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The 13th Warrior

A Review by Jason Morrison

Just for the record, there are two very different reasons you might like The 13th Warrior:

If you're a girl, because Antonio Banderas is hot.

If you're a guy, because Antonio and a bunch of Vikings kill a whole bunch of monsters, bad guys and other Vikings.

Really that's all there is to it. The film, adapted from Michael Crichton's novel Eaters of the Dead, is like Braveheart with less plot.

Actually, It's also more brutal. If you thought the Scots did a good job running around halberding each other through the skull you really ought to see this movie.

Banderas is Ahmad Ibn Fadlan, an Arab poet on his way to an ambassadorial position north of, well, civilization. He and his companion Melchisidek (Omar Sharif) are waylaid by a band of Vikings sailing down river to romp and pillage and do what Vikings do. The new leader of the band Buliwif (Vladimir Kulich) decides to let them stay, but soon enough a messenger comes asking their help in defeating a menace that has attacked the lands of King Hrothgar (Sven Wollter).

The Vikings, who seem pretty keen on the whole thing, have their oracle toss the old chicken bones around to figure out who should go. Thirteen warriors are needed, one for each month of the year. The thirteenth, however, must be no northman. So Fadlan must go, even though he doesn't know their language, customs, or even what they're going to fight.

After a lovely montage in which Fadlan learns their language, the group arrive to find Hrothgar's town in decay. It has the look of a town that has lost many of its fields and men to unseen enemies. We find out that they have the visage and claws of bears, and only attack at night, with the coming of the mist. The group wait out for them and manage to take a few down- but the bodies are all gone by the time the attackers have all fled.

So they fortify, and wait for another attack. More fighting ensues, and the Vikings decide to change strategies, and attack the cavernous encampment of the bear-men.

The fight scenes are really great though often quite dark as well- in some ways this both adds and takes away from the action. On the one hand, the gore is sometimes more implied than seen, making it more palatable and less cheesy. On the other, it's so much fun to watch a Viking run his sword through some poor sap.

There's also a little time devoted to the differences between the Arab and Viking cultures. Two sentences, to be exact- Fadlan writes of Mohammed in the sand, and one of the Vikings mentions they have multiple gods. The filmmakers really did miss an opportunity here. It would have been very interesting had they added a societal perspective to the film, or given the characters a bit more dialogue- perhaps even a few attempts at conversion, by either side.

On the other hand, they did forgo the expected "cultured civilized person saves savage pagan" shtick. Sure, Fadlan thought the bear-men weren't monsters before everyone else, but when they went after him with claws and axes, he didn't argue the point. He also may have discovered the secret to the fire wyrm, but that was an accident as well. It was very interesting to see a Muslim in the roll traditionally played by Christians in American movies, though to tell you the truth I really didn't think about it at the time. I was paying more attention to the maiming.

Another point of interest is the similarity between this movie and Beowulf. That's right, kids, time to think back to 10th grade English class-Beowulf is really, really old epic legend from the land of the Jutes and Saxons. Hmm, Buliwif, Beowulf… anyway, it captures the spirit of the tale quite nicely- these warriors are not merely men, though they are quite thoroughly mortal.

The bad guys had me puzzled. They seemed to be somewhat Native American in their body paint and likeness, though the religious charm they all carried around was definitely Indo-European. It was said they came from the north, but who lived further north than the Vikings? Maybe I'm reading too much into it- "Art History I" is bound to do that to you.

The film's only major problem was either pace or length- it's hard to decide which, but either way it seemed really short. Audiences sat through 3 hours of Braveheart, so why wimp out in The 13th Warrior? It could have definitely used a few more Jackson Pollock-esque carving contests to pad it out a bit.

So, to sum up:

Sexy, female-pleasing Antonio Banderas? Check.

Gore spattering Viking warriors? Check.

Anything else, really? Nope, but you won't notice.


(Out of five)

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