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(1999) (Antonio Banderas, Dennis Storhoi) (R)

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Action/Adventure: A reluctant emissary joins a band of Norse warriors who've been summoned to defend a small village from mysterious creatures known for consuming those they kill.
In medieval Bagdad, Ahmed Ibn Fahdlan (ANTONIO BANDERAS) is a prominent poet whose fancy for a young woman gets him in trouble with a local official. Sent to a far-off land as an emissary with his manservant, Melchisidek (OMAR SHARIF), Ibn encounters a band of Norse warriors celebrating the funeral of their late king and the ascension of Buliwyf (VLADIMIR KULICH) to the throne.

When a young messenger arrives with tales of a village and its people under attack by a mysterious and feared enemy, an old soothsayer proclaims that a band of thirteen warriors must set off to protect the village and its people. As the most worthy and seasoned warriors volunteer for the mission, including Buliwyf and Herger the Joyous (DENNIS STORHOI), Ibn finds that he's to go along since the thirteenth warrior cannot be from the North.

Although he's teased by the others for being so comparatively small and having a likewise smaller horse, Ibn is soon accepted into the ranks. As they arrive at the small, poorly constructed and defended fort/village, they meet the elderly leader, King Hrothgar (SVEN WOLLTER), his young wife, Queen Weilew (DIANE VENORA), and Hrothgar's treacherous son, Wigliff (ANDERS T. ANDERSEN), who's not happy to see the warriors' arrival.

Learning that most of the adult male population has been decimated by a mysterious enemy that only arrives in the shroud of fog and apparently eats its prey, Ibn and his cohorts set out to defend the village and its people.

If they're fans of Banderas or of medieval-based swashbuckler type movies, they just might, but it doesn't seem that this film will be much of a draw to most kids.
For bloody battles and carnage.
  • ANTONIO BANDERAS plays an emissary-turned reluctant warrior who joins the others in defending and thus killing many members of the attacking enemy.
  • DENNIS STORHOI plays one of his warrior cohorts who initially gives Ibn some grief about his size, horse and lack of fighting skills, but also proves to be a good friend and worthy ally.
  • VLADIMIR KULICH plays the leader of the warriors, a stoic but smart and seasoned fighter.


    OUR TAKE: 3.5 out of 10
    In "Monty Python and the Holy Grail," there's a funny bit where a man walks through an impoverished medieval village shouting "Bring out your dead!" as bodies are brought out and thrown on a cart. Although its humorous nature would be lost, that expression could easily be resurrected for Touchstone Pictures' release of "The 13th Warrior."

    Based on the novel "Eaters of the Dead" by acclaimed author and occasional filmmaker Michael Crichton (writer of "Jurassic Park" and "Disclosure," director of "Coma" and "Westworld") and directed by action guru John McTiernan -- who knows a thing or two about keeping body counts high -- the medieval-set film's only purpose seems to be seeing how many people can be killed during its 100+ minute runtime.

    Sure, there have been films where more people are killed, and others that are also far bloodier and more gory than this one. Yet, with a plot that offers little beyond a skeletal approach to storytelling -- and simply leads from one bloody battle sequence to the next -- the film will probably only appeal to audiences wanting a pure jolt of such mayhem, medieval style. Had this film come out before "Pulp Fiction," one could have easily understood why a character proclaimed in it, "I'm gonna get medieval on your ass."

    That said, the film -- which is something of a combination of elements from other far superior pictures -- does offer enough violent action scenes to keep things viscerally stimulating. McTiernan ("The Thomas Crown Affair," "Die Hard") is obviously quite adept at making action films. As such, his ever-moving camera and elaborately choreographed battle scenes do manage to hold one's interest.

    It's just too bad that the same can't be said about the rest of the film. Adapting Crichton's best selling novel, screenwriters William Wisher ("Terminator 2: Judgement Day," "Judge Dredd") and Warren Lewis ("Black Rain") don't offer much in the way of a substantial plot, character development or some much needed comic relief.

    That's not to say that the film isn't occasionally funny, but most of the laughs aren't intentional (one hopes). Instead, they arise from various sources including, but not limited to, some inane dialogue, the sight of the villains, and the lead character's sudden and fluent ability to speak the Northmen's native language (when asked how this occurred, he replies, "I listened").

    While many films have had to deal with non-English characters speaking English (such as in many WWII based films), the effect here is quite preposterous. If the filmmakers wanted to be accurate, the film would have been entirely subtitled. That's not even considering that the lead character, who's an Arab, wouldn't be speaking English in the first place, thus making a moot point of the transition over to everyone speaking English that itself is meant to represent the warriors' Nordic language.

