THE 13th WARRIOR —-13 was an unlucky number for this 1999 adventure, which was plagued by production hassles that delayed its release for nearly two years after filming began. Adapted from Michael Crichton’s 288 page 1976 novel “Eaters Of The Dead”, when it finally came out it was clobbered by critics. Worse than the unduly harsh reviewer dings was the disastrous box-office fate. A US take of $32,700,000 put it 62nd place for the year, part of worldwide booty that totaled $61,699,000. That was stacked against a production cost of $90,000,000, which when prints and marketing were added eventually consumed nearly $160,000,000. A sorry fate, as some editing clunkiness aside, it’s an offbeat, entertaining action tale that has a loyal fan base who don’t give a beard-soaking oxhorn cup of Norse ale what snickerpuss keyboard harpies thought about it. “KROM!” *
“Lo, there do I see my father. Lo, there do I see my mother and 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.”
In 922 A.D., Muslim poet and emissary Ahmad ibn Fadlan (Antonio Banderas) joins a dozen Norsemen on a journey to a distant northern kingdom under attack from some mysterious enemy. Proving his mettle, he helps them battle the fearsome, cannibalistic ‘Wendol.’
The script by William Wisher and Warren Lewis streamlined Crichton’s book, which was narrated as a scientific commentary on an old (invented) manuscript, and took elements from the historical Arabian explorer Ahmad ibn Fadlan and his travels among the Varangians/Volga Vikings and mixed it up with a reworking of the Beowulf epic. Filming was done in British Colombia, with John McTiernan directing. Despite a track record that included Predator, Die Hard and The Hunt For Red October, McTiernan didn’t have it down this time, and Disney fired him. Crichton took his place as director, and did extensive re-shoots, including jettisoning the score completed by Graeme Revell and replacing it with a new one from Jerry Goldsmith.
“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.”
Main complaint about the script and do-over editing is that subplots and secondary characters are introduced and then quickly discarded, and the finale feels rushed. Otherwise, it looks great in Peter Menzies Jr.’s cinematography, delivers some exciting gory action, has a colorful crew of lusty good guys (good for Vikings, anyway) to back the likable Banderas (who’d just scored big with The Mask of Zorro), and Goldsmith’s rousing score is another winner for the composer. Best supporting player is Dennis Storhøi as ‘Herger the Joyous’. In a cameo, Omar Sharif adds a touch of dignity and class to the rowdiness.
With Vladimir Kulich, Diane Venora, Richard Bremmer, Tony Curran, Maria Bonnevie and Albie Woodington. The Iranian beauty behind the veil whose smoldering glance gets Banderas booted from Baghdad is Ghoncheh Tazmini, who went on to become an esteemed political scientist and author. 102 minutes.
* Crichton: “The short version is, I wrote Eaters of the Dead on a bet that I could make an entertaining story out of Beowulf. It’s an unusual book. Readers either like it, or they don’t. I’m quite pleased with the movie, which I think captures the feeling of the novel very well.”
Worth mentioning is that while Goldsmith’s score is solid, the rejected work from Graeme Revell is likewise quite impressive. The critical pulverizing was out-to-lunch: if the movie deserved getting knocked it should have been over the mishandled production confusion which blew the budget to such sky high proportions that Odin himself could not have tamed the payment exacting furies.