The Scoop: 1999 R, directed by John McTiernan and starring Antonio Banderas, Dennis Storhøi, Vladimir Kulich, and Tony Curran
Tagline: Prey for the living.
Summary Capsule: An Arab gets shanghaied into an adventure with twelve Vikings – cue the wacky cannibalism!
Eunice’s Rating: Heads will roll! *ba dum bum*
Eunice’s Review: Full disclosure time: I have never read Michael Crichton’s Eaters of the Dead, the book on which this movie is based. So I can’t help give any comparisons there. But this means that when I watch The 13th Warrior, I watch it completely on its own merits.
Antonio Banderas plays Ahmed Ibn Fahdlan (hereafter called Ibn), an Arab poet who has been made an ambassador as a form of punishment for loving the wrong woman. Traveling north to fulfill his duties, he meets a band of “Northmen” (Vikings to you and me). After some culture clashing (the face washing scene still churns my stomach) a boy arrives with a message for the group’s leader Buliwyf. It’s a request for warriors, hebbie jeebie bad things are afoot in a land across the sea called Venden. A witchy woman is brought in to read the runes as to who should go, thirteen men she says. Ibn watches as men start volunteering, but when they get up to thirteen the woman says the thirteenth must be a non Northman, which leaves Ibn as the only choice (well technically Omar Sharif is an option, but he’s sixty-seven so…). So Ibn sets off with the other twelve sans interpreter and teaches himself the language and earns some minimal grudging respect through more culture clashing as they make their way to their destination.
When they arrive they find a town with only a handful of able bodied men, struggling to survive against their strange enemy: A monstrous people called “The Eaters of the Dead” that come out of the night and the mists.
13th Warrior is a movie that works best when taken in the context of when it was made. Sure the story itself is nothing new; ‘outsider comes in and helps to fight big bads and gains understanding, friendship, and hooks up with he hot native chick.’ In terms of presentation, it wouldn’t be untrue to say that, for good or bad, 13th Warrior has had a strong influence on most every hack n slash movie made since 1999. Including movies like King Arthur or the suggestions at the bottom of the page, and you’ll never convince me that Peter Jackson wasn’t somehow influenced with The Two Towers from the point where Gimli points out there are only women, children, and old men left in Rohan, on. If you’re a fan of this action subgenre, I highly recommend you watch this movie.
But that’s not to say it’s only a curiosity that no longer stands on its own feet. So the story is nothing new, but where it doesn’t reinvent the wheel, it’s still a pretty well made wheel. The locations are gorgeous, and the blood spatters nicely. The action scenes are a little too jumpily edited for my taste, but no where near as bad as the trend would go on to become, instead of being nauseating or overly confusing the technique more conveys the craziness of close combat. And there’s a lot of night scenes but you can still see the movie, how novel!
Ibn may be the main character, but he’s probably the least interesting and most inconsistent person in this whole movie. We’re told he was a poet living a life of ease and he’s really squeamish, but then he knows how to fashion his own sword and how to fight in battle? I don’t know, Banderas tries and does a good job, but compared to the Norsemen he just comes off a little boring. Because those guys cool!
Most of the twelve are played by Scandinavian actors who haven’t been in any other international movies, so I don’t really know who played who (there’s no pictures for most of these guys on imdb). You have the funny red head played by Tony Curran (he’s great love that guy), the other red head with the facial tattoos, the black haired guy who is the scout of the group, the big old grizzled guy who has been in like five hundred of these movies, the other old guy who’s the archer with the mullet braid, brunettes one and two who both explain what’s going on for Ibn/the audience, a kid, a blond dude, a guy who’s like a younger version of the first grizzled old guy (these last three die pretty quick), and Buliwyf and Herger.
Vladimir Kulich, who’ll you’ll probably know from Smokin’ Aces or TV’s Angel and Vikings or a whole bunch of other things, plays Buliwyf. As the leader he’s quiet, intelligent, and honorable. He treats his men, King Hrothgar, and Ibn with respect. To pull that much mileage out of a character in an hour and a half long movie with such a big cast requires a lot of talent and screen presence. Bravo to you, sir.
The real stand out here is Norwegian actor Dennis Storhøi as Herger. Herger takes Ibn under his wing and starts calling him “Little Brother,” and Ibn gets no say in the matter. As Buliwyf’s right hand, he’s a funny, smart, tough short guy who gets the best lines and some of the best scenes. I love how when he fights he’s like a big kid. For me, it’s all about the “engineering dispute.” The king’s son feels threatened by Buliwyf, so it’s decided that the thirteen need to send a message to keep him off their backs while they deal with the real threat of the Eaters. Herger picks a fight with one of the Prince’s men, exchanges some witty dialogue with a worried Ibn, makes a show of a fight he could have won in two seconds, and then swaggers off like he’s the most confident guy in the world. Because he’s that awesome.
The 13th Warrior isn’t very deep, or particularly original, and limped at the box office ending up a bit of a flop, but it is a fun violent action adventure flick, and one of the better Viking movies (in terms of movie quality, I admit I’ve woefully neglected my Viking studies). Come for the blood, decapitations, and cannibals, stay for Buliwyf and Herger!
- “Since Michael Crichton published his novel “Eaters of the Dead” in 1976, the basis of this film, it has become regarded as one of the most notorious hoaxes in Librarianship Circles. The Ahmad Tusi Manuscript that Crichton referenced in his bibliography as being the source of this story, is completely made up. The name of the translator Fraus Dolus is in fact two Latin words meaning both ‘hoax’ and ‘fraud’. The University of Oslo, where this manuscript is supposed to be kept, have (since the book was published), on an annual basis had to send out letters telling enquirers that they have been the victim of a hoax.”
- I’ve easily seen this movie over twenty times, and the washing basin makes queasy every. time.
- Some hate it, but I’ve always liked the language learning scene. I think a lot of people don’t realize it’s taking place over several nights.
- Is that guy really that big?
Herger: Hurry to meet death before your place is taken.
Herger: The All-Father wove the skein of your life a long time ago. Go and hide in a hole if you wish, but you won’t live one instant longer. Your fate is fixed. Fear profits a man nothing.
Herger: Come friend, your head has gone looking for your hand. They will meet each other in Paradise.
[About Ibn’s scimitar]
Weath: When you die, can I give that to me daughter?
Olga: That’s a woman’s sound.
Ibn: Do that again and you’ll make it.
Ibn: What happened?
Herger: An engineering dispute.
Ibn: You notice he’s bigger than you?
Ibn: And younger?
Herger: Yes. …Bet on him if you like.
Herger: It’s alright, Little Brother. There are more.
Ibn: Have we anything resembling a plan?
Herger: Mmhmm. Ride till we find them, and kill them all.
What’s left of the Thirteen: Lo, there do I see my father. Lo, there do I see my mother, and my sisters, and my brothers. Lo, there do I see the line of my people, back to the beginning. Lo, they do call to me. They bid me take my place among them. In the halls of Valhalla, where the brave… may live… forever.
Herger: In your land one god is enough, but we have need of many. I will pray to all of them for you, do not be offended.
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