I first saw the teaser trailer for John McTiernan's "The 13th Warrior" in the
Fall of 1997. Of course, back then it was still called "Eaters of the Dead,"
which is the same title as the novel it's based upon, by Michael Crichton
("Jurassic Park"). Sometime in 1998, however, it generically was retitled,
"The 13th Warrior." Does a name really play a part in how good an actual
movie is? Well, no, probably not, but my interest in seeing the picture
plummeted down at the speed of light at the thought of this new name, and
then the movie kept being pushed back and pushed back to the point where I
began to wondering if it was ever going to be released. Stories and rumors
abound of the studio, Buena Vista, frantically trying to reshoot and recut
much of it after disasterous test screenings, much to the reluctance of
McTiernan. Now that "The 13th Warrior" has finally been released theatrically
over two years after it was filmed, it's difficult to say how McTiernan's cut
might have turned out, but I know this much: no matter how much was reshot
and edited, there is no possible way this film could be anything other than
stupefyingly horrendous. Move over "Inspector Gadget"; I think I've found a
new "Worst Film of 1999."
>From what I can gather about the specifics of the film, "The 13th Warrior"
has no signs of an actual plot, or even a reason for being made and wasting
reportedly over $100-million. Shouldn't it be illegal to spend so much money
on a movie that is akin to my cat's stool sample? Antonio Banderas cashes a
paycheck as Ahmed Ibn Fahdlan, an Arab aristocrat who is banished from
Baghdad after being accused of looking at the King's wife crossways. Taking
up with a ragtag team of Norse mercenaries in the 10th-century, Ahmed is
called upon to become the 13th warrior and travel to Europe to fight a
barbarous tribe of half-man/half-beasts. "I am not a warrior!" Ahmed says,
but pretty soon, he will be.
There isn't an act, scene, shot, or frame in "The 13th Warrior" that I could
say I liked, which is no small feat to achieve considering that, even in my
review for "Inspector Gadget," I mentioned I liked one cast member. Abruptly
starting off with nary a line of exposition, the film's structure goes like
this: man forced to become 13th warrior, man fights barbarians, man leaves.
Who is this man, you ask? I couldn't tell you, aside for saying that he is
played by Antonio Banderas with a lot of eye-liner on. Throughout the
excruciating 106 minutes this movie takes to reach its victorious end credits
(victorious because I knew I could finally leave the theater!), there is not
one fact I could tell you about any of the thirteen warriors, aside from
saying that they love to fight and casually stab each other with swords, only
to think nothing of it. And if we don't grow accustomed to the main
characters, or feel like we've even been properly introduced, how do the
filmmakers expect any of us to care at all about how things will turn out and
who will live and die?
The screenplay was written by two people: William Wisher and Warren Lewis.
They must have been comatose when they penned it, because I'll be damned if I
can detect anything even resembling a script at work here. The movie's idea
of a romantic subplot has Ahmed enchanging literally one line of dialogue
with a pretty villager (Maria Bonnevie), only to see them in bed together in
the next scene. The movie's idea of excitement is having the whole film
revolve around three big battles with the barbarians, with lots of cut-off
heads flying about, and no sense of understanding how to set up an action
set-piece. And the movie's idea of atmosphere is having the cinematography,
by Peter Menzies Jr., be so dimly-lit and washed out that, on a visual
stance, you feel like turning your head away every minute. Maybe an
overwhelming amount of dirt particles got on the camera lense, and director
McTiernan never even realized a little Windex would do the trick. Or, better
yet, maybe they spent so much money on the "breathtaking," "extravagant,"
"one-of-a-kind" action sequences, that they didn't have enough left to invest
in some bright lights. That was supposed to be an example of sarcasm, just to
let you know.
"The 13th Warrior" ends with them beating the barbarians, and Ahmed getting
on a ship to sail off. Since there was no actual entertainment value that
stemmed from one second of the film, nor did we ever satisfactorily learn who
the barbarians were, why they were fighting, or even one character trait from
the "heroic" central figures, I'd love a little insight into the point of
making the film in the first place. "The 13th Warrior" is the most depressing
cinematic experience to grace (or curse) the silver screen this year.
Copyright © 2000 Dustin Putman