Erik the Viking is one of the films that Terry Jones of Monty Python directed solo, and it gives you a clue as to why Terry Gilliam ended up being the more prolific director. Jones, who recently passed away, was best known for being the ‘British Terry’ in the comedy group. The two Terries made Monty Python and the Holy Grail together. When Life of Brian was made, Gilliam had just done Jabberwocky and wanted to develop some projects of his own, and so had a reduced role in that film. Jones then took over on Life of Brian and The Meaning of Life. Another Jones film, Personal Services, was one of only four banned in the Republic of Ireland… the other were the last 2 Python films! Just before making Erik the Viking, he had also just written one of the early drafts for Labyrinth, as well as a children’s book that is related to Erik the Viking.
The film is a Monty Python-infused take on the Norse myth of Erik the Viking. Both Jones and Gilliam were very fond of mythology and fairy tales. It starred Tim Robbins, who was still pretty fresh-faced at that point and had just been in Bull Durham, the first film where he was really noticed. It’s a silly Viking romp where Erik (Robbins) decides he doesn’t have a taste for raping and pillaging, but does have a mission that he needs to carry out. Erik is supposed to go to Asgard, where he can ask the Gods to end Ragnarök. While they are traveling, Loki the trickster is conspiring to sabotage them. All the Gods turn out to be perpetual children who have no interest in humans.
It feels like Jones is trying to do a Gilliam film but not quite hitting it. It has some of the typical anti-religious aspects always prevalent in Python. Though not as clever as their best, It’s still an entertaining watch, and John Cleese is actually not too bad in it in his role as Halfdan the Black, a warlord who fears the threat of peace.
Some of the film has not dated well, but it’s better than some of Jones’ later work. Eartha Kitt makes an appearance as a wise woman, and Mickey Rooney also shows up. Various mutual friends of Jones via Gilliam, like Jim Broadbent and Charles McKeown, have roles as well, as does the great British character actor Freddie Jones.
There’s a fun production design, with shooting taking place on Shepperton sets as well as in Norway and Malta under the eye of veteran British cinematographer Ian Wilson. The performances are fine for what it is, although I would have preferred a more serious take. If you like Gilliam and Monty Python, you’ll enjoy it, even if it falls short of Jones’ previous work.
The package includes the original theatrical release, as well as the shorter ‘The Director’s Son’s Cut’—which is terrible, so you can avoid it. There is a new commentary track on the original version by the film historian Mike McPadden who sadly recently passed away and writer/producer Aaron Lee; the other cut has an audio commentary from Terry Jones. The list of extras adds multiple featurettes on Jones as a director, the special effects and much more, and also includes the original trailer, a new booklet with an essay by Neil Mitchell and raw interview footage with Cleese.