Isn't It Bromantic: The 13th Warrior (1999)

As Chris Kattan taught us on Saturday Night Live, Antonio Banderas is “too sexy“. Now I have no comment on that other than to say he’s a good lookin’ fellow. That’s not what this new feature, Isn’t It Bromantic, is about. While B.L.O.G has gone on for some 20+ weeks about the ladies of genre film that I love, the men have been put on the backburner. Now I want to give some dudes the props they deserve. Now, don’t fret, the B.L.O.G.s will be back again soon. I’m going to be trading back and forth on Thursdays between the sexes.

First off let me just say a few words about what Isn’t It Bromantic will be about. It will be about genre film actors I love to watch, it will be focused on one specific movie each time, and it will not be a sexiest or most handsome contest, but rather a place for me to talk about my man crushes. Now don’t front, gentlemen. I know you all have man crushes. There’s always an actor whose roles makes you want to be more like him onscreen and off. They’re the characters that are cool as ice, slick as shit, and always ready to throw down if called upon. That’s why to kick this whole thing off I went with a film and an actor who I feel is quite under-appreciated...

Antonio Banderas was almost not an actor at all. Up until the age of 14 he was poised to be something of a soccer sensation in his native Spain, but a broken foot put an end to those dreams. After seeing a stage production of Hair, he decided he wanted to peruse a career in acting which eventually lead him to a series of collaborations with Spanish director Pedro Almodovar. He made the leap to Hollywood in 1992 with The Mambo Kings and in 1993 got much praise as Tom Hank’s gay lover in Philadelphia.

So far his career had been dominated by high minded films helmed by serious directors, but soon a job given to him by one of those artistic directors, Neil Jordon, would bring Banderas into genre film. He took on the role of Armand in Jordon’s adaptation of Ann Rice’s Interview with a Vampire (1994). Say what you will about that film, I always find a lot to like there and Banderas is definitely part of it. The next year saw his first pairing with Robert Rodriguez in the director’s American remake of his own El Mariachi. Desperado told a slightly varied and more polished tale than the original, and Banderas was well on his way down the genre film path. Over the next few years he starred in Four Rooms (1995), opposite Stallone on Assassins (1995), and donned the legendary disguise in The Mask of Zorro (1998).

Then came tonight’s film, The 13th Warrior (1999). Based on the book Eaters of the Dead by Michael Crichton, The 13th Warrior came out at the end of a long string of successful films based on the author’s work including Jurassic Park, Rising Son, Disclosure, and Sphere. The film was set to be directed by one of the better men to have behind an action epic, John McTierman, the director of Die Hard, Predator, and Last Action Hero, but in the end the film failed miserably at the box office and became one of the biggest flops to date. The thing I could never get my head around was why. Banderas was a marquee level star and The 13th Warrior was based on the classic legend of Beowulf with a hint of The Seven Samurai thrown in for good measure. Since the first time I saw this flick, it fast became one that if I turned it on, well, I was going to be watching a film for the next two hours.

As I mentioned, The 13th Warrior is a twist on the epic poem Beowulf with a twist. A far flung Norse village is being terrorized by a creature, and Ahmed Ibn Fahdhan, a poet banished from his Middle Eastern homeland for romancing the wrong woman, has been sent out as an Ambassador to the lands to the North. He is in attendance when the warriors are chosen for the quest, and he, no Northman, must become the 13th of their number. He journeys with Buliwyf (Vladimir Kulich) and his men to the village where his life takes him into the dark mysticism of the Norse.

The story relies on Ahmed to guide the audience through the mystic beliefs of the Norse. They believe there is a giant fire beast, but Ahmed sees it as a legion of men with torches. The Grendel of the story is a tribe of men in bear heads called Wendol, but it takes Banderas’ poet to see them as not monsters. Some of it feels forced at times, but the film eases us into believing in the Arab’s intellect. Early in the film, he understands nothing of what the Norsemen are saying, but through a series of deftly cut scenes, the film illustrates how he learns to communicate with them. Sure, it requires some suspension of disbelief, but you’ve already got a Spaniard playing a Middle Easterner, so if you’re going to go with it, it’s best you just put your worries to the side and enjoy.

It’s kind of surprising that any kind of film could have come from the harrowing post production process that it endured. The original cut of the film did not test well, and at some point Crichton took over directing changing the title from his own original title Eaters of the Dead to The 13th Warrior. The film was also originally scored by Graeme Revell (composer for Grindhouse, From Dusk Til Dawn, and Boxing Helena) with Dead Can Dance singer Lisa Gerrard. It was completely replaced by Crichton with a score from legendary film composer Jerry Goldsmith. While I quite like the music, I would like to see the film with the other score intact to compare.

While The 13th Warrior surely deserved no Oscars, I find it to be an enjoyable action epic that didn’t get a fair shake. At the time it was released, it was one of the most expensive flops in movie history (not Waterworld bad, but bad none the less.) Since its release, it’s had a second life on video and DVD, and that’s the sign of a true cult film. It’s the kind of flick that when I mention it to my friends, we’ve all seen, we all enjoy, but somehow we never knew that there were other people that liked it. So in short, Antonio, he’s a badass here the Norse teach him to be, and he makes The 13th Warrior into a pretty badass flick.

Bugg Rating


  1. I like this one quite a bit too. I'd explain part of its commercial failure with people not expecting a historical adventure movie that might as well be a Sword & Sorcery film from the Michael Crichton brand. Which is of course exactly what I like about the film.

  2. Considering that I wrote my final college paper on the interaction between the Muslim world and the Western world during the Middle Ages, I should have liked this more than I did. But it does sport an awesome, killer Jerry Goldsmith score. Sold.


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