The 13th Warrior (1999)
“Prey for the living.”
Director: John McTiernan
Cast: Antonio Banderas, Diane Venora, Vladimir Kulich
Synopsis: A man, having fallen in love with the wrong woman, is sent by the sultan himself on a diplomatic mission to a distant land as an ambassador. Stopping at a Viking village port to restock on supplies, he finds himself unwittingly embroiled on a quest to banish a mysterious threat in a distant Viking land.
Considering The 13th Warrior is based on a novel by co-director Michael Crichton – who stepped in when John McTiernan’s version bombed at test screenings – it’s sort of refreshing that there are no theme parks or rampaging robots/clones involved. So, you can’t call the late Mr. Crichton a one-trick pony, that’s for sure, but he was always a writer who went in search of a sellable idea rather than one who was moved to write by any kind of desire to create something of worth. The Eaters of the Dead, the novel on which The 13th Warrior is based, was itself a retelling of the ancient Beowulf legend and the life of poet Ahmed Ibn Fahdlan. Mr. Crichton would, of course, later do the same with another historical document when he reworked the plot of Westworld as Jurassic Park.
Antonio Banderas plays Ahmed, an Arab poet who wisely decides to take an extended diplomatic journey when he’s caught getting a little too friendly with the Caliph’s wife. Escorted by a wise courtier (Omar Sharif), Ahmed encounters a rough and ready band of Norsemen led by Buliwyf (Vladimir Kulich). Initially repulsed by their coarse behaviour and lack of humour, Ahmed’s opinion of these men slowly changes to one of respect when he is chosen as the 13th Warrior of a group assigned to protect a distant colony from raids by a savage tribe who disguise themselves as bears to intimidate their prey.
The plot plays out a little like The Magnificent Seven at times, but because our heroes number thirteen, few of them, aside from Ahmed, are given enough screen time to develop any kind of character beyond their one-line description in the credits – Joyous, Superstitious, Quarrelsome, Sneezy and Dopey, etc. Every now and then one of them is killed off, but we don’t really miss them.
The movie looks good, and a good chunk of the rumoured more-than-100-million dollar budget is up there on the screen. Cinematography is good, production design is convincing, and the violent battle scenes are well-staged. But it all just sits there on the screen, expecting us to like it simply because it exists. Bloody 10th century carnage honestly never seemed so dull.
(Reviewed 2nd August 2012)