The 13th Warrior

on August 27, 1999 by Wade Major
   One of the most troubled major studio productions of the past few decades, "The 13th Warrior" finally crawls onto screens some two years after its original release date, allegedly re-edited and reworked (by some accounts even re-shot) by producer Michael Crichton after the acrimonious departure of director John McTiernan. Whatever the case, it's unlikely that either McTiernan or Crichton (on whose novel "Eaters of the Dead" the film is based) would have been able to salvage much in the way of coherent or logical storytelling. Nor, paradoxically, does it much matter given the film's unrelenting celebration of blood and thunder-the only attributes about which its target audience of chest-beating males will care.
   Loosely based on a true-life 10th-century Arabic scholar named Ahmed Ibn Fahdlan (Antonio Banderas), "The 13th Warrior" details an adventure wherein the itinerant Fahdlan encounters a band of Vikings somewhere between Europe and his native Baghdad, soon agreeing to join them in returning to Scandinavia to do battle with marauding hoards of seemingly demonic cannibals.
   With Jerry Goldsmith's bombastically Wagnerian score trumpeting the characters' bravery at every turn, the story quickly swells to Beowulfian proportions, with characters rambling mystical platitudes between violent orgies of bloodletting and dismemberment. For fans of the genre, it's an inexorably primal exercise almost like cinematic steroids: qualitatively lacking, if not harmful, yet superficially irresistible.
   Faults notwithstanding, one has to imagine that this is precisely the kind of muscular, lunk-headed film that its makers intended. From free-spending executive producer Andrew Vajna (of Carolco bankruptcy fame) to producer/director John McTiernan ("Die Hard") to co-screenwriter William Wisher ("Terminator 2"), "The 13th Warrior" is a testosterone-laced guys' movie, top to dim-witted bottom.
   It comes as no surprise, then, that historical and cultural accuracy, as well as any regard for the classic lore on which the book was presumably based, are among the film's first casualties. Anyone the least familiar with literature, anthropology or history (much less able to read) is probably too far removed from man's evolutionary origins to connect.
   Technically, the film's credentials are more solid, highlighted by the superlative work of cinematographer Peter Menzies Jr. and production design of Wolf Kroeger. Surprisingly, the film's performances are likewise solid, with two magnetic newcomers-Vladimir Kulich and Dennis Storhoi-all but stealing the show from Banderas.
   Ironically, McTiernan may wind up being the sole beneficiary of the film's belated release. Still basking in the success of his more polished "The Thomas Crown Affair," any negative press is likely to pass to Crichton-which is probably where it belongs, anyway. Starring Antonio Banderas, Vladimir Kulich and Dennis Storhoi. Directed by John McTiernan. Written by William Wisher and Warren Lewis. Produced by John McTiernan, Michael Crichton and Ned Dowd. A Buena Vista release. Action/Adventure. Rated R for bloody battles and carnage. Running time: 103 min
Tags: Starring Antonio Banderas, Vladimir Kulich, Dennis Storhoi, Directed by John McTiernan. Written by William Wisher and Warren Lewis. Produced by John McTiernan, Michael Crichton, Ned Dowd, Buena Vista, Action Adventure

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