The 13th Warrior (DVD, 2009, 2-Disc Set, Includes Digital Copy)

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Beowulf's most watchable adaptation: The 13th Warrior!

Feb 29, 2008 (Updated Mar 2, 2008)
Review by  
Rated a Very Helpful Review

Pros:An epic tale given the film treatment it merits.

Cons:Unlikely to spawn a sequel.

The Bottom Line: This is one of the most watchable movies I own. I view it time and time again, and like any classic, it never gets old.

The 13th Warrior (1999) Directed by John McTiernan. From the book Eaters of the Dead by Michael Crichton.

In the beginning…. Michael Crichton was challenged to make Beowulf interesting for the Modern Audience . Drawing upon three sources, Beowulf, a 10th century document by Ahmed Ibn Fahdlan Ibn Al Abbas Ibn Hamad, and a paper theorizing the continued existence into modern times of a remnant population of a non-sapiens hominid line; basically, Neanderthals. From that he has created a masterpiece.

The Plot

Ahmed Ibn Fahdlan was a poet, who had the bad grace to fall in love with the wife of another man, Shaharazade. Her husband was a jealous man, and arranged for him to be appointed to an ambassadorial post in the lands far far to the north. After a perilous journey, he arrives, just in time to witness the funeral of a King, and to view the settling of the matter of succession. Buliwyf is now the king. They witness a Viking funeral, a pyre ship, loaded with treasure, the body of the King, and the still living Queen. He is informed he will not see this again, it is the old way.

Ahmed quickly becomes familiar with many other habits that he finds strange. Skipping over matters of personal hygiene, he notices a young lad, in a ship, waiting patiently to be noticed. It seems the Northmen are superstitious of things that come from the mists. The boy is obeying the rules of courtesy.

And he has cause to be polite, for he has come to request the aid of Buliwyf and his men. It seems that his father, King Wulfgar, has been beset by an ancient evil, a hate from the old times, the Wendol.

Buliwyf consults the oracle, who casts the bones, and decrees that thirteen men, one for each moon of the year, must journey to the aid the beleaguered kingdom. Buliwyf is of course, the first, followed quickly by eleven others. But the Oracle declares that the last man, the thirteenth warrior, must not be a Northman.

And thus does Ahmed Ibn Fahdlan, a humble servant of God come to journey with Pagan men to fight monsters.

When they arrive they find the holdings of King Wulfgar fallen into hard times, with hardly a man between the ages of 15 and 50. There are no defenses, nothing that could keep out a cow. The story when they meet with the King is even less encouraging. First, they find a child, bloody and scared, and trace him back to his homestead. The glen is a charnel house, all dead, and signs that they have been gnawed on.

They stay up the night, prepared to meet the enemy. And they do.

Black and fearsome, they appear to be half man, half bear, fighting with animal ferocity and great huge claws. They take their dead, and the heads of the slain. But they leave behind a claw, and leave Ahmed with a wound across the face. The Thirteen are now Twelve, but now they know more, and Buliwyf has the beginnings of a plan.

They dig in, everyone helping to build the fortifications. If the Wendol were the only foe they had to overcome, they would have been happy. But Unferth, heir to Wulfgar, is a petty and jealous man, seeing plots and usurpations everywhere, because he is a plotter and usurper, or at least a fratricide. Buliwyf has to find a way to neutralize that threat until he can deal with the greater problem.

Herger the Joyous, the brightest of Buliwyf’s men, sets up a duel with Angus, Unfurth’s bodyguard. Angus is a redheaded giant, and it seems that he will kill the smaller man. Ahmed, fond of Herger, and indeed all his companions, is angry and scared for his friend.

He needn’t be. Herger is swift, cunning and lethal. He beheads Angus, and thus gives Unfurth something new to worry about; what else might the heroes be concealing?

Their defenses set, they wait, but not for long. The greatest threat of the Wendol descends the mountain, the Firevyrm. A twisting glowing serpentine form, they soon discover it is cavalry. Men on horses, with torches. In the words of Herger, “Cavalry? I think I rather preferred the dragon.”

The firevyrm comes, and is fought. There are losses on both sides, but the Wendol finally withdraw. But they will be back; why shouldn’t they? They clearly have the superior force. The outcome is certain.

So Buliwyf does the unexpected. They hunt the Wendol.

To help their efforts, they consult the village wise woman. She gives them clues, pointing out wars are won in the will. If the head is cut off, the Firevyrm will die. When asked where to find them, she ask for something of theirs. Ahmed gives her a fetish, a plump little ‘Venus’ he took off his opponent , something the Northmen would never touch. “She is the earth, seek her in the earth.” she advises.

What follows is a classic dungeon delve, for all the Dungeons and Dragons geeks out there. For the more mythic minded, they delve into the cave, face its demons, and emerge, reborn.

There is a final battle, and it is epic, powerful, action packed, and heart breaking.

The Analysis.
This is a great movie. Not only does it have action, adventure, heroic battles, history, romance and destiny, it has heart. You grow to care about these characters, first, Ahmed, because you like he, are a stranger in a strange land. Then, as Ahmed learns the language, and in the process, learns of the Northmen, you learn to love them as well. The process of going from undubbed Icelandic to English, which so many people found a turn off, is actually a brilliantly executed plot device. It bonds you with the characters, and invests you in their fates.

The movie is visually stunning; the natural beauty, haunting and misty, creates an air of foreboding. The historical attention to detail, even to the hairstyles which were nominated for an award for historical accuracy, is impressive. You are able to shed the workaday world and slip back into a world a millennia gone.

The plotting and the pacing are superb, designed to build suspense, to lull one, then to take you on an action rollercoaster.

And the characterization is brilliant. Antonio Banderas and Omar Shariff are likely the only names of the actor you will ever have heard of, but the Northmen, played by Europeans, are brilliant and wholly believable. Even the dialog is a part of the story, as our hero must leave his interpreter behind and truly travel to that place on the map labeled, Here there be Monsters!

Other Beowulf Reviews.

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