What’s it about:
In the 900s an Arabian
court poet, Ahmad ibn Fadlan (Antonio Banderas), is banished from Baghdad and sets out northwards.
He meets up with and agrees to join a group of Vikings led by Buliwyf (as the
titular 13th warrior) as they head out to protect a village that is
being attacked by a vicious creature called the Wendol. Sound vaguely familiar?
Yes, it’s basically the story of Beowulf told from an outsider's perspective.
Based on the novel Eaters of the Dead
by Michael Crichton, it tries to make a realistic origin for the fantastical
5 things to love:
1. The reveal
of the Wendol is fantastic. I won’t spoil it here but it’s a pretty good
concept that works great visually. The first time you see the creature
winding down the side of the mountain is awesome.
2. There’s a
great central performance by Antonio Banderas playing Ahmad (one of the few
positive Arabian character in a US film). The only downside is that the film can’t,
by its nature, make him take the lead. Having him chronicle the adventure works
perfectly in the book but it’s a little strange to have the protagonist be so
sidelined in a film.
3. The film
has great little bits of detail about certain Viking rituals which I’m sure are
taken from Crichton’s novel. Crichton was always a stickler for filling his
novels with as many facts as possible. One particularly interesting (though
slightly unbelievable) bit is that initially Ahmad is speaking English (for the
audience) and the Vikings are speaking un-subtitled Norwegian (I think) and then slowly, as
Ahmad picks up their language, they start speaking English too.
storming of the Wendol’s lair is a great set piece. The Viking group basically
have to sneak into an elaborate cave system and abseil down a huge internal waterfall.
It’s tense and very well directed by John McTiernan (and a little reminiscent of Predator which is never a bad thing).
you’ve got to love that the film doesn’t shy away from some strong bloody
violence and has some big, epic, practical sets. 1999 was a bit of watershed,
most films this size would subsequently be made with CGI and be 12A rated (see The Mummy, also 1999).
1 thing it didn’t need:
suffered from some reshoots by Crichton rather than McTiernan which maybe(?) improved
the film from its initial rough cut (I don’t know, it’s not available) but give
the film a very disjointed feeling. You can especially tell that the ending was
a hurried reshoot. It’s a shame because it spoils an otherwise solid film.