The 13th Warrior - * *

The 13th Warrior

The Thirteenth Warrior (previously known as Eaters of the Dead) has been collecting dust on the studio shelves for well over a year now. Usually that, combined with the dread end-of-August release date, is a sure sign of a potentially awful movie. However, The Thirteenth Warrior, though riddled with faults, is never a total disaster. Those yearning for a thought-free testosterone-laden action flick will find a welcome diversion here. As for others…well, don’t say you weren’t warned.

In a few moments of backstory which actually had more screen time in the trailer, we learn that Ahmed Ibn Fahdlan (Antonio Banderas) is banished from his home in Baghdad by a jealous noble. Actually, “banished” might not be exactly the appropriate term…he’s forcibly appointed as ambassador to the Northmen, and sent far, far away.

He quickly finds them, as it seems that Scandinavia is just over the hill from Baghdad, and before long Ahmed is surrounded by large, hairy, dirty and violent Vikings. But there’s a twist to his job. An unknown menace threatens, and thirteen warriors are required to go to battle. The thirteenth warrior must not be a Northman…and Ahmed is the only one who fits the bill.

So, it’s off to war with the Vikings, against an enemy of…who knows what? Rumors abound: that their foes are demons, part man, part bear, part lion, all deadly. The deadly part is the only one that has been verified, though, as the bad guys have the habit of beheading their foes and gnawing on the bones of the dead. Will the thirteen men survive numerous battles with a countless enemy? Would there be a movie if they didn’t?

The 13th Warrior is based on Michael Crichton’s novel, Eaters of the Dead, and it stands out from the rest of his work only in the fact that it takes place in the past. The film is a strict adventure tale, with none of the technical speculation that typically riddles Crichton’s works.

As can be expected, character development is virtually ignored in the film. Hmmm, the characters are Vikings…end of character development. The film half-heartedly tries to distinguish them with quick character traits (let’s see, there’s the leader, the archer, the good humored one, the tatoo guy, umm…and the rest). But for the most part…they’re simply Vikings.

The battles start out interesting, but quickly turn into sheer drudgery. The swordplay looks interesting, but John McTiernan’s chaotic direction makes it nearly impossible to tell what’s going on. Of course, the complete anonyminity of the Northmen makes this task much harder still. However, if you’re only looking for the thrill of battle, and could care less about strategy or coherence, you’ll find plenty of it here.

Antonio Banderas nimbly tiptoes through his role with ease. Somehow he makes you believe that his klutzy diplomat and his well-honed swordsman are one and the same character (even though there’s nary a transitional scene). Heck, he’s a fast learner…he even picks up the entire Northman language in a minute or so of film-time. What are a few reflexes?

Subtlety, plot, pacing, characterization…if you can ignore those minor omissions, The Thirteenth Warrior has more than enough swordfighting to satisfy your bloodlust, and then some. If your expectations are low enough, this film might just meet them.

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