The 13th Warrior

USA 1999

Reviewed by Kim Newman


Our synopses give away the plot in full, including surprise twists.

922 AD. Ahmed Ibn Fahdlan, an Arab poet, is sent abroad by the caliph as an ambassador. In Tartary, he meets some Vikings under the command of chieftain Buliwyf and, through a translator, communicates with Herger the Joyous, Buliwyf's lieutenant. A messenger from the North tells of a settlement ruled by King Hrothgar under attack by monstrous creatures. A seeress divines that 13 warriors must come to Hrothgar's aid but the thirteenth must not be a Norseman so Ibn Fahdlan is drafted.

At Hrothgar's settlement, the Vikings discover the attackers are man-eaters. Herger duels with the champion of Wigliff, Hrothgar's treacherous son, and Ibn Fahdlan gains the respect of his fellow warriors after a skirmish with the enemy. During an attack on Hrothgar's stronghold, Ibn Fahdlan realises the enemy, a tribe called the Wendol, are men wearing bearskins. The surviving warriors track the Wendol to their cave lair. Buliwyf kills the Wendol mother. The Wendol launch a revenge attack, during which Buliwyf duels with and kills the Wendol chieftan before himself dying. The Wendol retreat. Ibn Fahdlan returns home to write of his experiences.


Post-production of The 13th Warrior has been so attenuated the film has been beaten into cinemas by its director John McTiernan's subsequent feature The Thomas Crown Affair. In many ways, it's not hard to understand how this happened since Warrior bears the battle scars of having been through the preview process, losing a few subplots and character explanations along the way.

Michael Crichton's 1976 novel Eaters of the Dead, which 'explains' the story of Beowulf by suggesting that Grendel and his mother were survivors of a tribe of Neolithic cavemen, is one of his more eccentric efforts. Meanwhile, this adaptation violates several rules of the big summer event movie: the apparent hero is in effect an observer who leaves all the heavy lifting to the Vikings; the climax seems insufficiently climactic (their leader killed, the fearsome Wendol just up sticks and leave); and there is no romantic interest beyond a little wound-tending.

It might also be that the daring stroke of making the spokesman for civilised normality Islamic (which has a precedent in Sidney Poitier's turn in The Long Ships, 1963) is just too much of a stretch for US audiences. To get round this, we are assured that the literate, fastidiously clean, reluctantly violent Ibn Fahdlan worships one God while the pagan Vikings have a parcel of under-explained beliefs almost as alien as the primitive, Venus-venerating, cannibal Wendol.

Banderas, having swashbuckled in The Mask of Zorro, comes across at first as a rather camp figure with heavy eye-liner, but soon he shows the sneering Vikings the right stuff by demonstrating superior Arab horsemanship and whittling a heavy sword down into an effective scimitar. After that, he has little else to do, though the film seems to imply that Ibn Fahdlan (a real historical figure) will become the author of Beowulf. Despite its ineffectual lead, The 13th Warrior doesn't play effectively as an ensemble hero movie like The Magnificent Seven (1960) or The Dirty Dozen (1967). Buliwyf is always at two removes, even when taking command and improving himself by learning to write, and Vladimir Kulich's quiet reading of the role is never given enough screen weight to suggest the foundation of a legend which will last for a thousand years. The most charismatic, canny character is Herger, whose plot function is to mediate between the narrator and the chieftain. Of the other ten warriors, half barely get a line out before they are beheaded and the rest are allowed a character trait apiece, as signalled by their names (Skeld the Superstitious, Ragnar the Dour, Rethel the Archer, and so on).

The genre it comes closest to is the horror movie, with the lurking Wendol chief glaring from the shadows like the monster from McTiernan's Predator. The Wendol are inevitably less fearsome up close than when glimpsed, though their slinky matriarch is a memorable creation and the art direction in their skull-festooned lair has a real Norse Chainsaw Massacre feel. With a spirited score, misty forest locations, plenty of sword-hacking and a few lifts from Kurosawa in the pitched battles, the film might not hold its own with Richard Fleischer's The Vikings but its pleasing, good-humoured ludicrousness should pass muster with bloodthirsty schoolboys.


