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All11111111111V Norse Code BY STEVEN G. KELLMAN ERIK THE VIKING Directed by Terry Jones COMMUNION Directed by Philippe Mora IF Scandanivian-American communities were as organized and militant as other ethnic groups, Erik the Viking would be greeted with as much enthusiasm as a revival of Amos ‘n’ Andy or the Fito Bandito. With one exception, its Norsepersons are brutes, sots, and boors. virginal Viking who has had enough of looting and pillaging, the principal pastime of men in his society. “Where does it all get us, grandpa?” he asks a white-tufted ancient played by Mickey Rooney. It gets them entrance to Valhalla is the credo of a belligerent culture in which it is a disgrace to die of old age. Erik wanders off to a mountain cave to seek advice from Eartha Kitt, i.e., a sorceress named Freya. She tells him that, in order to put an end to the violent, benighted Age of Ragnarok, he must sail west beyond the edge of the world and sound the Horn of Resounding three times. Most of Erik the Viking follows the epic journey that the young man and his rowdy crew undertake in order to bring peace and light to a savage, sunless world. A pacifist parable, the film is a medieval mystery and a modern mess. It is hard to know what to make of it all, particularly when assorted Vikings speak fluent modern English with a variety of English, Scottish, American and South African accents. Though the project reconvened several Monty Python alumni \(writerdirector Terry Jones, producer John Goldstone, actors John Cleese and Charles Erik the Viking lacks the pervasive goofiness of their most famous collaborations. The film does feature a few effective gagsa chorus of cherubic young men and women whose musical performance is utter cacophony, an Oriental slavemaster who rails at his European charges in disdainful, subtitled Japanese: “You who have never committed ritual suicide in your life.” But too much of the humor is as savory as the closeup of a seaman disgorging his lunch. In the film’s opening sequence, Erik desists from rape, explaining to his intended victim: “I just think it’s a little bit crude.” Vikings Steven G. Kellman is professor of comparative literature at The University of Texas at San Antonio are supposed to ravish the women in the villages they sack, but Erik confesses that there has to be some mutual affection before he can discharge his duty. It is not that rape can never be a joking matter, but this piece is limp. However, most of the film is an adventure fantasy that seems to take itself more seriously than most viewers will. Low production values, in which matte shots are as obvious as the model boats, make it hard for even a child to become lost in the wonder of it all. George Lucas or Steven Spielberg might have made something marvelous of the fanciful screenplay, but Jones uses it sententiously, to try to communicate an allegory in an awkward Norse code. Though his sentiments are dovish, his tale is anything but disarming. Erik’s valiant efforts to bring an end to war are opposed from the outset by the apprentice who convinces his master Keitel will end their business by drying up demand for the swords and axes that have made them prosper. Beware of the military-industrial complex and of the machinations of Loki and Keitel, in league with Halfdan the Black who derives inordinate pleasure from flaying, garroting, and decapitating. In a kind of primitive version of Stealth technology, Erik dons the Cloak Invisible and jumps aboard Halfdan’s warship, blithely slaughtering most of his enemies before realizing that he is as visible and vulnerable as the gaps in the script. Erik the Pink is accompanied on his voyage by Harald the Missionary \(Freddie convert a single heathen in 16 years’ residence in Erik’s native Ravensfjord. The journey takes them all to Valhalla, where an encounter with the Norse god Odin, a nasty little brat disdainful of intrusive mortals, does more to spread Christian doctrine than all of Harald’s Bible-thumping. The religion of the Prince of Peace triumphs because of Erik’s swordwork and the fact that Harald inadvertently lands a boat on the heads of their infidel enemies. The film’s most idyllic moments occur far from the dusky frost of Ravensfjord, on a quasi-Aegean island named Hy Brasil. It is there, beneath the radiant sun and beside the cerulean sea, that Erik finds true love with the most beauteous of the flower children who inhabit the place. Played by Imogen Stubbs, a young actress to watch, preferably in 1988 summer’s unjustly neglected A Summer Story, Aud is the only daughter of King Arnulf, who reigns benevolently over a land promised eternal harmony unless a sword draws blood upon its stones. Thus, weapons are not welcome on Hy Brasil, a sort of nuclear-free zone before its time. The Hy Brasilians are irenic isolationists, sublimely oblivious to struggles in the outside world. However, inevitably, Erik’s arrival draws swords and blood, and the prophecy for Hy Brasil is fulfilled. Prissy King Arnulf refuses to recognize the imminent danger and flee the destruction of his island Eden. “It’s not happening!” declares writer-director Jones, who also plays Arnulf, as his entire production sinks, appropriately, into the sea. CINEMA can entertain, inform, offend, disturb, inspire and even persuade; but it cannot prove. Movie magic can conjure up anything, even a talking rabbit named Roger. When Philippe Mora directed Howling II & III and The Beast Within, he wanted to terrorize us with invented horrors. But communion, his latest film, makes different claims on our attention. Most stories require a certain suspension of disbelief, but this one demands a veritable Verrazano of suspension. Based on Whitley Strieber’s nonfictional account of his encounters with unearthly creatures, Communion purports to be a true report. Mora claims to have had similar experiences while staying at Strieber’s country retreat in upstate New York. So, too, does Ed Conroy, a San Antonio journalist whose new book Report on Communion is a sympathetic study of the claims that Strieber makes in his bestseller. I do not doubt their sincerity, but, never having met Strieber’s little blue men in the flesh, or whatever passes for dermal insulation, I can only report what I saw in a movie. What makes Communion so compelling, if not convincing, is that its characters pass through the same stages of denial, evasion, fear, anger and awe that most of us would likely experience if our lives, too, were disrupted by things undreamt of in Horatio’s philosophy or our own. Whitley is a bit more affluent than most of us, and he lives in a comfortably up-scale Manhattan apartment with loving wife Anne \(Lindsay at the video display terminal, Whitley loses hours of work when the word processor suddenly goes blank and erases a disk. “Could be the computer turned off for a reason,” he says to Anne, half-jokingly. Whitley, Anne, Andrew and two hip 18 NOVEMBER 10, 1989