The 13th Warrior (1999)
Directed by John McTiernan
Cast: Antonio Banderas, Omar Sharif, Maria Bonnevie, Vladimir Kulich, Diane
1999 106 minutes
Rated: (for violence and extreme gore).
Reviewed by Dustin Putman, August 29, 1999.
I first saw the teaser trailer for John McTiernan's "The 13th Warrior" in the Fall of 1997. Of course, back then it was still called "Eaters of the Dead," which is the same title as the novel it's based upon, by Michael Crichton ("Jurassic Park"). Sometime in 1998, however, it generically was retitled, "The 13th Warrior." Does a name really play a part in how good an actual movie is? Well, no, probably not, but my interest in seeing the picture plummeted down at the speed of light at the thought of this new name, and then the movie kept being pushed back and pushed back to the point where I began to wondering if it was ever going to be released. Stories and rumors abound of the studio, Buena Vista, frantically trying to reshoot and recut much of it after disasterous test screenings, much to the reluctance of McTiernan. Now that "The 13th Warrior" has finally been released theatrically over two years after it was filmed, it's difficult to say how McTiernan's cut might have turned out, but I know this much: no matter how much was reshot and edited, there is no possible way this film could be anything other than stupefyingly horrendous. Move over "Inspector Gadget"; I think I've found a new "Worst Film of 1999."
From what I can gather about the specifics of the film, "The 13th Warrior" has no signs of an actual plot, or even a reason for being made and wasting reportedly over $100-million. Shouldn't it be illegal to spend so much money on a movie that is akin to my cat's stool sample? Antonio Banderas cashes a paycheck as Ahmed Ibn Fahdlan, an Arab aristocrat who is banished from Baghdad after being accused of looking at the King's wife crossways. Taking up with a ragtag team of Norse mercenaries in the 10th-century, Ahmed is called upon to become the 13th warrior and travel to Europe to fight a barbarous tribe of half-man/half-beasts. "I am not a warrior!" Ahmed says, but pretty soon, he will be.
There isn't an act, scene, shot, or frame in "The 13th Warrior" that I could say I liked, which is no small feat to achieve considering that, even in my review for "Inspector Gadget," I mentioned I liked one cast member. Abruptly starting off with nary a line of exposition, the film's structure goes like this: man forced to become 13th warrior, man fights barbarians, man leaves. Who is this man, you ask? I couldn't tell you, aside for saying that he is played by Antonio Banderas with a lot of eye-liner on. Throughout the excruciating 106 minutes this movie takes to reach its victorious end credits (victorious because I knew I could finally leave the theater!), there is not one fact I could tell you about any of the thirteen warriors, aside from saying that they love to fight and casually stab each other with swords, only to think nothing of it. And if we don't grow accustomed to the main characters, or feel like we've even been properly introduced, how do the filmmakers expect any of us to care at all about how things will turn out and who will live and die?
The screenplay was written by two people: William Wisher and Warren Lewis. They must have been comatose when they penned it, because I'll be damned if I can detect anything even resembling a script at work here. The movie's idea of a romantic subplot has Ahmed enchanging literally one line of dialogue with a pretty villager (Maria Bonnevie), only to see them in bed together in the next scene. The movie's idea of excitement is having the whole film revolve around three big battles with the barbarians, with lots of cut-off heads flying about, and no sense of understanding how to set up an action set-piece. And the movie's idea of atmosphere is having the cinematography, by Peter Menzies Jr., be so dimly-lit and washed out that, on a visual stance, you feel like turning your head away every minute. Maybe an overwhelming amount of dirt particles got on the camera lense, and director McTiernan never even realized a little Windex would do the trick. Or, better yet, maybe they spent so much money on the "breathtaking," "extravagant," "one-of-a-kind" action sequences, that they didn't have enough left to invest in some bright lights. That was supposed to be an example of sarcasm, just to let you know.
"The 13th Warrior" ends with them beating the barbarians, and Ahmed getting on a ship to sail off. Since there was no actual entertainment value that stemmed from one second of the film, nor did we ever satisfactorily learn who the barbarians were, why they were fighting, or even one character trait from the "heroic" central figures, I'd love a little insight into the point of making the film in the first place. "The 13th Warrior" is the most depressing cinematic experience to grace (or curse) the silver screen this year.
©1999 by Dustin Putman