Cast and Crew: John McTiernan and Michael Crichton (directors), Michael Crichton (novel), Antonio Banderas, Vladimir Kulich, Omar Sharif.
What It’s About: Disgraced by sex scandal, Arab poet Ahmed Ibn Fadhlan (Antonio Banderas) ships out of Baghdad with a band of vikings who have assembled to confront an ancient evil plaguing nordic lands.
Why Watch It Today: While The 13th Warrior’s protagonist is based on the historical figure of Ahmed Ibn Fadhlan–10th-century scholar, poet, traveler, and member of the Abbasid Caliphate–the focus of the film is a creative retelling of an Old English epic poem that may have been recorded during Ibn Fadhlan’s lifetime. Beowulf’s first English translation of was conducted by J.M. Kemble, who died on this day in 1857, and countless print and big-screen translations have followed it. Beowulf adaptations, in their attempts to cater to modern taste, can fail hilariously; e.g. Beowulf (1999), starring Christopher Lambert. The 13th Warrior takes a different tack. It stews up the basic ingredients–brave, strong vikings pitched against furry baddies–but also also mixes in plot elements from The Seven Samurai, while flavoring it with Arabian and Tolkienesque spices. The whole hot mess may not be especially fresh, but it is unpretentious, charming, and comforting to return to again and again, like any good stew should be. The early scene in which Ahmed “learns” Swedish from his new companions exemplifies the many easy pleasures on offer. Banderas is game for this role, and the fun he evinces is infectious to a supporting cast that is very powerfully built but not exactly star-powered, with the notable exception of Omar Sharif; he lends some Hollywood shimmer at the film’s onset and shepherds viewers into the escapades to follow.
Back in high school I remember my girlfriend’s brother read the book this is based on and loved it-and absolutely refused to believe it wasn’t fact.