(US); 1999; Rated R; 116 Minutes
Antonio Banderas: Ibn Fadlan
Diane Venora: Queen Weilew
Omar Sharif: Melchisidek
Vladimir Kulich: Buliwif
Maria Bonnevie: Olga
Mischa Hausserman: Rethel
Produced by Michael Crichton, Ned Dowd, Ethan Dubrow,
John McTiernan, Andrew G. Vajna; Directed by John
McTiernan; Screenwritten by William Wisher Jr.; based
on "Eaters Of The Dead" by Michael Crichton
by DAVID KEYES
one moment, let's just say you are Antonio Banderas' biggest
fan. You've seen all of his movies, read all of his magazine
articles, memorized every line of dialogue he's recited,
and even cried for him when he was denied an Oscar nomination
for "Evita." Without doubt, you love the guy. And why shouldn't
you?--this is someone who, behind all those mystifying good
looks, can act his way out of a quicksand pit. With that
in mind, ask yourself this question: are you the proper
candidate to see his latest picture, "The 13th Warrior?"
I sincerely hope not.
may be the leading character, but he certainly isn't the
main focus. The movie is not even a definite Banderas vehicle--in
fact, any attention the film gets is owed to the fact that
it is, after all, the long-anticipated adaptation of "Eaters
Of The Dead," by Michael Crichton. For the near-two years
it has been in production, the movie has been through a
ring of chaos, launching with a stupendous budget that easily
zoomed past the 100 million mark, and followed by rejection
from test audiences, who were reportedly underwhelmed by
the first shoot. But director John McTiernan and writer
William Wisher Jr. were apparently determined to get it
right--their incessantly ambitious egos felt that a product
could be salvaged from all the senselessness. They went
back to the drawing board, reshooting certain scenes, revising
parts of the script, and so on. There were even reports
of Crichton himself offering his help with some of the reshoots.
maybe their decision to modify the picture should have been
reconsidered on the basis of two facts. For one, cinema
has already proven that alterations done to an original
concept frequently interfere with the filmmaker's original
vision. Secondly, one should choose to modify their products
at their own discretion--not at the proposal of test audiences.
What is a filmmaker, I ask, if he cannot trust his own judgment?
13th Warrior" opens in the midst of a ferocious storm, in
which the camera closes in on a ship tossing through the
waves, and eventually settles on Ibn Fadlan (Banderas),
who from that moment begins telling us his story. Banished
from his homeland after the pursuit of a married woman,
he is 'appointed' ambassador, and sent to the north, where
he comes across a group of perverted, rude, nasty ignoramuses
who are about ready to embark on an expedition to the north--one
that involves hunting down a bear-like species who murder
fellow Norsemen, rip their heads off, eat the bodies, and
don't even bother to clean up after themselves.
trek requires 13 sword-wielding henchmen, but only 12 can
be from the north. Fadlan is selected the 13th soldier in
their fated expedition, and soon finds himself amongst a
slew of non-English-speaking Norsemen. But in one of the
movie's few compelling scenes, the lone Arab observes each
man carefully, picking up on the dialect just as it is spoken.
Words are repeated over and over in his mind, as are the
shots of men hurdling around the campfire, laughing, drinking,
and telling stories. Soon those words are clear to him:
on screen, in one quick moment, the dialogue is uttered
in English. Why, you ask? Because Fadlan is beginning to
comprehend their language, and we are being given the dialogue
through his mind, therefore translated into our native language.
none of the dialogue is significant in the shallow story.
That's because characters use parley as seldom as possible,
so that important and needed explanations become sidetracked
behind all sorts of complex battle sequences, which, I might
add, are so confusing that when someone is slain, you aren't
sure if it's the protagonist or the antagonist. There is
a dialogue sequence, for instance, that begins with a promising
idea: what if these "eaters" think they are bears (after
all, they collect carcasses and wear the fur as headdresses,
hiding their human form)? Is it possible that they hibernate
in caves when they aren't out hunting down humans? Maybe.
But instead of pursuing the perception, the screenplay puts
it in the discard pile, instead concentrating on the countless
sequences of brutal slaughter, in which the 'eaters' invade
villages, and the warriors attempt to subvert their efforts.
Even though these things do live in caves, no one
brings up the bear subject again.
wanted this movie to succeed, even though it was clear from
the amount of time it spent on the cutting room floor that
nothing could be salvaged. Do the revisions, however, make
the product better than the first version? Maybe. Nonetheless
they shouldn't have been done for two reasons, as I have
already pointed out. My best advice is to pick up Crichton's
novel and read it cover to cover. It is an outstanding piece
of literature. Seeing "The 13th Warrior" is like wishing
for light at the end of a long dark tunnel, when we both
know nothing is really there.
1999, David Keyes, Cinemaphile.org.
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