The historical question is not whether the Vikings came to North America but rather how far South they came once they made it to Vinland (a Norse settlement has been found on the island of Newfoundland). There must have been interactions between the Norsemen and the "skrælingar" (Native Americans), and while there is no evidence that the two races engaged in a violent confrontation it does make a neat idea for a movie, which is why we have the film "Pathfinder: The Legend of the Ghost Warrior." Ghost is a young boy who is left behind after a previous Vikings raid and who grows up eighteen years later to be played by Karl Urban (Eomer in The Lord of the Rings" but also Julius Caesar on "Xena Warrior Princess"). When another Viking raiding party led by Gunnar (Clancy Brown) attacks his village, Ghost leads the fight against the invaders, hoping not only to save his adopted people but also win the heart of Starfire (Moon Bloodgood).
Basically what he have here is "Vikings and Indians" instead of "Cowboys and Indians." Couching the film in such terms, of course, is easily understood but not politically correct. But if you think about the latter in contemporary sports terms, the idea of the Minnesota Vikings taking on the Cleveland Indians is certainly in the ballpark for a key dynamic of this film, which features armored warriors against people armed with essentially sticks and stones. The idea of a war being waged in the New World a thousand years ago is pretty compelling: the concept trailer they shot to get the film produced makes that case quite nicely up to the point when the native warrior attacks the hulking Norseman and you see it is the Viking who has the ax and the lad in the buckskin is fighting with a sword.
The genesis for this 2007 film is the 1987 Norwegian film "Veiviseren" ("Pathfinder"), which is based on a Sami legend. The first full-length film in Sami, that movie was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Foreign Film. This version, written by Laeta Kalogridis and directed by Marcus Nispel, takes the basic story idea of a warrior leading the Sami to victory against a horde of invading Chudes and transplants it from Finnmark to the New World. The Sami become the nameless Native American people rather than the Beothuk people of Newfoundland and the Chudes are transformed into Vikings.
My major problem with this film, quite frankly, is that the hero of this movie is white and the subtext is that if it were not for the kindhearted son of a Viking who was raised by Native Americans the Vikings who come back in Act II of this film would have killed ever native inhabitant of the continent. Well, okay, that would not have happened unless the Vikings infected the local population with a disease that their immune systems could not handle, but you get the idea. At least this movie allows the title character, played by Russell Means, to come up with the obvious strategy that a people armed with Stone Age weapons fighting on their own turf would use against three dragonships worth of Viking warriors, because that is what I really wanted this film to be about.
"Pathfinder" never tries to pass itself off as history, which is a legitimate approach, but a bit more realism would not have hurt. The film was shot in British Columbia, which explains how they get from the ocean shore to snow capped mountains in a relatively short period of time, a direction dictated not by geography but because that is what happened in "Veiviseren." What they should have done was take the premise of a people fighting back against armored invaders in general without being tied to the specifics of the earlier film. Setting up the Vikings to be defeated on terrain and in weather more akin to the land from which they came ends up backfiring.
Whenever possible the film relies on images more than dialogue, although they do not end up going the "Quest for Fire" route. The color palette in the film favors the Vikings for most of the film, tending towards blue, black, white, and silver stressing night, cold, and metal. Eventually these colors overwhelm the film and works against the basic contrast of the Vikings warriors in the lush green forests that I found compelling. The Norsemen speak Icelandic, which is apparently close to the language of the Vikings, leaving English to be the language of Ghost and his tribe.
I ended up rounding down on this film because in the final act of the film the Vikings enter the realm of being too stupid to live. There is a scene that involves going around a frozen lake. Gunnar sees this approach as being an attack on the courage of him and his men, insisting on walking across the ice. At this point I turned to my daughter and said, "Gee, if only they came from a land of ice and snow, and knew something about when not to cross a frozen lake." Besides, I like it when the good guys win a lot more than when the bad guys lose.