(1999)

Prey for the living.

A Muslim ambassador exiled from his homeland, Ahmad ibn Fadlan finds himself in the company of Vikings. While the behavior of the Norsemen initially offends ibn Fadlan, the more cultured outsider grows to respect the tough, if uncouth, warriors. During their travels together, ibn Fadlan and the Vikings get word of an evil presence closing in, and they must fight the frightening and formidable force, which was previously thought to exist only in legend.

**_Good Viking Adventure -- Could've Been Great_**
The story of "The 13th Warrior" (1999) comes from Michael Crichton's novel "The Eaters of the Dead" which combines the legend of Beowulf with a historical account of an Arab diplomat who meets and dwells with the Vikings after being banished from his homeland due to an adulterous liaison.
Antonio Banderas stars as the Arab while the hulking Vladimir Kulich heads the Viking cast in the Beowulf role of Buliwyf (pronounced in the film BULL-vie). Speaking of Kulich, he would've made for an excellent Mighty Thor back in the day!
The plot of the film is great: Once Banderas meets up with the Vikings, they run afoul of a mysterious brutal tribe from the deep woods. Banderas is selected as the lone non-Viking to assist the 12 Norsemen in ridding the communities of the threat, hence "the 13th warrior." The cast, characters, story, locations (Campbell River, Vancouver Island), sets, costumes, score (Jerry Goldsmith), and cinematography are all of the highest order.
At a little over an hour and a half the film moves along briskly with a lot of action. Make no mistake, "The 13th Warrior" is a Class A film, but some story elements seem to be underdeveloped. This is probably due to the conflict Michael Crichton had with director John McTiernan. Crichton insisted on reshoots and cut at least 30 minutes of McTiernan's work, reportedly important character-developing scenes.
We see this in the very prologue of the film: The story of Banderas' banishment from his homeland due to his indiscretions is literally relayed in a matter of a couple minutes. And at the 8 minute mark we are introduced to the Vikings with very little mystery and zero suspense build-up. The contrast of the sophisticated Arab culture with the coarse, rugged Norsemen is great, but I would have enjoyed seeing these characters fleshed-out a bit more. After all, the more we know the individuals, the more we care about what ultimately happens to them.
Which brings us to the final 30 minutes of the film involving Banderas and the Vikings infiltrating the malevolent tribe's stronghold and a final attack on a Viking village. The visuals of these scenes are awe-inspiring but they fly by so quickly that the viewer is left disoriented and strangely uninvolved, not to mention unmoved by the story's outcome.
All this reveals that "The 13th Warrior" COULD have been an outstanding 140-minute Viking epic, along the lines of "Troy" (2004); instead we are left with a brisk, action-oriented, near-throwaway Viking popcorn flick. I would love to see a Director's Cut some day but Vladimir Kulich opines that it will unfortunately never happen.
Nonetheless, I appreciate the film as is. It's a good Viking adventure flick that's professionally done, despite the post-production problems. It's one of those films that gets better with each viewing, probably because everything flies by so quickly on initial plays.
Despite it's flaws, "The 13th Warrior" isn't too far from rivaling Kirk Douglas' brilliant 1958 "The Vikings" as one of the greatest Viking films ever made. A Director's Cut could possibly even topple "The Vikings" from its lofty, coveted perch.
The film was shot in British Columbia: Campbell River on Vancouver Island, Williams Lake and Pemberton, British Columbia.
GRADE: B-/B.

Touchstone Pictures by John McTiernan, Michael Crichton, William Wisher, Warren Lewis.
Stars: Antonio Banderas, Diane Venora, Dennis Storhøi.

Genres: Action, Adventure, History

Keywords: witch based on novel or book cave arabian horse kingdom village scandinavia bagdad viking defence epic sword fight deception mission historical fiction barbarian fictional war demon combat cavalry medieval norse mythology warrior sword and sorcery 10th century

08/27/1999

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