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Review by
E.C.McMullen Jr.

The 13th Warrior
THE 13th WARRIOR  - (1999)
Touchstone Pictures

Ratings: USA PG-13

Back in 1992 when I first read EATERS OF THE DEAD, I was amazed that a book of so few pages could be so grandly epic in scope. While not among Michael Crichton's (ANDROMEDA STRAIN, WESTWORLD, TERMINAL MAN, COMA, LOOKER, JURASSIC PARK, CONGO, SPHERE) hugely popular best sellers, EATERS OF THE DEAD is clearly Michael at the very top of his form as a writer.

Long viewed as a superlative Science Fiction writer, Crichton successfully turned his skills to Adventure/History/Horror with a master's confident hand. I've no doubt that there where times when writing EATERS OF THE DEAD that Crichton wasn't feeling too masterful, as the writing has the sparse simplicity of a labor of love. Worlds apart from his usual style. A style closer to Michael's ANDROMEDA STRAIN, than CONGO, SPHERE, or JURASSIC PARK. You could tell that the author did not simply love the story he was telling, but also had a real fondness for every character he was creating.

I never thought this would be made into a movie, Chricton writes in a manner easily adapted to screenwriting, and EATER'S OF THE DEAD was more in keepng with a documentary travelogue. I was wrong, obviously, but not surprised to see that Crichton had personally handled the reins of this story himself as both co-Screenwriter and co-Director (WESTWORLD, COMA, LOOKER, RUNAWAY). The other co-Director is no stranger to the horror genre himself, John McTiernan is known for directing such horror movies as NOMADS and PREDATOR, as well as Thrillers like THE HUNT FOR RED OCTOBER.

Sharing co-Screenwriter credits are William Wisher Jr. (TERMINATOR, TERMINATOR 2) and Warren Lewis.

THE 13th WARRIOR, as a movie, is greatly cut down from EATERS OF THE DEAD, as a novel. While this is only to be expected, it would have vastly helped the film had we learned by watching, instead of hearing, why Ahmed Ibn Fahdlan (Antonio Banderas: EL PLACER De MATAR, INTERVIEW WITH THE VAMPIRE) was going on this great journey instead of basically saying,

"I'm a poet in the palace,
I had an adulturous affair,
the Raja heard about it,
and he kicked me outta there."

So when we first meet Ibn, as he comes to be called, he is already an expatriate in exile under the dubious honor of Foriegn Ambassador. He travels with his friend and assistant Melchisidek (Omar Shariff), a multilingual man who is able to speak to the Norsemen they encounter. Ibn soon finds himself selected, against his will, to go on a dangerous journey. The Norsemen's seer, or Bonewoman, has called upon 12 brave warriors to fight the evil, and one outsider, a thirteenth (Ibn). They will go to protect a Norse kingdom from an evil so unspeakable that even the fearless Vikings refuse to utter the monster's name, lest the evil hear them and come.

As Ibn embarks on his journey, he leaves behind his faithful friend, Melchisidek, and discovers a new one in the form of the Viking, Herger The Joyous (Dennis Storhøi), who has a very robust, if somewhat hard-nosed sense of humor. The entire band is led by their king/chief Buliwyf (Vladimir Kulich: NECRONOMICON, CRASH), a brave warrior who finds himself reluctantly intrigued by Ibn's ability to "Draw sounds in the sand."

Horror fans will greatly appreciate the gore and many beheadings of THE 13th WARRIOR, I know I did. But Crichton is not one to sit still for action without content. Though this movie is firmly entrenched in the horror genre for its great bout of bloodspilling and monsters and evil to be battled, this movie is also historically accurate (within its fictional story and setting) as well as being adventuresome. There is a lot of appeal here to more than just the horror fan. The folks who made this movie give you a real feel for just how difficult life was then. Simply making a house was a real chore, let alone producing food and simply washing oneself.

The enormity of these tasks, today taken for granted in the Industialized nations, are realized due to the rough hewn set designs of Annmarie Corbett (BORDELLO OF BLOOD, DEEP RISING) and Rose Mary McSherry (THE FLY II, BORDELLO OF BLOOD, DEEP RISING).

This movie lacks the epic scope of the novel, but still maintains Crichton's love for his work. There are many seat jumping moments in this film as you will discover when you see THE 13th WARRIOR.

This review copyright 2000 E.C.McMullen Jr.

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