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Why Some Robert Eggers Fans Are Worried About The Northman

Fans of director Robert Eggers have expected the unexpected from him ever since he broke through with 2015's moral parable "The Witch." They enjoy his surreal takes on the natural world, whether it be a meditation on repressive attitudes among puritans or the sanity-threatening horror that months of isolation can cause, as explored in "The Lighthouse." 

Eggers' latest motion picture, the Viking epic "The Northman," is poised for an April 22, 2022 release. It retells the classic Scandinavian legend "Amleth," which inspired William Shakespeare to write "Hamlet" (via Shakespeare Online). Based on that description alone, moviegoers likely know that the film's star-studded cast, which includes Alexander Skarsgård, Anya Taylor-Joy, Willem Dafoe, Nicole Kidman, and Björk, are in for a whopping tale of filial loyalty and revenge-seeking.

Filmgoers have been speculating about how the movie will expand upon Eggers' penchant for horrific happenings. However, a recent profile of the director in a nationally-known magazine has them concerned that "The Northman" might break the director's streak of wildly creative hits.

Fans are worried that test screenings may meddle with Eggers' vision

Per a profile of the director printed in The New Yorker in April of 2022, the director had to recut "The Northman" because it wasn't scoring well with audiences at test screenings. "Out of a hundred, the movie was scoring in the mid-sixties; the studio wanted more like seventy-five. "Some audience member wrote, 'You need to have a master's degree in Viking history to understand, like, anything in this movie,'" said Eggers. 

The director went on to say that the studio was worried about the film's pacing at its start. In the article, Universal Pictures executives are depicted as walking a fine line between wanting to recoup what was reportedly a $65 million budget and allowing Eggers' talent to flourish. Eggers himself struggled with the presentation of certain scenes, and filming was slowed due to COVID-19 restrictions. He didn't present the studio with much spare footage or alternate takes. Knight wrote that Eggers and Universal agreed to the film's final cut in November of 2021.

That was apparently enough to concern film buffs who regularly post to the True Film subreddit. Reddit member u/cwdizzle hopes that the director will go back to his indie film roots soon. "I would hate to see the next lighthouse killed by a bunch of studio execs," they wrote. u/jcmurie noted that it sounds as if Eggers likes his own cut of the movie versus the studio's preferred version. Meanwhile, u/charliemike wondered if the problem may be the test audience's perception of the movie — do their issues with the film stem from their material itself, or is it simply a lack of focus on the part of the viewer?

Others think that movie buffs have nothing to worry about

On the other hand, much of the subreddit expressed their faith that "The Northman" will live up to Robert Eggers' legacy. u/Sir-Lauch pointed out that no less than legendary director Alfonso Cuarón has praised the film. u/Miklonario speculated that Eggers might have been trying to shoot for a finalized version of the material, which means the end result may be sparer than he envisioned.

u/ArtlessCalamity joined the many fans who expressed that film is an art which requires collaboration, which means test screenings, focus groups, and executive opinions are sometimes a necessary part of the process. To quote u/sofarsoblue, "[A]t a budget of $90 million were you really expecting an epic historical film with a wide A list cast to be as surreall [sic] as 'The Lighthouse?' You cant expect the studio exec's to not have their mitts on it in some way."

Fans will get to judge for themselves when "The Northman" hits theaters on April 22.