In medieval Lapland (Finland), a young hunter (Mikkel Gaup, Breaking the Waves) witnesses the slaughter of his entire family by a hostile nomadic tribe. The boy runs away but the killers eventually capture him. The nomads promise to spare the teen’s life if he shows them where they can find the rest of his tribe. What would he do?
Reaction & Thoughts:
“All you’ll find up here are the spirits of the mountains.”
Norwegian filmmaker Nils Gaup’s (Disney’s Shipwreck) wondrous realization of an ancient Scandinavian legend is one of my favorite 1980s action-adventure films — Pathfinder (aka Ofelas) is an incredibly beautiful and exciting film.
Director Gaup’s script is based on stories his grandfather told him when he was a child. For authenticity purposes, dialogue is spoken in Sámi, a dialect used by indigenous people of the Baltic region. The film was shot on location in Norway.
Pathfinder focuses on human drama as well as transporting the viewer into another time and place. The cinematography (by Erling Thurmann-Andersen) is sensational. The icy Norwegian landscape becomes an important element of the story. Only a few clunky matte shots distract from the overall gorgeousness.
Like all great fables, Pathfinder mixes realism and fantasy quite well. And who said action movies can’t be philosophical too? There is a solid moral lesson behind the action-packed storyline — thrills always have a bigger impact on viewers when they are accompanied by a philosophical subtext.
Pathfinder has action, suspense, humor and even a touch of romance. The movie also works as a poignant coming-of-age story. The twist near the end of the movie is brilliant too. It’s a little violent, but nothing too bad. It’s a good movie for older teenagers and adults who enjoy things like Game of Thrones or The Hunger Games.
Pathfinder is a model of economy and efficiency. The film doesn’t waste a single frame. There is no padding. It’s all done with such fierce vitality, a great sense of urgency and conviction that the movie feels shorter than it actually is.
Apart from a good plot and terrific scenery, the film profits from good acting. Mikkel Gaup (I don’t know if he is related to the director) is wonderful as the brave and wise-beyond-his-years lad who takes it upon himself to save his beloved clan. The rest of the cast, mostly composed of non-professional actors, is great too.
Conclusions & Final Thoughts:
Even thirty-plus years later, Pathfinder has lost none of its power to thrill the audience. As I said before, it does contain some violence, but this is a beautiful, superbly crafted reenactment of an ancient legend that occurred “a long time ago in a land far far away.” Highly recommended! Remade in 2007. Color, 86 minutes, Rated R.