It is the gloomy and sunless age of Ragnarok for the Viking peoples, which means as much raping, pillaging and burning as possible as they lay waste to any land they can find, all in the name of gripping those who are not Vikings in a reign of terror. Well, almost all of them do, there's one of their number, Erik (Tim Robbins) who is not quite as adept at all of the above as his fellows are; take today when his village have joined a raid on another village and are destroying it with wild abandon, but Erik rushes into a hut, finds a woman (Samantha Bond) to rape then proceeds to make a complete hash of the task, leaving her unimpressed.
She's even more unimpressed when he accidentally kills her with his sword as he tries to save her from two other rampagers, having thought he had made a connection with her on an emotional level, which was debatable in itself. That's what Erik wants, a woman he can really talk to, not someone to sexually assault as his peers seem happy with, all of which seems to be making very light of the very serious crime of rape, which might be why the British censor demanded cuts to that opening scene if the studio wanted a lower certificate. Which added to the confusion of what was the best version to see, what with there being at least three to choose from, long, medium and short.
That latter was a cut assembled by director Terry Jones' son and apparently his preferred incarnation of a film he never seemed particularly happy with. The problem appeared to be that he never got it into the shape he really wanted for whatever reasons - you can imagine some kind of release deadline back in 1989 was part of it - and when it was seen by the critics and public originally, it was rejected as a pale shadow of the classic comedy of Jones' work with the Monty Python team he had made his name with. However, never underestimate the power of a strong fanbase, since John Cleese showed up in this as well (apparently as a favour to replace the absent Jack Lemmon), and the Python aficionados have embraced Erik the Viking ever after.
Well, many of them have, because there's no doubt if you're being objective that it really doesn't have the big laughs of the team's great sketches or even their feature films. Jones, a history buff, had penned a children's book with the same name as this which was unrelated in plot aside from the obvious Viking connection, and he knew his Norse sagas, but the nagging feeling a more serious variation on the adventure story which keeps threatening to erupt would have been preferable never leaves it. The humour is just too gentle to match with the notoriously violent Vikings, and if they do get up to the troublemaking they were famous for it's all in the service of yet another mild, polite gag. Not that this is unlikeable as far as that went, but uproariously hilarious it wasn't.
The cast was one of a kind at least, with many celebrities showing up for a short scene or two, such as Mickey Rooney as Erik's grandfather, Eartha Kitt who sets our hero on his quest to find the Rainbow Bridge across the sea, and a host of reliable British faces to act out the comedy in support, with Antony Sher as the supposed baddie Loki who wants Ragnarok to continue because it's good for business, and Cleese as the big cheese who is quite happy with the mayhem the way it is. There were fantasy elements too, as the party sails into a sea monster (an impressive puppet of grand scale), and an Atlantis-style city called Hy-Brasil where everyone is nice to a fault, ruled by Jones' King Arnulf and offering Erik love interest with his daughter Princess Aud (Imogen Stubbs). It all ends with them seeking Valhalla, which is not as you would expect, but the whole game yet underachieving atmosphere was more disappointing than inspiring, even with all this talent working on it, including Neil Innes on scoring duties. There was a Naked Gun-style reward for reading the end credits, mind you.