    Of course that's not the only problem for which the film suffers. After the warriors comment that no able-bodied adult males are to be found in the Nordic fort, suddenly the king's adult son and his healthy entourage show up. After that sudden appearance it seems as if he'll be the warriors' other source of conflict, but after a two-man duel, he and his cronies disappear.

    Then there's the sun that sets into complete darkness in only a matter of minutes (so that the massing hordes on horseback with lit torches looks more impressive) and, well, I could go on, but that would be just beating a dead horse (an activity the film thankfully avoids).

    The reason they're brought up, however, is that nothing much else happens upon which comments could be directed. Despite McTiernan's action pedigree and Crichton's knack for involving storytelling, the "best" that happens here is that people fight and many of them die. Even the supernatural aspect -- really the only interesting thing the film has to offer -- is quickly jettisoned and the earlier introduced and directly related elements -- such as the attackers' dead bodies disappearing without a trace -- are similarly abandoned and never explained.

    Instead of building anything substantial around the rampant fighting -- and notwithstanding the fact that Crichton's novel was released in 1976 -- the plot simply feels like a re-mixed, retreading of elements from "The Road Warrior" (peaceful people living in an isolated fort under siege by marauding villains until outsiders come to help) and McTiernan's own "Predator" (people hunted down by a mysterious creature that kills and beheads them).

    There's also the obvious "Excalibur" part (brave and sturdy medieval knights set off on a mission) as well as the basic "The Magnificent Seven"/The Seven Samurai" plot (soldiers assembled to protect a town under siege). While all of those are great sources for material, this film --despite a decent, if familiar setup -- doesn't come close to capturing what made them successful in their own right.

    Although Crichton's novel probably had more insightful and introspective looks at the characters (as only novels can do), little, if any of that's present here. Beyond one or two warriors, the rest all blend into a mediocre, if macho Nordic bunch. While Antonio Banderas ("The Mask of Zorro," "Desperado") and Norse actor Dennis Storhoi (making his American film debut) have plenty of charisma to spare and create some likable characters, they're left high and dry by the weak and unimaginative script.

    The same holds true for Vladimir Kulich ("Firestorm," "Crash") as the warrior leader, while the great Omar Sharif ("Lawrence of Arabia," "Doctor Zhivago") as well as Diane Venora ("True Crime," "Heat") are barely used to any appreciable extent.

    Overall, the film feels as if it had a bad run through the editing room. That's not to suggest that it looks rough -- on the contrary, it has a very polished sheen -- but that different parts of it were left on the cutting room floor. Beyond the aforementioned problems, what appears to a budding romance between Banderas and a local maiden is hinted at, but also never amounts to anything.

    Whether all of that was a result of rumored squabbles between McTiernan and Crichton that also reportedly held up this film's release -- it was shot in 1997 -- isn't much more than hearsay, but whatever the case, the film isn't the great, rousing spectacle that it wanted to be and possibly could have been.

    If you're into emotionally detached but viscerally involving medieval battle scenes, than this is the film for you. For everyone else, unless you can get into the increasingly preposterous and near campy proceedings, this one falls into the "better skip" category. We give "The 13th Warrior" just a 3.5 out of 10.

    Here's a brief look at the content found in this R-rated action/adventure film. Violence and resultant blood and gore are both extreme. Numerous battle and fight sequences occur with many combatants being killed in various ways (via swords, arrows, spears, beheading, etc...) with very bloody and gory results. Not surprisingly, but obviously dependent on the viewer's age and tolerance for such material, those scenes and some others with presumed supernatural material may be unsettling or quite suspenseful to some viewers.

    Some drinking of ale occurs, as does very brief and minor profanity (2 damns), while a possible sexual encounter is hinted at, but nothing is ever seen. Beyond all of that and the fact that the attacking hordes obviously have bad attitudes, the rest of the film's categories have little or nothing in the way of major objectionable content.

    Nonetheless, and considering the amount of bloody and gory carnage, we suggest that you take a closer look at the listed content should you still be concerned about the film's appropriateness for yourself or anyone else in your home.

    Of special note for those concerned with repetitive flashes of bright light, several scenes of that occur during the film (as campfire light brightly pulsates on the screen).

