Falling through the Ice: Our Review of ‘Amundsen: The Great Explorer

Falling through the Ice: Our Review of ‘Amundsen: The Great Explorer

Now on VOD from Samuel Goldwyn Film and director Espen Sandburg comes an attempt to tell the long overshadowed exploits of Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen in Amundsen: The Great Explorer. The biopic finally bows in North America, a full 2 years after its debut in Norway and other Scandinavian Countries. But the question then becomes whether it’s worth the wait.

Roald Amundsen (Pal Sverre Hagen) becomes obsessed with Arctic exploration from an early age, even training for cold weather climates in his native Norway by submerging himself in ice-cold water to lower his internal temperature as a child. As he grows older, this obsession does not wane, as he leans on his long put upon brother Leon (Christian Rubeck) to help fund these expeditions, and Roald spends years away from home.

His biggest expedition comes crashing down in front of him as another explorer reaches the North Pole before he can leave, causing him to quickly pivot and without any forewarning, set out to beat a British expedition to the other gem – the South Pole. Roald is then sent on a 5-year expedition which causes him to leave behind his beloved Kiss (Ida Ursin-Holm) as his ambition tears their relationship apart. And his overspending fractures the relationship with his brother as well.

The issue with Amundsen: The Great Explorer starts to become evident on the 2nd expedition and really starts to drive more home with consequent missions. The film, much like its protagonist, becomes so enamored with the expeditions themselves that it ends up leaving little room for much else story or character development-wise. The film mixes in arguments and shouting with a near-constant setting of ice and barren landscapes that can isolate the audience as much as the explorer crews themselves must have felt. And while the landscapes can be stunning at times, they do get to be a bit much.

But perhaps the bigger sin comes in the form of the script as the biopic ends up carrying the emotional resonance of a made-for-History Channel documentary. The majority of the characters are not fleshed out in any impactful way, adding to the shallow feel of the piece, as the director seems more focused on spewing out/staging appropriate facts than lending the film any gravitas. The film even ends with a bit of creative license with a made-up scene that is immediately negated by a “what happened” scrawl. The biggest staging issue comes with the decision to have an older Leon and Roald’s newest flame Bess Magids (Katherine Waterston) having in-depth discussions about their relationships with Roald that are meant to be a staging device to set up scenes but ultimately feel as though they were shoehorned in after the fact in an attempt to appeal to an international audience.

The performances here are fine, in particular, I found Christian Rubeck to be quite compelling, but they are completely let down by a poor script and listless direction. Director Sandberg’s decisions behind the camera lead to a listless and emotionally flat overall final product, that at least looks pretty at times. It’s sad because Amundsen’s exploits certainly deserved to be framed better, in a better movie.

Kirk Haviland
This post was written by
"Kirk Haviland is an entertainment industry veteran of over 20 years- starting very young in the exhibition/retail sector before moving into criticism, writing with many websites through the years and ultimately into festival work dealing in programming/presenting and acquisitions. He works tirelessly in the world of Canadian Independent Genre Film - but is also a keen viewer of cinema from all corners of the globe (with a big soft spot for Asian cinema!)
Comments are closed.