The Navigator: A Medieval Odyssey
Question: Who was originally desired to direct Alien 3? While David Fincher’s take makes for an interesting watch he wasn’t 20th Century Fox’s first pick. Vincent Ward was booked first and got as far starting production before walking away citing creative differences. While he is credited for the story it’s interesting to think how differently Alien 3 could have been; possibly having a form of a connection with the themes in his prior work; in particular The Navigator: A Medieval Odyssey.
The Navigator: A Medieval Odyssey follows a group looking to make an offering to God to save their village; due in part to apocalyptic visions of a young boy named Griffin. As they travel through England and with the Black Death hounding them; they tunnel through the earth to find themselves in 1980’s New Zealand. With little time at hand, they must complete their quest in spite of their situation.
What stands out the most is how hypnotic and odd most of the film is. As it starts, we are thrust into the story with a montage of later scenes in the film and religious iconography. We have next to no idea as to what is going to happen which helps build the overall feeling of dread the film crafts fantastically well. The montage itself is quickly edited and flips between colour and black and white, seemingly at random. You get the idea that the film is trying to put the viewer into a drug-induced state since most of what happens makes next to no sense – until later on. This happens often in the film which helps build tension, but I feel that this is a more major problem. By the time the final act comes around the montages have had a few runs with the same couple of clips; this works for the first couple times you see it but after a while I feel that the tension falls away as your waiting for the scenes that the clips to show up; this hurt immersion too quickly and too often.
The main hook is that it’s a medieval adventure with science fiction, mainly time-travel, elements mixed in. It would seem to be a bad mix since sci-fi is more heavily linked to modern and future time periods and not the past. I like this due to how well the time periods complement each other. Given that the main characters come from the past; a lot of the interactions that they have with the modern setting, bar a few obvious exceptions, are played straight. It’s a nice change of pace since the characters don’t seem out of place; they interact with the world as if they have been there for years. It shows how much we have changed without losing much in the way of tradition and moral views. Without giving much away, the ending act that establishes this is hinted at throughout the film without much in the way of distraction. What helps the sci-fi work is how subtle the change in time periods are. Think of it like this; when a film or TV show has time-travel as the main gimmick there will be a point to signal the change in time period. With The Navigator; that point doesn’t come guns blazing but with a more gentle push. When set in the past everything is shown in black and white, but as soon as we enter the present the film turns into colour. It’s like The Wizard of Oz, or, I feel, more along the lines of how The Grand Budapest Hotel showed the different times through different aspect ratios. It’s simple but works really well.
Unfortunately, this film lacks any notable performances or more specificity the lack of a second gear. It’s a shame since this film is bold and surprisingly epic in scale. I’m not saying that the performances were bad; I feel that Bruce Lyons (Connor) was the stand out as he played a Christ-like figure set back by demons of his own creation. It’s the story that lets the performances down. The plot has little to no deviation or development so the characters only have one goal. I think that if the characters had more to do or the film had some form of sub-plot then maybe the performances might not have seemed so middling.
In the end; The Navigator is a good sort of rainy day film. It goes at a good pace and has a surprisingly easy plot to follow. The visual boldness and how straight the film is played gives it an edge to other sci-fi films of its kind but it’s those middling performances that let this film down. This Medieval odyssey is a cinematic gem in some respects but it’s more of a cinematic curio in others. At least it gives us an idea as to how Ward may have taken Alien 3 if he stayed as director.