some are more subtle satires on religion. “The Gods can’t make men stop fighting, that’s their own decision to make” would be a more satisfying moral if it was acted upon, but Erik doesn’t get a chance to start practicing it. The finale is just a fast-paced jumble of reversals Erik doesn’t really have anything to do with and then a sudden halt. On the other hand, it’s also the only moment I laughed out loud at, so it’s not a total loss.
I’m not sure what’s an artistic decision and what’s bad/cheap cinematography. Most scenes are blueish, flat, and desaturated, but that’s probably because it’s cold and bleak. Hy-Brasil, a sunlit utopia, is more colorful, but it doesn’t feel as lush as I think they intended. Is this how all fantasies looked in the late 80s/early 90s? It seems like a throwback to cheap 60s/70s films, but with less film grain. At least the bluescreen effects are better than The Neverending Story.
Watch this movie: if you really like Monty Python alums.
Don’t watch this movie: in the theatrical cut.