Rated R - Running Time: 1:42 - Released 8/27/99

There's nothing like a good old-fashioned Viking movie to get your blood going. And there's plenty of blood going in Antonio Banderas's latest star vehicle, The 13th Warrior. It is helmed by Michael Crichton, who surrounded himself with a talented creative team and thus achieved splendid results. Crichton hasn't directed in 10 years, but he is assisted by Die Hard 3's John McTiernan, whose most recent project was The Thomas Crown Affair. Crichton also penned the novel Eaters Of The Dead, on which the film is based, but again sought aid on the final text from scriptwriters William Wisher (Terminator 2) and Warren Lewis (Black Rain).

Based on the 10th century heroic poem Beowulf, The 13th Warrior is the dark tale of an Arab poet who is sent away as an abassador to Scandinavia. Ahmahd ibn Fahdalan (Banderas) is a deeply religious Muslim, and insists that he is not a fighter, but soon finds himself part of a 13-man party (all the rest are Norsemen) being sent to seek and destroy a mysterious enemy that is terrorizing a village. Though a newcomer to the group, he learns their language faster than E.T. learned "phone home," and soon fits in as well as any Arab can among Vikings who constantly ridicule him for his diminutive horse.

According to the king (Sven Wollter) and queen (Diane Venora), the "unnamed terror" has killed most of the men in town and — here's the good part — eaten their remains. Honey, could you open up another can of fava beans? Some say it looks like a bear but walks like a man, it has claws about yay long, and only attacks during foggy nights. After a couple of rather lopsided battles, the men discover their adversary to be a tribe of cannibals who wear bear pelts, and heads, and claws, and live in caves like their animal heroes. So Ahmahd and the gang decide to make like ferrets and root them out of there. Along the way, he learns of many Norse traditions like ale made from honey and boiled cow urine as a disinfectant (it works because the germs can't stand the smell).

Although the subject matter is not too pleasant and the gore is turned up to 11, Crichton's film is an excellent Nordic war story. Banderas does a fine job as the conscientious objector forced to wield a broadsword with the best of them (actually he fashions himself a scimitar so he can feel more at home). The settings are beautifully rustic, a sort of cross between Braveheart and Monty Python And The Holy Grail. The balance of the cast is excellent; they are mostly Scandinavian actors with the exception of Venora and Omar Sharif (in a brief appearance as Ahmahd's interpreter). Notable among them is Vladimir Kulich as the leader of the pack, and Dennis Storhøi as Ahmahd's always optimistic buddy. If you're a fan of arms and armor, clanging swords and guys with long, blond braids hanging down their backs, then this is your film. Drink some ale out of a horn. ****½

Copyright 1999 by John R. McEwen and The Republican

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