RAGNAROK (2013 - Norwegian)

Studio:       Magnet Releasing
Director:    Mikkel Braenne Sandemose
Writer:       John Kare Raake
Producer:  Martin Sundland, Are Heidenstrom
Stars:     Pal Sverre Hagen, Nicolai Cleve Broch, Sofia Helin, Bjorn Sundquist, Julian Rasmussen Podolski, Maria Annette Tanderod Berglyd

Review Score:


An archeologist and his family set out to uncover a connection between a fabled Viking ship and the Norse mythology of Ragnarok.



It might be slightly disingenuous, although not at all inaccurate, to liken “Ragnarok” to a Norwegian “Jurassic Park.”  It certainly carries the same core character dynamic of two male leads (a la Jeff Goldblum and Sam Neill), age appropriate love interest (Laura Dern), opportunistic weasel who wrecks everything (Wayne Knight), and a little boy and girl for the younger set to relate with (those two child actors whose names can only be recalled by consulting IMDB).  All that is missing is Richard Attenborough’s John Hammond equivalent.

Anytime a struggling researcher is on the brink of a bold discovery in a movie, you can bet that his/her unfortunate timing will coincide with a grant money gravy train running out of coal.  That is precisely the match lighting this movie’s story, as archaeologist Sigurd Svendsen finds his funding fire snuffed out when museum sponsors get wind of his crazy theories involving runes, Ragnarok, and the Viking ship Oseberg.  That leaves Sigurd and his buddy Allan to investigate on their own as the Swiss Family Svendsen takes a stab at Indiana Jones-style adventure.

Getting in the way of Sigurd’s passionate dedication to solving a centuries-old mystery is the responsibility of raising his two young children as a run-ragged widower.  Mounting obligations on both fronts make Sigurd the kind of busy father destined to miss his daughter’s recital the moment she pointedly reminds his preoccupied brain of the afternoon event.

While the plot may involve exploring uncharted territory and unearthing new discoveries, “Ragnarok” itself does just the opposite with its scene structure and setups.  Content to cull its playing pieces from every adventure epic and cliffhanger serial that came before it, the movie plays it so safe that an audience can walk blindfolded through the storyline and still see everything coming.

As soon as the grizzled wilderness guide in his dirty tank top and rifle slung over one shoulder walks onscreen, the question is not if, but when he will pick his moment to turn traitor.  The same goes for a scene of the core quintet taking turns ziplining over a deadly lake.  Someone’s carabineer is definitely getting stuck in the middle of that rope.  The only unknown is who.

Yet the actors portray likable people that are so easy to root for, and director Mikkel Braenne Sandemose stages everything with such kid glove sincerity for the tropes being employed, that disdain over the familiarity fades fast.  Replacing it is an appreciation the movie evokes for classic accessible fantasy thick with PG-rated thrills and Spielberg-esque charms.

Playing no small part in creating the Amblin Entertainment feel are composer Magnus Beite and cinematographer Daniel Voldheim.  With far less orchestra players than John Williams has ever conducted, Beite accurately recreates that sweeping, soaring pulse beat that is an audible staple of feel-good fantastic voyage films.  And Voldheim only has to turn on his camera and let the lush Scandinavian countryside fill in the visual blanks for him.

“Ragnarok” does become trapped in its own forest of stalled momentum during the midsection.  Its tale about discovering an ancient snakelike creature plays so coy with teasing the monster’s appearance that Act Two is like an extended game of hide and seek.  But there are worse ways to wade through the runtime than being locked in spelunker mode with an affable cast and a top-notch presentation.  When the creature finally does slither onscreen, director Sandemose once again wrings every drop of production value from a stunning sea beast rivaling any T-Rex or raptor that the “Jurassic Park” franchise has ever had to offer.

No matter how many boilerplate story beats and seen before character types are used as links in its predictable plot chain, “Ragnarok” squeezes so much quality from its all-ages appeal that fun trounces formula.  Far from being a mold breaker in the action adventure genre, “Ragnarok” practically is the mold.  At the same time, it would take an incredibly miserly heart to hate on a movie with such pure intentions for family friendly entertainment.

NOTE: The film’s full original title was “Gaten Ragnarok.”

Review Score:  70