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Pathfinder: Unrated DVD Review

Pathfinder (2007) movie poster - click to buy Pathfinder

Theatrical Release: April 13, 2007 / Running Time: 107 Minutes (Theatrical Cut: 99 Minutes) / Rating: Unrated (Theatrical Cut: R)

Director: Marcus Nispel

Cast: Karl Urban (Ghost), Moon Bloodgood (Starfire), Russell Means (Pathfinder), Clancy Brown (Gunmar), Ralf Moeller (Ulfar), Jay Tavares (Black Wing), Nathaniel Arcand (Wind in Tree), Kevin Loring (Jester), Wayne Charles Baker (Father), Burkeley Duffield (Ghost - 12 years old), Stefany Mathias (Mother)

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By Kelvin Cedeno

Films created on an epic scale have grown in number since the turn of the millennium. Some have become smash hits (the Lord of the Rings trilogy, 300), while others have had a harder time finding an audience (Alexander, Kingdom of Heaven). After no less than six different scheduled release dates, Pathfinder finally arrived in theaters with little fanfare on April 13, 2007, nearly ten months after its original planned opening. Postponing a film's debut several times is never a good sign, but when the final release falls on Friday the 13th, then there's real reason to worry. I wish I could say Pathfinder rises above such omens, but unfortunately I can't.

The film begins with a Tarzan-esque flashback. A Native American woman (Stefany Mathias) inexplicably follows a white horse through the woods. She stumbles upon an abandoned Viking ship filled with corpses.
While others may decide to flee such a grim scene, she explores it further and comes across a frail 12-year old boy (Burkeley Duffield). She brings him to her tribe, much to the protests of the council members. They argue that the boy may turn on them and betray them, but the woman and her husband (Wayne Charles Baker) offer to take responsibility for him.

We then flash forward fifteen years. The boy, now 27 and christened as "Ghost" (Karl Urban), frequently isolates himself from others. A neighboring and unnamed tribe comes to visit, led by the Pathfinder (Russell Means), a shaman who is looking for a successor. While both tribes intermingle, Ghost can't help but notice the beautiful Starfire (Moon Bloodgood), and her possessive boyfriend Black Wing (Jay Tavares) can't help but notice Ghost's noticing. The Pathfinder tells Ghost he must face the demons of his past before joining the council, news Ghost receives less than graciously.

This is the elusive white horse that leads a Native American woman to an abandoned Viking ship. The horse makes a second appearance at the end of the film. Ghost (Karl Urban) shows one of his two facial expressions in this scene from "Pathfinder."

After hunting in the woods, Ghost returns to the find the village in flames and all of its inhabitants dead. The Vikings, led by Gunmar (Clancy Brown), challenge Ghost to a fight apparently to entertain themselves. Their entertainment is short-lived when they realize he can handle a sword well, and after slaying several men, Ghost goes on the run. He flees to the neighboring village where somehow the members like Starfire and Pathfinder have managed to flee back to. After warning everyone that the Vikings are coming, Ghost sets out to tackle them himself, assisted by the clumsy mute Jester (Kevin Loring). Select members of the surviving tribe (including Black Wing, Starfire, and Pathfinder) come to the decision to fight back rather than runaway with the others. Once they've all caught up with Ghost, plans are made for an ensuing battle against Gunmar and his men, who are still wandering about looking for Ghost, other tribes, or both.

If you think that's a fairly slim plot, you'd be correct. Pathfinder offers little in the way of story material. Scenes usually consist of either fairly graphic action or cryptic musings. What little story it does have feels tired and predictable. With some films, it isn't about what's being said, but rather how it's being said. This film can't rise to that task, either. To reach every simple plot point that can be seen a mile away, it makes very bizarre and random choices without rhyme or reason. Things like this sometimes occur when a film is based on a novel and cuts corners assuming the audience is familiar with the source material. That excuse can't apply here, though, as Pathfinder is an "original" screenplay. Editing can't be blamed, either, as there is no indication in the commentary that anything substantial was cut out outside of the scenes featured in the supplements.

