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Overall Rating

Awesome: 17.95%
Worth A Look30.77%
Pretty Bad: 14.53%
Total Crap: 5.98%

8 reviews, 69 user ratings

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13th Warrior, The
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by Andrew Howe

"A medieval misfire"
2 stars

There are times when I wonder what goes through the minds of the people responsible for nurturing a film to fruition. The 13th Warrior is a perfect example – I don’t believe for a second that McTiernan and his crew intended to create a movie containing a total absence of character development, innovative plotting and quality action sequences, but given the evidence at hand it’s difficult to determine just what they hoped to achieve.

Mention the name Michael Crichton to any studio executive and you’re likely to be rewarded with a reaction not unlike that of a prospector who’s been told that there’s gold in them thar hills. However, this confidence seems somewhat misplaced, given that when it comes to celluloid adaptations of his work Jurassic Park and The Lost World are the only bona fide megabucks successes. Despite this less-than-exemplary track record, somebody at Disney saw fit to green-light a project based on one of his early novels, a minor-league effort which went by the catchy title Eaters of the Dead. One name change and a few key signings later, production commenced on a project which must have required more than a little faith on the part of everyone involved. Unfortunately, while faith may get you through the Pearly Gates it’s of precious little use when it comes to producing a quality film (maybe it’s just me, but a quality script and top-notch cast are usually a better bet).

The ostensible hero of the piece is one Ahmed Ibn Fahdlan (Antonio Banderas), a Muslim who has been handed a thoroughly undesirable diplomatic post as a reward for indiscretions of the female variety. En route to his new home he encounters a band of roving Vikings, and with the aid of his mentor (Omar Sharif, proving there’s always a little further to fall) he’s soon practising his diplomatic skills on the savage heathen. Unfortunately for him, when the son of a Nordic king arrives to request help in defending his village from a nameless adversary (I mean that quite literally, since everyone refers to the enemy as “They who cannot be named” or some such guff) the local soothsayer declares him to be an essential member of the thirteen man squad destined to liberate the beleaguered peasants. For no other reason than because it seems like a good idea at the time, he agrees to fight the good fight with his newfound buddies (though having seen first-hand what these lunatics do to their friends, perhaps his eagerness to sign up isn’t really that difficult to understand).

If all of this sounds like a medieval version of The Dirty (Baker’s) Dozen, you’re most of the way there. However, far from launching into a rousing tale of hard men doing hard things, the film jumps the rails and travels full steam into some rather inexplicable territory. To begin with, the plot is effectively a long, drawn-out series of battles. When they’re not actually engaging in a bit of one-on-one with the barbaric Eaters of the Dead (seems they had a name after all), our merry band are either dissecting the last battle or preparing for the next one. Not since Gettysburg has a film devoted itself so single-mindedly to the art of war, but that alone is not sufficient reason to disparage this movie. For that we need look no further than the following missteps:

- McTiernan may have proved a dab hand at big-budget gunfights with the likes of Die Hard, but medieval hacking and slashing is another kettle of fish entirely. It doesn’t help that the Eaters of the Dead only attack under the cover of darkness and mist, ensuring you spend most of your time squinting at the screen trying to work out who’s wasting who. However, even if the battle scenes had been shot in broad daylight it wouldn’t have helped much, since they’re strangely devoid of tension and, for the best part, rather sanitised. Given that Excalibur and Braveheart have already shown us how it should be done, I can only imagine that McTiernan felt he had nothing to learn from the successes of others. A pity, that.

- Every successful film which deals with a band of warriors defending the innocent, from The Seven Samurai to The Magnificent Seven, has one thing in common – a cast of vibrant, interesting actors playing vibrant, interesting characters. It would be going a little far to accuse the cast of The 13th Warrior of turning in poor performances, since by and large they’re either quaintly charming or suitably heroic. However, every major character in the film acts exactly like what they’re supposed to be, which is a rough-and-tumble mead-swilling Viking (though you could be forgiven for thinking that some of the actors are under the impression that they’re playing a supporting character in Braveheart – I wasn’t aware that Norsemen were possessed of Scottish and Irish accents). Since they seem to live for nothing more than fighting and carousing it’s difficult to become invested in their fates (where’s the tearful recollection of the wife and kids back home when you need it?), and given that the film’s tension stems from the question of who will survive the constant battles this qualifies as an unfortunate situation for all concerned.

