Parts of The Northman had to be rewritten in post-production

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Alexander Skarsgård as Amleth in The Northman

Alexander Skarsgård as Amleth in The Northman
Photo: Focus characteristics

Robert Eggers wanted The man from the north to be as historically accurate as possible, but what should have been an asset to the epic viking movie caused some problems. In a detailed conversation about the making of the film with VultureEggers says test audiences didn’t understand the film at first and the studio also had issues with the story.

“Everything from Amleth’s motivations to the concept of Valhalla needed to be more readable,” writes Nate Jones of the notes. director and screenwriter Eggers has been given. But because the film was already in post-production and the story is told through long shots, there were limits to what could be changed – so instead of reshooting, Eggers and The man from the northSjón’s co-writer decided to write new dialogue that “led the audience deeper into Amleth’s psyche and brought the actors to the ADR”.

Although it sounds more Easy than having to redo scenes, this always posed a big problem: the newly recorded dialogue had to match the movements of the lips and adapt to the Norse enunciation. Sjón calls it “the hardest crossword puzzle you can imagine”. As Eggers explains, “You say to yourself, ‘Okay, we have 18 syllables. The fifth syllable has to be a T because it spells that T out so well. Maybe you could get away with a D. And then that syllable has to be an S.”

As Sjón notes, he had previous training in the form of working with Björk (who also has a role in The man from the north), which would give her “a demo of herself humming and [he] had to put words to the strange Dadaist absurdity. But rewriting the film’s dialogue was much more difficult than writing music for the Icelandic icon. As he explains, a “good” could become a “hell” and a “duty” could become a “just”. This allowed them to write the line “At the gates of Hell there will be my righteous sword.”

But Sjón rose to the challenge: “Why would you do a historically accurate medieval tale that takes place in three countries, involving battles, family feuds and magical beings, and not expect it to be difficult? he says.

Having to redo some of the dialogue is not the only major problem encountered during filming The man from the north. Production was halted due to COVID, and there was one scene filmed in such harsh weather that the stuntmen and cast told Eggers it was “the worst experience of their lives.” You can read about the rest of the challenges Eggers faced while filming here.

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