The domestic release of Robert Eggers‘ big studio revenge flick “The Northman” is days away (April 22) and most critics are deeply impressed by how well the filmmaker has done in the realm of action (read our review here). The plot —a relatively simple story of a son avenging his father—takes direct cues from the original Scandinavian tale that inspired “Hamlet,” and attempts to be historically accurate compared to other Viking projects. It’s also being hailed as the most accessible of his films, and at the same time, still evocative and brutal.
Many would assume that someone as popular as Eggers, known for arthouse classics like “The Witch” and “The Lighthouse” would not have to answer to a studio when making “The Northman,” but with a huge budget to answer for, north of $75 million, that was not the case. Eggers explained to IndieWire what it was like not to have the final cut on the Viking epic and called the process “painful.” But the filmmaker says he ultimately navigated it with the help of co-writer Sjón.
“I knew when I gave the script to the studio that I was not going to have final cut on this movie,” Eggers said. “And that was a risk I was willing to take. The studio took a big risk on letting somebody made two sensationalist arthouse movies to make a big fucking Viking movie single-camera with all of his heads of departments.”
The filmmaker continued, “I’ve said that the post process was the painful process of my life, and that is a fucking fact, OK? But it was also needed. I think if I’d had total control and was left alone, I’d be in a really bad position right now in the marketplace. I needed the pressure of the studio to make the most entertaining version of this movie. So this is the cut I’m proud of, but my instinct is not to make entertainment. I mean, entertainment was seventh on the list of ‘The Witch‘ and fifteenth on ‘The Lighthouse.’ It was difficult but needed. It would’ve been a worse film in the end.”
“It wasn’t tampering or interference,” Eggers explained when asked about the notes and feedback the studio gave him. “Sjón said it was our job to interpret the studio notes in a way that makes us proud. If I slavishly took the studio’s notes, the film would suck, because they’re not filmmakers. That’s why they hire filmmakers to make the films.”
While the director just made a rather large film, it doesn’t mean Eggers is terribly interested in jumping into the world of pre-existing intellectual properties, and blockbusters. Studios like Marvel and DC probably aren’t going to get very far with him.
“I’ve only done self-generated work,” Eggers explained. “I understand how fortunate I am to be in that situation. People have come to me with stuff. Even though I didn’t have final cut, we went into this knowing it was a Robert Eggers movie, and all of what that’s going to be. I don’t see how that could be beneficial on a movie where I’m a director for hire. Everything I’m at doing is antithetical to making a Marvel movie.”
“The Northman” will swing into theaters on Friday and everyone is keen to see how general audiences will receive it. It will be interesting to see whether studios bring back the R-rated epics that had been popular in the wake of the release of “Gladiator” in the 2000s, but one supposes the box office will be the ultimate dictator of those kinds of decisions.