  • Some Norse warriors drink what's presumably ale in several scenes, but don't consume any in another when others do before the night of an expected attack.
  • Later, Ibn refuses an offered drink of what he presumes is ale, but turns out to be made from honey.
  • We see a bloody and large cut across a man's chest.
  • Several Norse warriors rinse out their mouths with water from a bowl that is then spat back into it. One of the men then blows his nose in it before passing it around to the next person.
  • The warriors find a little boy who appears to be somewhat bloody. Later, they go to a home where they find lots of blood on the floor, a headless person hanging from the ceiling (we see the open wound) and another person who's been disemboweled to some extent (we see parts of their intestines and other open wounds). Ibn then uncovers a severed and bloody arm that falls to the floor.
  • We hear Ibn vomiting after seeing the above.
  • We see bloodletting during a fight scene between the creatures and the warriors. During it, Ibn's face is rather bloody and we also see a warrior cut off part of a creature's hand, as well as a creature beheading a warrior (with blood squirting out of the wound and the sight of the creature running off with the severed head).
  • A woman tends to Ibn's facial wounds (putting boiled down cow urine on them) and we see dried blood on the front of his shirt.
  • A man beheads another man (we briefly see the neck and severed head) and some blood squirts onto bystanders.
  • The warriors find a cave room full of human bones and skulls. Later, they see many severed heads, some fresh, some not, hanging in some vines.
  • We briefly see another beheading.
  • In another battle/fight sequence, more people who've been killed or wounded are bloody and Ibn's face is bloody once again.
  • Obviously the homicidal villains have both.
  • Herger and others make some slight fun of Ibn and his horse (but mostly in jest).
  • The king's son has both toward the warriors.
  • When Ibn verbally reacts to a woman tending to his facial wounds, she chastises him by saying that those are the sounds that a woman makes.
  • The often bloody/gory battle or fight scenes listed under "Violence" (as well as listings under "Blood/Gore") may also be tense or unsettling to some viewers.
  • Ibn, and the others he's traveling with, hear that some murderous group is approaching and thus he and others on horseback (and some on foot) try to flee (but nothing else happens).
  • The warriors slowly make their way through a forest toward a home, expecting and prepared for the worse. Later, we see a shadowy figure in the woods around them.
  • The verbal description of these half men/half bear creatures (that only appear in the fog and whose dead bodies disappear without a trace) and of a fire serpent could be scary to younger kids.
  • The warriors spot the fire serpent coming down through the hills toward the fort at night (it turns out, however, to be men on horseback carrying lit torches).
  • The warriors sneak into a cave to find, quietly move around, and then attack their opponents and then find themselves cornered in a several minute sequence.
  • Swords/Spears/Knives/Arrows: Used to threaten, wound or kill many people. See "Violence" for details.
  • Phrase: "You pig eating, son of a whore."
  • All of the fighting and sword play may cause some kids to want to imitate that.
  • A severed arm suddenly falls to the floor.
  • Someone suddenly grabs Ibn.
  • A heavy amount of suspenseful music (some of it action/adventure oriented) occurs during the film.
  • None.
  • At least 2 damns are used as exclamations.
  • The warriors find a stone amulet of the attackers that shows a headless, potbellied woman with large breasts. Later, they see an identically shaped, but much larger stone statue.
  • Herger asks Ibn about a woman he apparently spent the night with, "Did she finish you, or bring you back to life?" Ibn then responds that gentlemen don't discuss such matters (all of this after we see Ibn and his woman snuggled up and sleeping, but fully clothed).
  • None.
  • None.
  • Whether or not the film is an accurate portrayal of life in the Middle Ages.
  • The creatures -- actually people -- and the possible reasons for them killing and eating their dead.
  • The fact that Ibn believes in Allah and Mohammed while his Nordic warriors are polytheistic (a point that's touched on several times in the film).
  • Buliwyf slices a man with a sword who suddenly attacks him.
  • A Norse ship is burned as a funeral pyre.
  • The warriors visit a house where they find two people who've been killed (with one of them being beheaded).
  • The creatures attack the warriors and a great deal of fighting ensues in a mostly dark scene. We do see a creature impaled by a spear, another throws Ibn across a room, a warrior cuts off part of a creature's hand, a creature beheads a warrior, and other bloodletting occurs.
  • Herger and another, larger man have a sword and shield duel where the larger man breaks many of Herger's shields and generally gets the better of him.
  • A man beheads another man.
  • The villains attack again, throwing lit torches into the fort at night. The warriors hold their ground, however, shooting the attackers with arrows, while a person is killed after being impaled by a spear. More opponents are then shot with arrows and creatures are killed with swords. Once Ibn discovers the truth about the attackers, he kills many of them with his sword while others break into the fort and kill many people in this sequence that goes on for several minutes (and includes attackers and their horses apparently being impaled on long, sharpened poles). By the end we see that many people/attackers have been killed and that part of the fort is fully engulfed in flames).
  • The warriors hit and apparently knock out one of the attackers' guards, and then kill two more guards (one with an arrow through the head). Once inside a cave, they attack and kill many of their opponents (stabbing, slicing, impaling).
  • Buliwyf kills another bad guy and then goes after another, who manages to scratch Buliwyf with a poisoned fingertip before he's beheaded.
  • In another nighttime battle sequence, the warriors and the attackers fight, with many people being killed and more bloodletting occurring.

  • Reviewed August 24, 1999 / Posted August 27, 1999

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