The 13th Warrior
directed by John McTiernan
& Michael Crichton
(Touchstone, 1999)

Well ... the previews looked good. In fact, the previews looked so good that I couldn't wait for this movie to come out. I didn't even bother to read the book, Eaters of the Dead, by the infamous author (and producer of The 13th Warrior) Michael Crichton. I didn't read the book for two reasons: 1) the book is invariable always better than the movie and 2) Crichton's books can get awfully boring at times.

So, needless to say, I was actually disappointed in the movie. The 13th Warrior is LOOSELY based on the epic poem "Beowulf" and accounts of an Arab poet's encounter with the Norse. In the movie, Antonio Bandares plays Ahmed Ibn Fahdlan, a poet who falls in love with another man's wife and is sent away as an ambassador to the North as punishment. Fahdlan encounters a Norse clan and, despite his disgust with the "unclean" people, finds himself the prophesized 13th man on a quest to help a Norse kingdom plagued by an unmentionable evil that comes with the fog, takes people's heads and gnaws on their dead flesh.

The story is told from Fahdlan's point of view, and his narrative adds somewhat to the movie. You'll see him learn the Norse language, try and teach writing to the leader of the Norse clan, and change from a wimpy, gentle poet to a gentle poet who also happens to wield a sword.

The motley crew arrives in the kingdom with its ailing king, treacherous prince and dejected people. Several small battles ensue with the bear-like marauders, which are decent fight scenes. The movie tries to build a tension for what you hope is a great battle between good and evil. However, prepare to be disappointed. Somewhere close to the end of the movie, the directors must have realized they had almost run the full gambit of 103 minutes without a climax. Their desperate attempt to give the movie closure fails miserably, and the final battle is a disappointing letdown.

Should I even go into the little details of the movie? As a burgeoning costumer, there were little inconsistencies that proved the filmmakers didn't consult the history books all that well. For instance, although Fahdlan is supposed to be a 10th-century Arabic poet, in one scene a Norse warrior sports a 16th-century Spanish conquistador hat. And since when did a Celt hang out with Norsemen? There was a particular kilt-clad red-headed Celt running around with the Norse clan, perhaps to appeal to Scots-Irish viewers.

Despite the fact of little historical inaccuracies, the film does have a lot of breathtaking scenes and some great cinematography. The "finding" of the bear-mens' cave leads the Norse deep within the roots of the Earth itself giving us a fictional look into the possible lives led by ancient peoples.

But overall, this movie is reminiscent of a teenage boy's wild fantasies of blood, guts and glory minus exploding cars, buildings and scantily-clad females. It appeals to the "romanticism" of the blood-and-guts era when swords and fire were used instead of uzis and napalm, and women didn't run around in scanty outfits, they just were ignored completely (except for occasional sex, which doesn't play all that big of a role in this movie).

I have to say, however, that it must be great to be Michael Crichton. He can get anything up on the Big Screen, regardless of how good -- or bad -- a story might be. The actors in the movie were an absolute delight from Banderas to Vladimir Kulich (Buliwyf) to Omar Sharif (Melchisideck). However, not even the best doctors can always save a patient whose heart has stopped. For this movie, the actors tried their best, but unfortunately, their best wasn't good enough.

My recommendation: go see this at a matinee or wait until it hits the dollar theatres. Some of the visual effects are great on the Big Screen, and you won't waste a ton of money.

[ by Jade Falcon ]

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