The 13th Warrior

Directed by John McTiernan
Starring: Antonio Banderas, Diane Venora, Omar Sharif.
MPAA Rating: R for bloody battles and carnage.

Review by Matt Heffernan
August 27, 1999

Director John McTiernan offers his follow-up to The Thomas Crown Affair just three weeks later. The previous film managed to break a losing streak, but it looks like he's starting a brand new one already.

Antonio Banderas stars as an Arabian sheik from Baghdad (with a thick Castilian accent) who is sent north to be an ambassador to the king of the vikings (or something). The king had just been killed when he gets there, and he witnesses the funeral. Afterwards, an oracle arrives with a bag of thirteen stone trinkets, and says that thirteen men are needed to defend a village from a race of cannibals.

According to custom, the 13th warrior cannot be from the north, so Seņor Arab is taken along. The party goes to the village and builds a bunker of pointy stakes, then they go and engage in several bloody battles with the cannibals. And that's about it.

The 13th Warrior is based on the novel Eaters of the Dead by Michael Crichton. However, the story is so similar to Seven Samurai, they could have called it Thirteen Vikings. Unlike Kurosawa's masterpiece, this film is an incomprehensible mess. There is absolutely no character development, making it impossible to have the same element of humanity. We know nothing more about these people after the film is over, except that some of them get killed, but their names aren't even important.

Between the battle scenes, the film is a complete bore. And the battle scenes aren't even that great. McTiernan does have a good visual sense, and the film usually looks good, but it signifies nothing. There is no message, no plot, and no real characters. A film needs at least one of those things.

Now I am not so optimistic about Airframe, the next Crichton/McTiernan project due out soon. Here's an idea: don't bother seeing The 13th Warrior; just rent Seven Samurai (or even A Bug's Life) to see the same story told with actual substance.

For more information, go to the Internet Movie Database:
The 13th Warrior (1999)

Here's some merchandise for sale at
The 13th Warrior (1999) -- VHS
The 13th Warrior (1999) -- DVD
Congo/Sphere/Eaters of the Dead, three complete novels by Michael Crichton -- Hardcover (single volume)
The 13th Warrior, a novel by Michael Crichton -- Paperback (title changed for film tie-in)
Eaters of the Dead, a novel by Michael Crichton -- Audio Cassette (abridged)
The 13th Warrior: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack -- Compact Disc Home
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Review © 1999 Matt Heffernan