13TH WARRIOR, THE
Reviewed March 25th, 2001 by Todd Terwilliger
Ahmed Ibn Fadlan (Antonio Banderas), disgraced for an adulterous affair, is banished from Bagdad to a far-off diplomatic post. When his caravan is attacked en route by a roving band of Tartars, he finds himself a guest in a Viking encampment.
As fate would have it, a messenger from the northland arrives as well, but with a dire message: something is rotten in the state of Denmark and it's not the smell of a wet moose. Creatures are attacking villages up and down the Viking homeland. Rothgar, lord of one of the kingdoms, is asking for help to fight off the menace. It is determined that thirteen men must go to Rothgar's aid. But wait-the thirteenth man cannot be a Viking. So, reluctantly, Ibn Fadlan goes north.
In the tradition of The Seven Samurai, The Dirty Dozen, and The Magnificent Seven, we have a band of heroes rising up to fight an overwhelming foe. Unlike those films, there is not as much depth given to the band of thirteen. In reality, only four of the group, Fadlan included, are fleshed out much at all. The chemistry between these four, however, makes up for the anonymity of the rest.
Banderas is very convincing as the Arab fish out of water. The Vikings too seem very Viking-ish. One aspect I particularly enjoyed was that the Vikings were not portrayed as mindless, savage berserkers. They were highly intelligent and savvy.
The video transfer, anamorphic 2.35:1 aspect ratio, is excellent. There is some minor pixelation in the dark scenes but, overall, the print is very clean. Colors are straight on: the Scandinavian scenery is beautiful and bleed free.
The Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack is excellent as well. Dialog is crisp and the great score neither overwhelms nor under whelms. There is a good deal of directionality, both along the front soundstage and between the front and rears. The surrounds are used judiciously. One particularly well-sounding scene is when the group approaches a homestead in the wilderness. Ambient forest sounds from the surrounds put you right amid the towering pines.
The only extras to speak of are a theatrical trailer. It's good for a one-time viewing but that's about it.
For whatever reason, The 13th Warrior just didn't fill the seats at the cinema. Based upon a Michael Crichton property, directed by John McTeirnan (Die Hard), and with Antonio Banderas in the lead, I'm sure the studio had a better draw in mind. The film, though, deserved better than the reception it received. It has quickly risen in my collection to one of my most watched discs. If you were one of the many to miss it on the big screen, there's no excuse not to give it a view on the small screen. With a great video transfer and excellent audio, you could do much worse, and not much better.
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