A few films miraculously get away with messy storytelling if they can provide a memorable cast of characters and rousing action. Even here Pathfinder manages to fumble. In one scene, a little girl asks Ghost why he's so serious. My first reaction was how she was able to pinpoint him when everyone else is also rather humdrum. There's little dialogue in the film, and what's there can't even define the people we see, let alone give them names outside of the credits. The only somewhat endearing character in the whole piece is Jester, and he's merely comic relief without any lines. Everyone else feels like the same character split up with different faces.

Starfire (Moon Bloodgood) is surprised to find Ghost in a cave, despite the fact that she was actively looking for him. Gunmar (Clancy Brown) shows surprise at finding a white man in a native tribe by tilting his head sideways.

The Vikings aren't much better. While Gunmar is introduced intriguingly (he berates his men for playfully torturing a native rather than honorably killing him with a sword), he still ends up coming across as a two-dimensional villain. To make matters increasingly odd, all of the Vikings speak in Icelandic while the Native Americans speak English. If our protagonist didn't understand both languages, then the choice would be an interesting one since it would make the villains seem aloof to us while the tribes come across as more tangible.
Because Ghost is bilingual, though, the gimmick ends up as both curious and useless. The action also feels very ordinary and nothing special. There's no real sense of urgency or peril, even with throwaway character deaths. The staging just feels by-the-book, with nothing breaking the mold.

Despite its relatively short running time, I found myself bored throughout Pathfinder. It had the potential to be something special, but instead comes across as simply bland. Note that the version being reviewed is the Unrated Cut, which runs seven minutes longer than the theatrical cut. Outside of a sensual-but-harmless scene between Ghost and Starfire (which is featured as a deleted scene on the R-rated disc), I couldn't discern what was re-inserted for this cut. There are some graphic shots, to be sure, but considering the theatrical version was R-rated to begin with, what we see here doesn't come close to NC-17 territory as the disc title may suggest. Whether the seamless nature of the re-inserted footage was the result of good editing and color timing or a lack of interest on my part is up to you.

Buy Pathfinder: Unrated DVD from Amazon.com DVD Details

2.35:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
DTS 5.1 (English), Dolby Digital 5.1 (English)
Subtitles: English, English for Hearing Impaired, French, Spanish; Closed Captioned
Release Date: July 31, 2007
Single-sided, dual-layered disc (DVD-9)
Suggested Retail Price: $29.99
Also available on Theatrical Cut DVD

VIDEO and AUDIO

Pathfinder is presented in a 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer. Since a screener copy (in which all of the disc contents are crammed onto a single layer) was used for this review, the picture quality experienced by me, plagued with compression artifacts and noise, is not indicative of the final product. Colors, though, seemed to be presented well, adhering to the film's desaturated visual style. Blacks remained deep and solid, though there was some fine grain on the picture that may or may not have been intentional. The soundtrack on this disc arrives in both Dolby Digital 5.1 and DTS 5.1, the difference of which is negligible here. Good use of the surrounds were made during the action sequences, and both the dialogue (what little there was) and musical score came across clearly without having to fight over each other.

While imprisoned by the Vikings, Starfire looks shocked as Ghost reveals that he can speak Icelandic, as Pathfinder (Russell Means) continues his trademark staring off into space. Director Marcus Nispel discusses how he came aboard Pathfinder in the featurette "The Beginning." A piece of concept art depicting the Viking ship. This, and the other concept art pieces, would later be used for the "Pathfinder" graphic novel.

BONUS FEATURES and MENUS

Despite the film's meager box office takings ($10 million domestically, i.e. less than a quarter of the budget), Fox has treated Pathfinder to a fairly solid disc.
The first extra is an audio commentary track by director Marcus Nispel. Single-participant commentaries can be rather dry and tedious. While Nispel occasionally falls into that territory, he's often fairly interesting. Most of his remarks deal with the behind-the-scenes aspects of production rather than motivations and intentions. This -- coupled with some slow spots and a lack of explanation for random plot points -- hinders the track from becoming truly satisfactory. It still turns out to be more listenable than expected, though, especially considering the solo nature and the quality of the film in question.