Ned Dowd
John McTiernan
Michael Crichton
William Wisher
Warren Lewis
Based on Eaters of the Dead by
Michael Crichton
Director of Photography
Peter Menzies Jr
John Wright
Production Designer
Wolf Kroeger
Music/Music Conductor
Jerry Goldsmith
©Touchstone Pictures
Production Companies
Touchstone Pictures presents a Crichton/McTiernan production
Executive Producers
Andrew G. Vajna
Ethan Dubrow
Lou Arkoff
Associate Producer
Casey Grant
Production Controller
Gary Gillingham
Production Co-ordinator
Yvonne Melville
Unit Production Manager
Casey Grant
Unit Manager
2nd Unit:
Stewart Bethune
Location Manager
Rino Pace
2nd Unit Director
John Sullivan
Assistant Directors
Bruce Moriarty
Jim Brebner
Paul Barry
David Footman
2nd Unit:
Jonathan Watson
Michelle Foote
Script Supervisor
Christine Wilson
Pat McCorkle
Lynne Carrow
Priscilla John
R.M. Frank
Folk & Film
ADR Voice:
Barbara Harris
Additional Photography
David Gribble
2nd Unit Director of Photography
John Clothier
Camera Operators
Robert Presley
John Platt
Steadicam Operator
Robert Presley
Visual Effects Supervisor
John Sullivan
Visual Effects Editor
Kate Crossley
Visual Effects Research
Joel Hynek
Visual Effects
Digital Visual Effects Supervisor:
Jerry Pooler
Digital Effects Producer:
Kevin Elam
Composite Supervisor:
Kevin Lingenfelser
Digital Compositors:
Mark Lewis
Ted Andre
Marcel Martinez
Patrick Tubach
Cristin Pescosolido
CGI Supervisor:
John Hewitt
CGI Animators:
Dylan Robinson
Mieko Yoshida
Richard Klein
Allen Ruilova
Lon R. Shor
Concept Artist:
Nicolai Strehl
Matte Painting Supervisor:
Charles Darby
Paint Supervisor:
Joe Dubs
Texture Painter:
Don Campbell
Roto Supervisor:
Karen D. Klein
Visual Effects Editor:
Rod Basham
Digital Artists:
Erin M. Cullen
Gilbert Gonzalez
Corinne Pooler
Julius Magodo
Chris Wood
Production Co-ordinator:
Tracy Takahashi
Data Engineer:
Pavel Dvorak
Additional Visual Effects
Buena Vista Imaging
Digital Phenomena, Inc
Special Effects
Thomas L. Fisher
Mike Vezina
Nick Lawson
Film Editor
Dennis Virkler
Art Directors
Helen V. Jarvis
Richard St. John Harrison
William Heslup
Head Set Decorator
Rose Marie McSherry
Set Decorator
Ann Marie Corbett
Production Illustrator
Brent Boates
Storyboard Artists
Kevin Van Hoo
C.R. Lister
Naval Architect
Doug Antonides
Shield/Helmet Design
Brent Harron
Swords Makers
Simon Atherton
Brian Davenport
Costume Designers
Kate Harrington
Sandra J. Blackie
Nancy Duggan
Jeff Dawn
Key Artists:
Charles E. Porlier
Stan Edmonds
Victoria Down
Make-up/Tattoo Artist
Chauney W. Bawlf
Hair Designer
Peter Tothpal
Key Hairstylists
Janet MacDonald
Ian Ballard
Janet Sala
Title Design
Brian King
Buena Vista Imaging
Orchestra Conductor
Jerry Goldsmith
Alexander Courage
Executive in Charge of Music, Walt Disney Motion Picture Group
Kathy Nelson
Music Editor
Ken Hall
Score Recordist/Mixer
Bruce Botnick
Music Programmer
Nick Vidar
Sound Design
Chris Boyes
Sound Mixer
Robert Eber
Re-recording Mixers
Michael Minkler
Frank Montaño
Supervising Sound Editors
Alan Robert Murray
Jay Wilkinson
Dialogue Supervisor
Lucy Coldsnow-Smith
Dialogue Editors
Karen Spangenberg
Gloria D'Alessandro
Frank Smathers
Michael Haight
Connie Kazmer
Sound Effects Editors
Gary Krivacek
Adam Johnston
Mike Dobie
Doug Jackson
Sam Crutcher
Rick Franklin
David Farmer
Steven Boeddeker
Juno J. Ellis
Rick Canelli
Thomas J. O'Connell
Denise Horta
Stephen Janisz
Nick Korda
Mary Andrews
Jere Harding
Victoria Martin
Dan O'Connell
John Cucci
Linda Lew
James Ashwill
Matt Harrison
Butch Wolf
Jim Likowski
Fred Burke
Gary Wright
Language Consultant
Juta Kitching
Marine Co-ordinator
Dan Crosby
Lead Boat Wrangler
Jason Crosby
Boat Wranglers
Jason Mosimann
Tom Stenner
Stunt Co-ordinator
Brent Woolsey
Glen English
Head Wranglers
John Scott
British Columbia:
Jamie Payton
Wrangler Captains
Lyle W. Edge
Lee Phillips
Animal Trainers
Mark Dumas
Steven Woodley
Camel Trainers
Sled Reynolds
Gene Walker
Antonio Banderas
Ahmed Ibn Fahdlan
Diane Venora
Queen Weilew
Dennis Storhøi
Herger, Joyous
Vladimir Kulich
Omar Sharif
Anders T. Andersen
Wigliff, King's son
Richard Bremmer
Skeld, superstitious
Tony Curran
Weath, musician
Mischa Hausserman
Rethel, archer
Neil Maffin
Asbjorn Riis
Halga, wise
Clive Russell
Helfdane, fat
Daniel Southern
Edgtho, silent
Oliver Sveinall
Haltaf, boy
Sven Wollter
King Hrothgar
Albie Woodington
Hyglak, quarrelsome
John DeSantis
Ragnar, dour
Eric Avari
caravan leader
Maria Bonnevie
Richard Ooms
one-eyed old man
Dylan Gray Woodley
screaming boy
Bjørn Ove Pedersen
Wulfgar, the boy-messenger
Scott Elam
Ghoncheh Tazmini
Shaharazhad, Arabian beauty
Joe Bulatti
Shaharazhad's husband
Mina Erian Mina
the caliph
Mona Storhøi
sacrificial woman
Turid Balke
oracle, old woman
Suzanne Bertish
Susan Willis
Wendol mother
Yolande Bavan
Wendol mother companion
Claire Lapinski
Tarik Batal
Arab page
Brett Reyez
caravan lieutenant
Akesh Gillnatalia
Mohammed MacLeod
Kaaren De Zilva
Layla Alizada
serving girls
Sven-Ole Thorsen
would-be king
Alaina Lander
sleeping girl
Jeremy Van Der Driesen
Al Hachlaf
Arab generals
Brian Jensen
Michael Brynjolfson
Alex Zahara
Mark Acheson
John Bear Curtis
Andrew A. Kavadas
Gunnar Skjavestad
Norseman on ship
Malcolm Jolly
Wulfgar retainer
Owen Walstrom
Wendol guard
Buena Vista International (UK)
tbc feet
tbc minutes
Dolby digital/SDDS/DTS
In Colour
Prints by
Anamorphic [Panavision]
Last Updated: 20 Dec 2011