I saw The Sword of Xanten in a charity shop on Saturday for £3. OK, OK, it’s not a historical film. But it’s based on a medieval poem. That’s close enough, right? My wife points out that this means I can review Beowulf. I don’t know why she hates me.
In the world of bad movies, one standby is the dude who is a serious actor in his native wherever. Case in point: Benno Furmann. In Germany, he is, I gather, a reasonably big deal. In the English-speaking world, he’s in Mutant Chronicles. So it goes.
Anyway, we begin “1500 years ago,” when Europe is abandoning paganism in favour of Christianity. There is a canned spiel about Odin and the fires of the ancient powers fading. We are told we’re going to hear the story of a dude who slew a dragon. Cut to a castle, where a boy, who I assume is Young Siegfried, is seeing the place get invaded by, I don’t know, barbarians. Yes, he is young Siegfried. He beans an invader with a rock, which is pretty funny. As the castle falls and extras clang their swords together musically, our young hero is spirited away by his mum. We see some barbarian brothers who I suppose are gonna turn up later. There is unconvincing CGI. As always in films, bows shoot tracer rounds and plate armour is held on with string. Mum puts Baby Siggy on a log and floats him down the river before dying.
I do not remember this being in the Nibelungenlied. In fact, I have my copy right here, and it says:
Lord Sifrid was not generally troubled by emotions.
That is not gonna be the case in this film; we are not that lucky.
Siegfried is found by Max von Sydow. That’s good news. Meanwhile, Brunnhild (Kristanna Loken) is consulting an old crone who has a raven and some runes and … this is kind of a mashup of every stereotype about Vikin’s and Wagner and the various Volsung poems, isn’t it? Not a lot of the very medieval Nibelungenlied. There is a nice bit where Brunnhild is sailing on her Viking ship. Good scenery. She sees adult Siegfried, who has a dubious haircut, being all smith-apprenticey by the riverside. Along come some barbarians to reenact the beginning of Conan the Barbarian. Siegfried is called Eric and the blacksmith is called Eyvind. There is a fight. I am perfectly willing to believe that the guy swinging a sword in each hand is Max von Sydow, for sure. He was only 75 when this film was made, after all. Later, they talk about the gods and stuff, and an unconvincing CGI meteor falls from the sky. Brunnhild comes trotting through the misty wood on her white horsie.
At this point, my wife said “so, this has already been going for two hours. How much longer is it?”
I have whisky, so this review might deteriorate as time goes by. Brunnhild and Siegfried have a big fight. She is wearing a hooded cloak so that it is a big reveal she’s a girl, even though we just saw her a minute ago. Siegfried bests her, which no one has ever done, you know the drill. Siegfried takes the meteor, because I guess meteoric iron? They sex. She tells him she’s the queen of Iceland, which a) hasn’t been discovered yet, and b) didn’t have queens, and c) where the hell is this movie set anyway? It’s somewhere in Germany, right? Because there are Saxons and Burgundians …
Benno Furmann has a really annoying face.
Fafnir awakens in unconvincing CGI mode. Max von Sydow says “there are many tales of blacksmiths who became kings,” which is my favourite line so far, in that it acknowledges that this part of a continuum of legends. Siegfried and Eyvind are off to Burgundia in their boat. As they go, they see evidence that Fafnir has been buy, burninating the countryside. Burninating the peoples. Burninating all the peasants in their thatch-roofed cottages.
A mysterious dude (Hagen) tells another mysterious dude (Alberich) about the dragon and its corresponding dragon treasure hoard. Meanwhile sneering dickbag Giselher (Robert Pattinson of all people) and Love Interest #2 Kriemhild (Alicia Witt) are establishing their characters. Giselher doesn’t like Siegfried, because this show operates by Doctor Who rules. There is a brief pointless “quick, everyone attack him one at a time” fight in which people go “HA!” a lot. Benno Furmann does a lot of stunts shot from behind while Alicia Witt does her “what a man” face. King Gunther is a well-meaning dumbo. His sidekick Hagen is Julian Sands. Julian Sands! Doing, as my wife pointed out, an Alan Rickman impression.
Some of these costumes might actually have some elements that aren’t too out of keeping for sort of post-Roman barbarians. Alicia Witt looks haughtily down at people from a tower window for like a continuous minute. Giselher starts buttering up Siegfried, and is even more annoying when being nice. Siegfried is making a sword by twisting rods of metal together in the forge, which is a step up from Conan, anyway. According to Wikipedia, we’re not even 1/3 of the way into this smellhammer. Anyway, Gunther and his boys set off to fight Fafnir with predictable results. Siegfried swears to go slay the dragon. Sword montage!
Horsey ride, cave, unconvincing tough-guy yelling, tiny lizard fakeout, dragon, weird dragon hip structure, roaring, stab stab stab, thrills, spills, our hero. <– This takes approximately 60 hours. Siegfried tastes the dragon blood and, instead of gaining bird speech powers, starts tripping balls. He hears voices telling him to bathe in the dragon blood, and responds with a totally called-for butt shot. However, he has an unconvincing CGI leaf sticking to him. You know the drill. Ghosts tell him not to take the gold. They identify as Nibelungs, “people of mist,” deriving it from ON nifl, I guess? Outside, Alberich, in the form of Siegfried, jumps Siegfried, who is getting dumber by the minute.
ALBERICH: The magical Tarnhelm. You can keep it. It made me take your shape!
SIEGFRIED: What do I need that for? I look like me already.
That is actually a pretty good line, making a total of … one so far.
Brunnhild is setting tests for her ugly, hairy suitors in her mighty castle in Iceland. Mighty castle that looks like a longhouse inside. Basically she doesn’t live in Iceland; she lives in Skyrim. Meanwhile, back in Gunther’s mighty castle, there are just a shit of a lot of mighty castles here in the Dark Ages. I may not be drunk enough for this movie yet. However, Gunther’s mighty castle has a sweet fireplace. There is a big dance to celebrate the dragon-slaying.
I gotta say, Siegfried has not really been that troubled by emotions, so I guess I was wrong about that. But Hagen covets the gold, or is frightened of it, or something. Kriemhild puts on a fancy mask and joins the revelers in distuide, although it’s not that good of a disguise since she is one of only a handful of people wearing a mask at all. Max von Sydow is hitting on Christian girls. Kriemhild is disappointed to learn that Siegfried loves another. Hagen is wearing a mask that does not conceal his beard or scowl. That night, Siegfried trips balls again, seeing the whole ring of fire bit.
The Twin Kings, who I assume are those guys from the beginning, are invading. Hagen is scheming. Twin kings are legit barbarian mythology. Whoever the Twin Kings are, their army is mostly on foot and, as is fitting for barbarians, hell of greasy. Just … just so greasy. Just in case it wasn’t clear they’re the same guys, Siegfried has a flashback. He fights them in single (or,well, double, I guess) combat and, given power by his flashback fury, kills them up nice. The Greasothurians or whatever bend the knee. Hagen is discomfited. Gunther decides he’s going to marry Siggy to Kriemhild, the better to bind a sword-proof killing machine to the royal house. Hagen and Alberich are scheming. Brunnhild sends Siegfried a message, which I cannot forgive for not starting with “Allo, Siegfried!” Alberich is going to hook Hagen up with a love-potion. We all know where this is going.
OK, you know what? This thing is going on forever. I’m going to call this Part One, and we’ll continue tomorrow with Part Two. I think I actually have something to say about how this relates to medieval literature, but it’s going to be a long road until we get there.