It’s a new year and a great time to review some odd gems of cinema history. In my ongoing review of films that catch my attention and critical acclaim, I hope to shine the spotlight on films that have taken on a cult status. Although today’s film was not financially successful nor did it achieve fame from a wider audience, it is often taken for granted among the adventure genre of films.
First a bit of background on this film: the 13th Warrior was released in 1999 and it was adapted from a book by the famous Michael Crichton entitled Eaters of the Dead. Michael Crichton is more widely known for his novel Jurassic Park. During the mid to late 90’s Crichton’s novels were being adapted to film as fast as possible hoping for another big hit like Jurassic Park. Thus enters director John McTeiran, who’s best known for directing action hits like Predator and Die Hard. Although this film seemed like it would be a great success, it ended up coming in way over budget and flopped with audiences at the box office with estimates at a $120-million-dollar loss.
Now I hope to make the case that this film is not nearly as bad as it is made out to be. While it does have some obvious shortcomings, I still think this film shines in its narrative and set design, and the actors really try to give it their all in spite of the problems associated with the filming and production disputes. I think modern audiences can appreciate an adventure piece set in the dark ages due to a renaissance in the popularity of Norse Viking culture and current trends in video games such as the like of Skyrim.
This film’s story begins with our main protagonist, Ahmad ibn Fadlan, played by Antonio Banderas. Ahamd ibn Fadlan is based in part of a real historical figure who would go on to write and describe his time spent as an ambassador to the Volga Vikings. In this adaptation Ahamd ibn Fadlan is forced to travel with 12 Vikings on a sacred mission of honor back to the far north of their homeland because an ancient enemy has returned and is terrorizing a Norse Kingdom. We are introduced to the leader and King of the Viking warriors: Buliwyf, played by Vladimir Kulich. Buliwyf encompasses all the traits one would expect to find in a Viking, boasting a tall, silent, stoic appearance that can turn in an instant into ferocious fighter steeped in knowledge of Norse religion. His character is loosely based in homage to that of the mythical Beowulf. The last character that stands out amongst the rest is that of Herger played by the Norwegian actor Dennis Storhøi. Herger’s character has the closest relationship to Ahamd and the two develop a quick friendship. Herger helps to explain the different culture the Vikings possess while being a friendlier and comedic character in stark contrast to the rest of the Vikings.
In summary, the 13th Warrior was a swing and a miss with mainstream audiences and to many it feels like an unfinished film due to some pacing issues. I wouldn’t go as far as some do and rule it out as a bad film, and I wouldn’t suggest it’s a B film either as the tone remains serious throughout and isn’t that campy. I think what’s most important is that I grew up with the film when there weren’t many choices in the genre as the Viking craze was still years off and this film has a very good period piece feel to it. So why not give this film a try- if it’s not the best, it’s at least entertaining!
This film is available at the Union University Library the Logos.
* Please note The 13th Warrior is rated R for violence throughout and some minor language.
**written by Matthew Beyer