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
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
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?
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)