The 13th Warrior

The 13th Warrior

***

Reviewed by: Angus Wolfe Murray

It is encouraging to find an epic filmmaker reverting to craftmanship, rather than logging onto computer generated magic. Authenticity is the watchword in this Viking version of The Magnificent Thirteen. The locations are breathtaking, the longships built to scale, the costumes handmade, even chainmail is constructed by the original method.

Ahmed Ibn Fahdlan (Antonio Banderas), a budding diplomat from Bagdad, has been sent on a dangerous journey into Tartar territory as punishment for taking too much interest in the young wife of an influential old courtier. At the point where his camel train is attacked by marauders and repelled, thanks to assistance from a passing boatload of Vikings, he knows that swordplay will count for more than erudite conversation.

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Somehow he is talked into joining The Scandinavian Twelve, as they sail home to defend an isolated mountain community from flesh eating monsters-of-the-mist. The fact that his skills are intellectual, rather than brutish, doesn't bother them. He is treated as a mascot and indulged as a butt of their jokes.

The film's central theme is similar to Kurosawa's classic, Seven Samurai, in which a select group of itinerant knights defend a peasant village from heavily armed bandits, with the additional horror flick element that these attackers are believed to be supernatural, half-bear half-man, who eat their victims and specialise in decapitation ("They always take the heads. They are demons"), attacking at night on horseback when the mist is down. All very spooky.

John ("Die Hard") McTiernan is a director who commits himself to the spirit of machismo, not unlike James Cameron in his attitude to cinema's power of imagery. Something goes wrong here. Ahmed Ibn is overshadowed by the physicality of his long haired compatriots and Banderas's qualities as an actor are wasted. A silly love interest leads nowhere and waiting for the attack goes on forever.

Credibility turns to dust. The bad guys live as cavemen and yet are depicted as a highly efficient war machine (how do they feed their horses?). The Magnificent Thirteen are perfectly prepared to take on the entire might of the cave armies, even when their magnificence is dulled by mortal losses. Courage is admirable until it becomes ludicrous. A Viking longship, however, in a British Columbian fjord, is still a beautiful sight.

Reviewed on: 19 Jan 2001
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An Arab scholar is recruited to help a group of Norsemen protect a village under seige.
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