- In a truly bizarre turn of events, Banderas’ character becomes little more than just another member of the posse. Most of the truly heroic actions are performed by Buliwyf, the leader of the group, while Banderas is relegated to hacking down a few waves of the monotonous hordes. This seems a tad wasteful, given that Banderas’ natural charm was a major reason for the success of such films as Desperado and The Mask of Zorro. If he’d been given a little more to do the film would doubtless have been enlivened as a result.

- There is no major villain for our heroes to defeat. The leader of our friendly pack of cannibals does eventually show his face, but it’s not like he’s been a thorn in the side of the forces of good for the duration. Given that this is, for all intents and purposes, an action film, the absence of an identifiable anti-hero is absolutely unfathomable.

As if all of this wasn’t enough, you can also add the requisite quota of ridiculous plotting decisions, such as Banderas learning his compatriots’ language simply by listening to them speak (now there’s a revolution in linguistic training …) and a couple of subplots – Banderas’ romantic interlude and an altercation with the village prince - which go nowhere fast. And then, just when we think a gung-ho finale might help us salvage something from the wreckage, we are treated to an oddly muted climactic battle which seems to take about two minutes to play out and features none of the “last stand” heroics which we might expect from the defenders of the Alamo.

All of which brings us full circle to my original question, which is to ask just what the people involved with this film thought they were trying to achieve. Given that the film (a) revolves around a group of thinly-drawn characters who (b) fight a series of endless battles against (c) a horde of faceless cannibals who are so boring they can’t even elect an evilly charismatic leader, I fail to see how anybody could have believed that this film would turn out any better than it did.

So is it a total waste of time? Well, there’s a few good bits (a genuinely nerve-wracking assault on the lair of the enemy springs to mind) and some nice scenery, so I suppose if it’s a rainy night, and you’re drunk, and there’s nothing better to do … but really, what’s the point? There’s plenty of great films just waiting to be enjoyed, so why waste our lives on something like this, even if it’s not a truly rotten film? When it comes to celluloid diversions, mediocrity should never be encouraged.

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originally posted: 04/24/00 12:33:53
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User Comments

