I love it when a team gets put together.
The ensemble “counting movies” as I like to call them – the ones where a group of characters, one at a time, join forces – are one of my favourite kinds of films. And the best part about those types of flicks is that they can exist in any genre: western, crime, drama, comedy, science fiction or fantasy.
One of my all time favourites is best watched on a lazy Saturday afternoon.
Despite all of the hardships endured during its production (more on that in just a second), The 13th Warrior, to my mind, is still a great flick – if you like Vikings, swordplay, mythical enemies, a dash of opposing cultures and big budget “counting movies”. And really, who doesn’t like that kind of stuff?
If you haven’t seen it, 1999’s The 13th Warrior stars Antonio Banderas as Ahmed ibn Fadlan, a Baghdad court poet who travels to the far north and finds himself embroiled within the Viking culture and its politics. As the thirteenth member recruited to a Norsemen brigade, Fadlan and his northern warrior brothers must save a kingdom from an ancient evil that rises to power once again.
Adapted from a Michael Crichton (he of Jurassic Park fame) short story called “Eaters of the Dead”, The 13th Warrior is not the most original of tales, but the film does contain some truly memorable elements including the oracle’s choosing scene (see embedded video below), which is definitely a highlight of the film. It reveals why I love the “counting movies” so much: each character is given their due and, in their acceptance of the quest, each reveals a little of their own personality – specifically my favourite, Herger the Joyous (all of the Norse characters have names like that), played by Norwegian actor Jahn Dennis Storhoi.
Fadlan’s “learning of the northern language” scene is another that is truly magical and original, standing apart from any film where one character learns the language of another. There are no subtitles in The 13th Warrior. All of the Viking characters speak in their Scandinavian tongue and at the beginning, we, as viewers, are just as clueless as Fadlan. But he learns by listening – and so do we. Words that were once incomprehensible become English to the ear and the effect is inspiring cinema echoed in the character of rising King Buliwyf, played by Czech-Canadian actor, Vladimir Kulich, who shows he is more than brawn – that there is as astute mind working inside the immensely powerful warrior.
Of course, the ending sequence of the film is pretty good too – where all the characters, specifically Fadlan, make their peace and lift their swords together against their enemy: “For all we ought to have thought, and have not thought; all we ought to have said, and have not said; all we ought to have done, and have not done; I pray thee God for forgiveness.” It’s a little magical.
As I mentioned, making The 13th Warrior was a hardship. The film was actually completed a year before its release but poor test screenings caused re-shoots and re-edits. Acclaimed action director John McTiernan (Predator, Die Hard, The Hunt for Red October) was summarily dismissed from the project with Crichton taking over the directorial reign. Academy Award nominee Omar Sharif, who plays a small role in the film, has even gone on record as being disappointed with the production of the film, the dialogue and the director.
Even with that said, coupled with it’s low Rotten Tomato score, The 13th Warrior is still a fine “counting movie” to watch on a Saturday afternoon.
And I’m sure that there are at least twelve other people out there that feel the same way!