The Thirteenth Warrior
1999, R, 103 min. Directed by John Mctiernan. Starring Asbjorn Riis, Turid Balke, Omar Sharif, Clive Russell, John Desantis, Neil Maffin, Daniel Southern, Dennis Storhoi, Vladamir Kulich, Antonio Banderas.
REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., Aug. 27, 1999
Not nearly as entertaining as Roger Corman's 1957 opus nauseam The Voyage of the Viking Women to the Waters of the Great Sea Serpent, this perplexing oddity from action maven McTiernan (Die Hard, The Thomas Crown Affair) and Michael Crichton appears to have been conceived during one of those epic drinking bouts the Johns Milius and Boorman used to use as story sessions. Certainly that's the only logical explanation for a film that features Banderas as a disgraced Arab emissary conscripted during the 10th century by a group of Norse brigands to assist in ridding their homeland of “that which can not be named.” Frankly, it sounds more like a job for Glenn Danzig to me, but seeing as how McTiernan's film is adapted from one of Crichton's earliest novels (1976's Eaters of the Dead), I suspect the filmmakers were thinking more along the Spaniard's lines. Fair enough. As Ahmed Ibn Fahdlan, Banderas is thrust into battle alongside 12 strapping Norsemen intent on fulfilling a prophesy that reveals that they will succeed only if they are accompanied by a 13th who must also be a foreigner. Once back in the Scandinavian forests, the group pits themselves against a nomadic army of cannibalistic headhunters, who arrive cloaked in mist, bear skins (with the heads still attached, presumably to rile the aesthetes among their quarry) and ferociously bad manners. Much is made of Ahmed's indoctrination into the Norse way of life: For a time, and in an effort to re-create the confused sense of misplacement Ahmed is undergoing, McTiernan forgoes subtitles altogether, resulting in several lengthy scenes of huge, bearded blond and red-haired men belching and nattering away in the firelight while Ahmed looks on nonplused. Doubling for 10th-century Scandinavia is Vancouver, B.C., and it's here that McTiernan and his production designers go for broke, outfitting everything from the Shire horses to the actors in pounds of chains and leather mail and gobs of muck and mire. It's all a bit reminiscent of the opening moments of Monty Python and the Holy Grail, actually, only without the clever wit. There is a fair amount of humor here, though; it would be hard to mount a Viking film these days without humor, I'd imagine. Toward that end, The 13th Warrior includes copious shots of mad kings and gnarled witch women, though certainly the Norsemen's descriptive appellations are by far the most outlandish things in the film. Apart from leader Buliwyf (Kulich, late of Cronenberg's Crash), there's Herger the Joyous (Storhoi), Halga the Wise (Riis), and Helfdane the Large (Russell). What, no Hoggwylde the Ambivalent? Forsooth. Destined to either fade from memory faster than a bad pilsner or become a bona fide midnight movie (your guess is as good as mine, I'm afraid), this is hairy-chested, testosterone-fueled filmmaking at its most bombastic. Skøl!