Next, we have seven deleted scenes (10:15), presented non-color-timed in a letterbox format, complete with timestamps. Most of these are actually extended versions of sequences that made it into the final film. The excess content was deleted for good reason: the serious scenes are redundant and spout out information covered elsewhere. The comedic scenes (including flatulence and a peek at someone's, erm, "package") just feel bizarrely out of tune with the rest of the film. Nispel returns to comment on these scenes, admitting how redundant some of them are. Curiously, though, he defends the comedic ones, stating how he only cut them because the test audiences didn't "get" them.

Next up are seven short featurettes that may as well have been combined into a documentary. "The Beginning" (5:13) deals with the pre-production process and how the makers wanted the film to look and feel like a graphic novel come to life. "The Design" (6:31) goes through the creation of sets and costumes via various experiments in concept art. "The Build" (5:08) offers more of the same, as we see the construction of various sets and the materials that went into the costumes and props. "The Shoot" (5:39) provides the cast's perspective and contains many behind-the-scenes shots of the filming process. "The Stunts" (5:34) is pretty self-explanatory, showcasing the use of wirework and stunt doubles for the film's action sequences. "We Shoot Now!: Marcus Nispel on the Set of Pathfinder" (2:36), essentially random B-roll footage with the director as the focus, is somewhat bizarre. "Clancy Brown: Cult Hero" (2:39) is an interview with the actor in question interspersed with glowing comments from his peers. Overall, these featurettes (while not in-depth), do give a decent look at the film's creation, even if nothing in the post-production process is covered. What's interesting to note is that the first five featurettes (all 16x9-enhanced) seem to have been made for DVD whereas the letterboxed final two appear to be promotional clips from the film's release.

In the rather ADD-style featurette "We Shoot Now", Marcus Nispel directs Russell Means on how to act tortured, via split-screen. A shot from "Pathfinder"'s concept trailer, which would later be recreated almost identically in the final film. "Pathfinder" serves up an overly desaturated main menu.

The most fascinating feature on the disc is a concept trailer (4:16). This trailer, shot in a single day,



More Pathfinder posters,
photos, and prints
was used to give the studio executives at Fox an idea of what the film would look and feel like. It's interesting to note the differences and similarities between what's staged for this trailer and what ended up in the final film. In a move that too few studios make these days, Pathfinder's theatrical trailer (2:26) is also included. Why most new releases don't bother with these is anyone's guess, but it's good to see Fox (usually) include original release trailers, and in anamorphic widescreen, to boot.

The disc opens up with trailers for Perfect Creature, Day Watch, and Night Watch (the latter two in strange order, considering Day is the sequel to Night). Trailers for 28 Weeks Later, Wrong Turn 2, Lake Placid 2, and Mr. Brooks are also included in the bonus material section.

Pathfinder's adequate main menu presents various shots from the film within a steel gray border, the top of which shows the jewelry worn by the Native Americans, while the bottom is a heap of Viking armor. The menu selections are presented above the armor and beneath the montage screen while a percussion-heavy score plays. The rest of the menus keep the steel gray look, but include still photos beside each page of selections rather than animation; no musical score is accompanied.

While escaping from the Vikings, Ghost falls... by some falls. The Winter X game judges are only slightly impressed. Ghost (Karl Urban) and Starfire (Moon Bloodgood) emote ever so slightly more than usual at seeing the mysterious white horse.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

While Pathfinder attempts to create an epic period piece, it ends up failing in every regard. It isn't a "so bad it's good" type of film, and it can't even be considered cringe-inducing. It simply is limp and lifeless, which is arguably a greater sin than a film that's outright abysmal. The disc, though, is rather decent, but isn't strong enough to check out on its own merits. Even die-hard fans of epic dramas would do better spending their money elsewhere as there's little in the way of entertainment in this forgettable piece.

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Reviewed July 17, 2007.



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