The 13th Warrior (1999)
An Ordinary Man...An Extraordinary Journey!
As Valentines day rolls around, people would expect I'd capitalize on it by doing a romance this week. These people don't realize that I don't get payed for this, and instead get treated to another one of my favorite movies to celebrate my upcoming birthday instead! The number of lines I can recite from this movie alone show that it has a place in my memory, and it even has Antonio Banderas - who I could probably say is one of my more favored actors. Of course, the real question is why do I like it, and will you end up liking it, so let's venture forth to seek the answers.
Opening narration tells us of a story to come that isn't usual for the man telling it. He was once a poet, you see, who happened to catch the eye of a married woman. Her jealous husband talked to the sultan to get the poet sent away, and the sultan named him ambassador to lands far north. On the way their, the caravan runs across dangerous times when a herd of tartars fast approaches them. Upon reaching the banks of a river however, they turn to see the tartars giving up pursuit, only to find something potentially as dangerous floating down the river - vikings. They meet them at their camp to find them in the middle of a funeral for their king, but it isn't until the morning that things become rather exciting. A longboat has come ashore in the night with a child upon it - a child who bears a summons from a lord whose town is under siege from an ancient evil that should not be named. Consulting an oracle, it is decided that thirteen warriors shall set forth on this quest, and when it comes down to the choosing of the last one our poet is quite surprised to find out that the last warrior is him.
And thus begins his adventure. After some time, he picks up their language and they can begin to converse back and forth. They travel far, but eventually reach the destination and find a town in quite a depressing state. No defenses, barely a man in prime age to defend the town, and villagers sunken in morale to the point of coming off as zombies at points. It is here that the poet learns of the wendol - or in plain terms the "Eaters of the Dead." They find a nearby family butchered by these creatures, and return to defend the villagers from them as the fog rolls in. As they guard the hatch to the villagers in the main longhouse, battle ensues with even the non-warrior poet contributing to some extent. Unfortunately, all is not good, and after the fight ends they find not a single body of the creatures as well as three of their own with heads missing.
Defenses for the next night are better, having the villagers get prepared this time around, yet they find the creatures have summoned a fire worm, and the entire village waits in high tension as they watch the serpent of fire descend from the mountain - only for our poet to ride out to rescue a little girl in the field, and come back with news that it isn't a dragon, but rather a whole lot of cavalry. The battle begins with thrown torches lighting buildings on fire, and although intimidated at first the poet quickly discovers that these beasts aren't some bear-like creature, but instead men. As the defenses fall, our heroes make on more stand to drive back the forces, but once again they find their number fewer than before. With dwindling numbers, it is time to strike at the creatures to try and put an end to this.
The movie has some issues that it runs into at times - such as some scenes being incredibly dark. Don't get me wrong, it's fitting that the scenes are dark, but much like the second AvP movie, it leads to not being able to see things in detail and that can make things a bit hectic and confusing - thankfully it's not always dark like the other movie was. Effects work, while nothing intense here, comes of pretty decent. You might not totally be convinced that the severed head is in fact a real head - but having seen plenty of B-movies, I can insist that there are far worse effects out there, and for the most part these ones are at least practical things the actors can play around with. Heck, last I knew, you could still find the boat they used in this movie floating around in the dirt of Florida's Epcot Park's Norway section. If nothing else is to be said about the effects work, it should end with the pleasing array of costumes on display here -with each of the main wrecking crew looking (with a few exceptions) incredibly unique.
The score fits the movie, but in turn doesn't really stand out that much. Actors do a great job here, and for the viewer it thankfully doesn't wait too long to pull a "I've learned your language by watching" miracle so that you don't need read the entirety of the flick. On top of that, probably one of the worst offenders of audio is that I don't think a ton of people will be convinced with Antonio's accent being what his character is supposed to be - but at least for me it didn't really quite impact the story much (since all the characters are prattling on in English anyways). Each of the characters have a distinct flavor to them - even if they don't mostly get fleshed out much more than an action hero need be - and there are just an absurd abundance of quotable lines from this movie.
The plot feels at home in a Dungeons and Dragons session, much like many parts of this movie do. It's kind of simple, and the "twists" aren't at all overly elaborate, but they also needn't really be super complex for what it's going for. The thrill of adventure and the odd man out - a hero who doesn't even know it - is all the call needed for not just this movie, but most basic fantasy-type things from Lord of the Rings and down. Beyond that, it does differ from some action movies as well in the sense that our heroes aren't these invulnerable tanks of revenge or justice - they can get injured or killed, as any man could. Of course, the only character we feel we get much in the lines of development out of end's up being Antonio's, but that does happen when you are the main character and it's nice to see some of the mental changes that go about him as he befriends these vikings of awesome.
I fully understand that this movie isn't for everyone, but to me it's awesome and I love every minute of it. It's not the most deep plot, or the most elaborate blockbuster, and I'm sure you can find plenty of things that are better acted even. What this movie does do is entertain - and I'd be quick to assume that anyone who enjoys a good session of tabletop role playing would probably have fun with the entertainment value of this movie. I'd say it's an easy rental for those who meet the requirements to watch this movie (it does carry an R rating for much violence after all, although it never quite feels like it's as graphic as many a modern movie), and I know I keep it in my own personal yearly rotation.
Of course, as happens from time to time, I'd also like to mention that there is a novel version of this, namely Eaters of the Dead by Michael Chrichton, that precedes this movie by about 30 years. Having read it, from what I do recall of it it was largely the same as the movie in effect, although there were some changes (such as Buliwyf's sword being a huge thing more akin to the mostly well known Buster Sword from Final Fantasy). It's an interesting situation in which one doesn't necessarily outshine the other, although I do feel that I enjoy the movie more since I can watch it much faster than I can read the book, and visuals are always a nice thing to have.