After a year's worth of post-production monkeying, "The 13th Warrior" has finally come to theaters, and its still a big mess.
The screen adaptation of an early Michael Crichton novel about 10th Century Vikings called "Eaters of the Dead," its an abbreviated and shallow epic that comes off like an over-produced and dead-serious episode of the campy cult TV show "Xena: Warrior Princess."
Antonio Banderas stars in the ethnicity roulette role of Ahmed Ibn Fahdlan, an elegant Arab poet banished (as an ambassador) to northern Europe as punishment for diddling a sultan's wife. This is hurriedly explained in a slap-dash introductory voice-over that seems to substitute for at least 30 minutes of action wisely (but sloppily) pruned from film.
As the movie opens, Ibn arrives at a Norse encampment where the craggy warriors are preparing to sail home upon news that a remote village on their coastline is being "menaced by a terror that has no name."
"Thirteen men must go," proclaims a shrieking, bone-rolling soothsayer with a stereotypically muddy face, scratchy voice and patches-of-animal-hide wardrobe, "and the 13th warrior must be no Norseman!"
So, reluctantly, Ibn falls in with this band long-haired, hard-drinking, broadsword-swinging brawlers -- who seem to be a cross between Klingons and Mel Gibson's "Braveheart" clan.
When they arrive in the Viking homeland after a stormy, CGI-enhanced sea journey, "The 13th Warrior" becomes a bloody, big-budget, beheadings-galore battle movie as the "terror that has no name" -- which "comes in the night, in the mist" with "teeth like a lion, heads like a bear" -- begins repeatedly assaulting the village.
Hundreds of these beasts attack the nearly defenseless community a few times in organize hordes -- somehow always being driven off by our dwindling baker's dozen of heroes and a minicule local battalion. After a while, Ibn and the Norsemen realize the "terror" is just a huge army of movie cliche cavemen decked out in imposing bear skins and riding big horses.
Directed by John McTiernan (who shot this film long before he started his recent "Thomas Crown Affair" remake) -- but taken over, rumor has it, by producer/novelist Crichton toward the end of production -- "The 13th Warrior" is a handsome picture, but for an attempted epic it is sorely lacking in depth and scope. Thanks to obvious and over-enthusiastic cuts, subplots are left dangling and seemingly key characters go entirely unexplored.
Neither is it all that savvy in the common sense department. For instance, there are a least a dozen transparent logistical problems regarding this purportedly terrible and colossal army of legendary monsters that is so easily forced to retreat night after night from a presumably indefensible village.
And can somebody tell me why these cavemen are attacking, how they've managed to stay hidden for the two generations since their last wave of attacks and what they were doing in the mean time? How about just letting me in on why these Norsemen can't deduce for themselves that the legendary "fire worm" that snakes over the side of nearby mountains and scares them so is nothing more than a column of the cavemen carrying torches by the hundreds?
These are all the kind of problems that are easily forgiven in something as tongue-in-cheek as "Xena," which follows the ancient adventures of a ass-kicking Amazon. But "The 13th Warrior" isn't kidding around when it introduces an elderly woman oracle who speaks -- and looks -- like Yoda ("He too, you must kill!"), or when one of the Vikings notes that "there's barely a lad between 15 and 50" to defend the village. (Folks rarely lived to past 40 in the 922 A.D., something the screenwriter clearly didn't know.)
Ahmed Ibn Fahdlan, Banderas' character, is based on a real historical figure who kept detailed diaries of his travels in Viking country. One can only imagine how much more interesting his biography might have been in place of this mosty ridiculous adventure.
Run time: 102 mins
In Theaters: Friday 27th August 1999
Box Office Worldwide: $61.7M
Distributed by: Buena Vista Pictures
Production compaines: Touchstone Pictures
Contactmusic.com: 2 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 33%
Fresh: 29 Rotten: 58
IMDB: 6.6 / 10
Director: John McTiernan
Starring: Antonio Banderas as Ahmad Ibn Fadlān, Vladimir Kulich as Buliwyf, Dennis Storhøi as Herger the Joyous, Daniel Southern as Edgtho the Silent, Clive Russell as Helfdane the Fat, Mischa Hausserman as Rethel the Archer, Richard Bremmer as Skeld the Superstitious, Diane Venora as Queen Weilew, Neil Maffin as Roneth, John DeSantis as Ragnar - Dour, Oliver Sveinall as Haltaf - Boy, Asbjørn 'Bear' Riis as Halga - Wise, Tony Curran as Weath - Musician, Albie Woodington as Hyglak - Quarrelsome, Omar Sharif as Melchisidek, Erick Avari as Caravan Leader
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