How does a sci-fi movie evolve into a Viking epic? See Valhalla

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Dec 14, 2012, 3:54 PM EST

The upcoming Viking adventure movie Valhalla Rising caps a 22-year journey for filmmaker Nicolas Winding Refn, the 39-year-old Danish-born, American-raised director who first conceived of the movie as a science fiction epic.

"I always wanted to make a science fiction movie, but I had no interest in [the] technology of science fiction," Refn told a group of reporters last week in Hollywood while promoting his upcoming film Bronson. "I wanted to do a mental science fiction movie. I find it difficult to make one in the future now, because technology always kind of goes against mythology and the concept of science fiction. So I decided to do the 1100s instead."

As a teenager, Refn felt there had never been a good Viking movie. That's when he dreamed of making his own. "I guess the challenge of just doing a Viking film itself was just so absurd that it kind of turned me on," Refn said. "I've had the specific idea since I was 17, like the story. It's just kind of been evolving."

Growing up, Refn collected the experiences of the films he was watching. That led to a most unusual set of influences. "Basically Valhalla Rising for me is probably the films that I grew up loving so much, like Snake Plissken [in Escape From New York] and [Andrei] Tarkovsky," Refn said.

Valhalla Rising stars Danish actor Mads Mikkelsen (Casino Royale, the upcoming Clash of the Titans) as a mute warrior with one eye. The story deals with mythological themes. "It's about the concept of mythology and what mythology can create and mythology versus Christianity, which is order and reality," Refn said. "The film is about a mute warrior who has no past or present, who escapes his captivity and travels with Christian Vikings to the Holy Land to fight the first war. But they get entangled in a mist that doesn't lift until they reach America, and then it goes horribly wrong."

Refn cut his teeth making a series of crime movies. "After the Pusher trilogy, I decided I wanted to make that," Refn said. "But then I needed the money to buy out my ex-partner so I could own the movie complete. It was also one of the reasons I decided to write and direct Bronson, just to get some quick bucks."

IFC films picked up Valhalla Rising at this year's Toronto International Film Festival and plans to release it in early 2010.