2/12/12 Tony Hogan Great Sword (without sorcery) movie 5 stars
8/08/09 Anthony Barker Maybe Andrew Howe should stick to watching The English Patient... This film was GREAT!!!!! 5 stars
3/02/08 Pamela White Banderas at his best 5 stars
11/14/06 Munjal Attawala Not Bad 4 stars
10/06/06 Lance hollow...could have been much more 3 stars
2/03/06 Kankasaur Seeing "cow urine" smeared on Banderas' face was amusing, at least. 2 stars
8/17/05 ES 'That's a nice sword. When you die can I give it to my daughter?' 4 stars
8/27/04 Aaron Smith interesting storyline, different kind of scifi 3 stars
7/29/04 Yuma Bill Good elements, but thick layer of cheese. Lots of "hollywood moments" 3 stars
1/27/04 Amanda It was cool we read Beowulf in class so it was awesome to see the comparassion in the 2 4 stars
11/27/03 John a mess that propably was once a good movie (cut down and reshot in post production) 2 stars
11/19/03 Vincent Murdok A furlong Myth 5 stars
10/21/03 Alan Watched it until the end, hoping that something would redeem this insufferable tripe. Nope. 1 stars
10/08/03 george a. nicikowski i,ve watched it over 2 dozen times and i'm still entertained by it. 5 stars
8/05/03 Ishkabibble A great, underrated film. It only gets better with repeated viewings 5 stars
6/01/03 John Gratner Excellent Hero epic 5 stars
2/28/03 Mister Bigglesworth Crichton was dared to remake Beowolf exciting to his class. What movie DOESN'T Tatum like? 1 stars
2/28/03 Jack Sommersby Original, daring, and compulsively watchable. A welcome surprise. 4 stars
2/27/03 y2mckay Great movie, Storhøi rocks, Antonio good. One bitch - He learns language THAT quickly? 4 stars
2/24/03 R.W. Welch Medieval actioner with good period atmosphere but elementary plot line. 3 stars
10/15/02 Charles Tatum Dark and brooding and better than half the crap out there 5 stars
7/12/02 KMG Should have stayed with "Eaters of the Dead"...and another script 3 stars
6/22/02 Bart Interesting retelling of Beowulf, although a little slow 4 stars
4/29/02 Ryan And no one even mentions the early Germanic epic 'Beowulf' from which this is derived... 4 stars
10/16/01 MaMaFaC This movie fucking rocks 5 stars
10/10/01 jawsboy banderas was only ok, and the story and editing were so so. good action and costumes. 3 stars
8/20/01 Jan Doens't always have to be fuckin high tech 5 stars
8/19/01 Dr. Thompson Cool Vikings, and cool to see a movie that shows muslims as heros 4 stars
8/09/01 E-Funk Antonio Banderas looks like such a pussy in this movie...I didn't buy one second of it. 1 stars
3/24/01 Soggy Bottom Boy Banderas not right for the part (since when does hispanic = arabic?); a few good visuals. 3 stars
2/23/01 Steve in Prague pretty good popcorn flick...what did you expect Citizen f'n Kane!?!??! 5 stars
12/10/00 Mitja Podgajski hmm.. pretty shitty story... but casting and scenes were great.. :) 3 stars
12/08/00 Girl 9 I've seen this movie done before...and I've seen it done better. 3 stars
11/24/00 Liat Kitten Lots of action Little Plot Ripoff of Beowulf 4 stars
9/22/00 Terrie Smith Great British Columbia locales; good acting from Kulich and Storhoi. 4 stars
6/24/00 Naushad Khanji Good location shots.Not that bad.Lacks epic sweep but entertaining. 4 stars
4/25/00 John Lyons Antonio Banderas did very well. Liked it better the second time I saw it. 4 stars
3/17/00 arnold beginning sucked but the battle scences rocked 4 stars
1/13/00 k.tomkowski I loved it. 5 stars
1/09/00 Hangman This shit is THE shit. 5 stars
12/17/99 Elan Davout Workman's craft from McTiernan/Chrichton's interference is palpable 3 stars
12/05/99 levon stasse WHAR MORE TO SAY BUT DONT WAIST YOUR DOE 1 stars
9/28/99 Ami the Wonderbread Beowulf revisited. This was a fun film, with a wealth of mythology behind it. 4 stars
9/28/99 the Grinch 2Proud2Beg Bueller, yer my hero. 4 stars
9/26/99 The Lynchpyn delivers the action --and plenty of it 3 stars
9/26/99 Costars Mindless, plotless, eye candy 2 stars
9/25/99 XenoWolf Itshouldhavebeenmoremysticaltheygooffonfiredragonshitwhenitwasabunchoffagsinbearsuits 3 stars
9/20/99 Weird Andy Despite the presence of Antonio Candeas, this flick is a yy chromosome delight. 4 stars
9/17/99 Kory Has alot of cool scenes but, overall, don't expect too much. 4 stars
9/14/99 Ratso Dude, they've got Bears riding Horses in this movie. What else do you want? 4 stars
9/13/99 mason hey , every year we gat a new big star with sword film . heres antonios . snore 2 stars
9/11/99 Travis Smith I only liked the bears riding horses 1 stars
9/10/99 Greg I thought it was pretty good (4 1/2 *) I thought it had some great moments. 4 stars
9/10/99 phypor pretty much agree with Grinch... but i liked the rushed intro (straight into the action) 4 stars
9/09/99 MAXOMENOS Magnificent movie, but what happened to the Prince? Made me want to read the novel. 4 stars
9/09/99 ladislau For Chet:It seems you have seen very few movies!Shame! 3 stars
9/08/99 Dax Okay if you've got nothing better to do, otherwise rent it in a few months. 3 stars
9/08/99 Fork For those that enjoy the idea of Vikings. Otherwise it's merely a short action movie. 4 stars
9/07/99 B.O.B. Kick-butt movie with some real history too. Sucky digital Viking Longboat though... 5 stars
9/06/99 Matthew Bartley Badly edited but you could see worse 3 stars
9/06/99 Chet This is the best movie I have ever seen in my life!!! 5 stars
9/05/99 tigerlette finally Beowulf-meritorious 4 stars
9/04/99 agustin it's no Conan or Braveheart what you get is 2 hrs of darkness while they fight 3 stars
9/04/99 whocares worst movie of the year 1 stars
9/03/99 ladislau Don't expect too much from Antonio. He was eaten by the dead! 3 stars
9/02/99 PhilmPhreak Multiple beheadings but no breasts. 3 stars
1/25/99 Dark Horizons Films made from books are never as good, no exception here. 2 stars
8/28/98 Mister Whoopee Test screening good, but Disney have messed with it for 12 mth. Trailer looked toned down. 4 stars
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  27-Aug-1999 (R)
  DVD: 15-Jan-2002

  03-Sep-1999 (15)

  02-Mar-2000 (MA)

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