|"The 13th Warrior"
Reviewed by Carlos deVillalvilla
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Michael Crichton's books have had an uneven history on the screen, ranging from the classic ("Jurassic Park," "The Andromeda Strain") to the mediocre ("Sphere," "The Terminal Man") to the downright awful ("Congo").
"The 13th Warrior," directed by John McTiernan and based on Crichton's "Eaters of the Dead," isn't a classic. But the movie, which tanked at the box office when it was released last August, is a surprisingly good adventure flick and well worth some viewing time.
Antonio Banderas, who post-Zorro is settling into the action-hero role quite nicely, plays Ahmed Ibn Fahdlan, a poet living in 12th Century Baghdad who runs afoul of the local caliph when he has an eye-to-eye dalliance with another man's wife.
For his indiscretion, the impetuous Ahmed is sentenced to be ambassador to the barbarous Norsemen. Accompanied by his old friend Melchisidek (Omar Sharaif, who is seen too infrequently in Hollywood films these days, a serious oversight), he arrives in the encampment of the Norse king - just in time to witness the old king's funeral.
The brooding new king Buliwyf (Vladimir Kulich) accepts emissary into his camp. But all is upset by the arrival of a courier who brings a call for help from a neighboring king, whose people are being slaughtered by mysterious, seemingly demonic killers. Buliwyf consults a seer, who tells him that only 13 warriors must go. Quickly, 13 strapping warriors, led by their king, volunteer for the quest; but the seer admonishes that the 13th warrior must not be from the Northlands.
So, Ahmed is volunteered.
Along the way to the embattled kingdom, Ahmed goes from being the butt of the band's jokes to being a respected member of the cadre; he even manages to learn their language by a means that is delivered to the screen in a particularly imaginative way.
Once they arrive at the beset city, they are confronted by seemingly bear-like creatures who turn out to be a tribe of men - bear cultists. The heroic band of fighters bond amongst themselves, fight their implacable foes and the political intrigue of the kingdom they have traveled to, and sow courage, sacrifice and honor - qualities rarely seen in the movies these days.
The scenery here is gorgeous; the mists and shadows of the North make for compelling cinematography. The acting is solid; the Vikings are hearty and likable much in the way they are stereotyped in our culture. Banderas' Ahmed is cultured and debonair, but is also brave and lethal. He is referred to by his mates as "little brother" and he is indeed brother to the honest and open Norse. His strength isn't just in his muscles but in his heart, which his commander recognizes is the place where strength counts the most.
"The 13th Warrior" is a throwback film in many ways. It honors virtues that moviegoers these days tend to disdain. We look for our heros to be flawed so we can relate to them, rather than aspiring to be something better. Ahmed is the kind of hero worth aspiring to.
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See cast, credit and other details about "The 13th Warrior" at Internet Movie Data Base.