Friday, June 7, 2019

The Ash Lad: In the Hall of the Mountain King

Spoiler-free!

In a fairytale kingdom, there is a legend: if the princess doesn't marry by her 18th birthday, a troll will steal her and make her marry him. Well, the headstrong princess, Kristin (Eili Harboe), doesn't want to marry. And no one believes the legend anyway. With a pompous idiot Prince Fredrik (Allan Hyde) as her only option, she runs away. In the forest, she runs into Espen (Vebjørn Enger) and he gives her food. When he goes home to his father and brothers Per (Mads Sjøgård Pettersen) and Pål (Elias Holmen Sørensen) with all the food eaten, we learn that he has a bad habit of being unable or unwilling to get anything done. His family leaves him home alone while they go hunting, and by morning the house has burned down. Oops.

About time I found another gem in the less-explored corners of Amazon Prime!

Then the pompous Prince Fredrik comes by asking if anyone's seen a beautiful girl. The king has offered a reward for her rescue: her hand, and half the kingdom to rule. Espen's father sends Per and Pål to search for her -- it's their only hope of saving their farm -- and he tells Espen to go and never come back. But Espen knows the girl he met was the princess. He thinks he can find her, and if he saves the farm, perhaps his father will forgive him for burning down the house; for being an Ash Lad. So, he sets off after his bothers, determined to do something for once, and determined not to mess it up. Grand and fantastic adventures ensue.

In a way it's very comparable with The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. And more the book than the film adaptation. Though there's no sailing, there's a similar fantasy flavor, and the adventures are done in little vignettes where the brothers get into a situation, get out, and then get into another. And they all have that exclusive fairytale quality -- helping an old woman whose long nose is stuck in the crack of a chopping block -- escaping enchantments -- finding a magical sword -- and map -- and of course dealing with Prince Fredrik. Eventually shifting into troll territory in the third act. Throughout, the brothers' relationship is explored as Per doubts Espen's ability. Slowly, he proves himself.

Turns out he's a pretty great adventurer!

That was the main highlight of the movie for me. Much of the traditionally styled plot you can see coming, but their dynamic propelled the whole story. Stories with that extra effort are great by themselves, and this movie couldn't have been the gem it is without that meaningful personal side. But in the end, if the surrounding world of production doesn't work, neither will the story, and it's the winning combination of those two sides that makes this flick worth its praise. The performances are entertaining and energetic, making the characters easy to love or hate (depending on intent), and the world is beautiful; saturated richly, and filmed on locations to give a sprawling sense of adventure.

The troll is kept hidden mostly but not in a blatant, we-don't-have-enough-money-to-show-it kind of way. The effects on it are noticeably CGI, but not any worse than, say, the giants in Jack the Giant Slayer, and the troll design has more personality, too, not looking like a mass of flat brown lumps. In short, this movie is made of good quality material. No, it's not a multi-million-dollar Disney project, but all that means is it doesn't look flat and dull or have its heart and soul green-screened out. Visually this movie is wonderful; bright and lovely, not flashy or overdone, just as real as possible. I love that. And ja, it's in Norwegian. I love that, too.

I found it in December but couldn't watch it until Amazon added an original, non-dubbed version. 

They just don't make satisfying fantasy films in America anymore. They're all scifi without the science, not magic and myths, or are too serious, or real-world, or trying to reinvent the genre. I've been feeling a horrible deficiency of highly adventurous fantasy -- the kind of fantasy that soars, and transports you, pure and clean and with a heartfelt message on the side -- and The Ash Lad fills that void to perfection. A grand, magical, and uplifting adventure.

And there's a sequel coming! I have no idea when it'll be available to me, but I anticipate the day with glee.

2 comments:

  1. Hmm, definitely going to have to try this. I greatly enjoyed as did my sister (need to get the rest to watch) the first fantasy, myth movie I tried after reading your reviews (I Am Dragon).

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    1. Awesome, I would fully expect you to enjoy this too if you liked I Am Dragon! Happy watching and let me know what you think. :)

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