Ragnar Lothbrok (Travis Fimmel) longs to travel to the west in search of land and treasures, however, the autocratic local leader Earl Haraldson (Gabriel Byrne) has other plans. Refusing to give up his dream of raiding the lands to the West, Ragnar recruits a crew with the help of his brother Rollo (Clive Standen). His friend Floki (Gustaf SkarsgŒrd) builds him a ship that shall take him to the promise land. But his plans have created a rift with Haraldson who now is looking for a way to dispose of Ragnar, who he sees as a threat. However, Ragnar’s discoveries will only further help pave the way to glory.
For the past year or so the History channel has aggressively changed its programming and the way they tell the stories to their viewers. Recently they have simulated the winning formula that other stations have done; they are no longer focusing on heavily narrated factual TV series. I may add that they haven’t completely removed them from their programming; they have simply adjusted to how people are watching TV. They are appealing to a new crowd that really responds to this new way of telling a tale. Mind you, I thoroughly enjoy the WWII shows that History has put out over the course of the years. However, with the success of Hattfields & McCoy’s and The Bible as scripted original dramas one can only hope to see more of the same excellent productions in the future. In fact, History channel’s Vikings is a recent success for the TV network.
Vikings was created by Michael Hirst, who has also been involved with projects like Elizabeth: The Golden Age and none other than The Tudors. With these shows that are loosely based on historical events on his resume is only logical that he was chosen to helm this project. Vikings has the feel of these two productions, Vikings was made to feel like a grander TV production, which in many ways the show achieved it. Of course being a History channel production, some form of historical facts had to be used, but don’t be fooled because Hirst did take a lot of liberties with the content in order to reach out to the masses. Vikings was based on the real Viking legend Ragnar Lothbrok, but the show did loosely base it on the character and in many aspects several inaccuracies were used for the sole purpose of TV. With that being said be mindful of the liberties taken by Hirst and company in order to deliver the TV show to your screens.
Vikings has a lot of potential and in part is because of the way Hirst has taken the time to create the show. The characters are as accurately portrayed (based on some Scandinavian sources of mine, mind you) specially the main character Ragnar, who behind his warrior exterior his loyalty and fairness to his own people was a key aspect that Vikings captured correctly. The way they lived and their natural behavior was capture in excellent form. The show did showcase some form of brutally, that only seemed normal to time and era. From a historical point of view, we have accounts written many centuries later after they occurred so we can only really assume this is the correct behavior of the time.
Overall, the characters were strengthening by the way the show was written and they were allowed to develop along the way in good fashion. However, the show did hit many slow moments, particularly in the beginning of the show; the first few episodes were painstakingly slow. Thankfully some of the dialogue and narrative of the always left some sense of what is going to happen next. The latter part of the show really picked up the pace and the show began to gain some momentum. The show did tone down the brutality and the absence of gratuitous nudity reminded me that this was not Game of Thrones or Rome.
However, for those that obtain the Blu-ray discs, there are extended episodes that give that extra scene and show a bit more blood than its edited counterpart. These episodes do not really change the story. Finally, the cast was superb; Travis Fimmel provides a great performance through the show.
The first season of Vikings did in fact finish strong which leads me to believe that season two can only get better. The character development was great and the story definitely took some time to pick up but when it did, it got me intrigued.
Vikings: Season One arrives on Blu-ray with a fine 1080p MPEG4/AVC encode framed at 1.78:1. The image is particularly impressive given that the production is made for the History channel. The picture features an incredible array of fine details at every turn, from the landscapes to the nit and gritty details of the Vikings themselves. Colors are predominantly dark with somewhat of a blue/gray tint, which to me it shows the weather aspect of Scandinavia, but regardless the color reproduction is quite good. Dark colors are deep and offer great reproduction throughout the show without overwhelming the picture. There are many scenes that feature real dark scenes but somehow the image remains great. Skin tones are stable and lifelike, I didn’t spot any warmness. If you want to fault anything, there are a few CGI moments that simply look unflattering, but aside from those there’s some serious depth and attention to detail on the show that’s really impressive. If anything, this is a great video transfer for a TV show.
The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track include in Vikings is excellent, it’s not the best out there but it does a commendable job. The dialogue is clean through most of the episodes; however, there seems some be some scenes where the action does overwhelm the actors’ voices. Directionality is quite good on the fronts. The rears offer atmospheric effects throughout the show that really gives you an immersive experience. The dynamic range also works quite well. The LFE channel helps create that extra “oomph” when thunders strike and even during the fighting scenes. Vikings: Season One features a good audio transfer, it’s not the best out there, but definitely not the worst!
Audio Commentary on “Rites of Passage” – Featuring Michael Hirst and Jessalyn Gilsig.
Audio Commentary on “All Change” – Featuring Katheryn Winnick and Clive Standen.
Extended Episodes – Every episode is also includes an extended version.
Conquest and Discovery: Journeys of the Vikings – An interactive map appears on the screen
with six different options: Scandinavia; Uppsala; Gotland; Baltic; Lindisfarne; and Northumbria. When the user selects any of the options, Dr. Jochen Burgtorf, Professor of History at Cal State University Fullerton, will give you a brief explanation of why each location was key to the Vikings.
The Armory of the Vikings – This featurette allows Dr. Jochen Burgtorf to give an explanation on the different weapons used by Vikings based on archeological finds.
A Warrior Society: Viking Culture and Law (20:48) – Various different individuals and professionals pitch in to describe the culture and laws that Vikings lived by. This is a very interesting piece that’s worth a watch.
Birth of the Vikings (17:09) – The filmmakers and actors talk about the show and the characters. The filmmakers discuss various different topics ranging from set writing of the show, set design, wardrobe design, and much more.
Forging The Viking Army: Warfare and Tactics (12:11) – Sword Master Richard Ryan and stunt coordinator Mark Henson talk about the training and fighting style that actors had to learn.
The first season of Vikings is very intriguing and it featured a great story with excellent characters. Sure it started real slow, but midway through the show things really started to pick up. Michael Hirst take on the legendary Vikings is interesting and you couldn’t have a better person in charge of the project. We can only hope season 2 gives us something similar or perhaps better to complement the end of this first entry. The video and audio were great given that it’s a TV show, but overall the production values were excellent. The supplements offer a great insight into the production along with some historical information. Viking comes recommended!