The 13th Warrior Reviews
Notorious for being one of the biggest box office bombs of all time, The 13th Warrior is a big-budgeted film which boasts the potential of a real spectacle. I say potential because it never reaches it, and that really went over my head. The 13th Warrior has a budget estimated to be close to $100 million, and yet I just struggle to believe that. For a film this simplistic to actually cost that much can only signify that some severely misguided direction was behind the production.
Frankly, the production values of this $100 million films seem only slightly higher than the ones used in another story of century-old swordfighting, Highlander (1986). Highlander had a budget of merely $19 million, a fraction of the massive budget behind The 13th Warrior. Both films had convincing costumes and ideal scenery, though there is a difference in cinematography technique. However, Highlander utilized its setting for far greater value as it actually took the time to show off its production values. Most of the time in The 13th Warrior the entire film is shot up so close that all you can see is the faces of actors who do little more than deliver certifiably melodramatic performances thanks to a lifeless screenplay. This makes the entire scale of the story feel too insignificant to make any kind of impact as a spectacle, and it shows off none of the imagery that should be synonymous with a film of such an overblown budget. It's actually difficult to say that I remember any imagery whatsoever in The 13th Warrior because the film was a lesser experience than John McTiernan's Last Action Hero (1993) which was seemingly far more overblown but actually managed to use its set pieces for something distinctive.
The problem with the visual style is that it wants to really focus intensively on the characters and uses a series of close-up techniques to convey their intense emotional state of mind. The only problem is that apparently the director of photography is not aware of the screenplay's shortcomings because there is nothing interesting about the characters in The 13th Warrior. Characterization is not a key strength of the film and everyone is reduced to being a generic archetype thrown into a series of melodramatic ramblings or occasional swordfights, the latter of which the cinematography should be focused on. Director of photography Peter Menzies Jr. does not seem aware of this and fails to grasp the larger scale which he conveyed far more skilfully on Die Hard with a Vengeance (1995), another collaboration with John McTiernan. As a result, both the screenplay and the visual style of The 13th Warrior come up extremely short and neither of them compensate for each other. In the case of films with a budget such as The 13th Warrior, the visual experience can frequently make up for the lack of supportive writing. This is not the case this time, and with a man like John McTiernan as director I must say that I am very surprised in the worst sense of the word.
For a film that collaborates action filmmaker John McTiernan with action star Antonio Banderas so have such severe shortcomings in the quantity of action is truly shoddy. There is a modicum of brief swordfighting scenes in the film where we see the actors pitted against each other and performing in an intense state of mind, but they are extremely brief and captured with technique too shoddy to be anything distinctive. Still, I might have tolerated them more of there was more of it to actually embrace. The 13th Warrior is ultimately so short on action that the use of the word "warrior" in the title is a betrayal to anyone who dares to watch it. The 13th Warrior is a big betrayal to the generic contract it promises with the presence of its central actor and director, and there is nothing spectacular about the experience outside of the atmospheric strength brought in by Jerry Goldsmith's musical score. With all the slow motion and melodramatic panning in the visual experience, The 13th Warrior manages to capture the melodramatic angle of the film with an emotional spirit to it that ensures there is at least sparks of feeling spread out during the film.
The 13th Warrior feels like a wasted opportunity. It could have been a harrowing portrait of violence, but the script has no interesting commentary to make. It could have been an interesting story about Adhem ubn Fadlan, but it seems like the filmmakers are no more aware of his historical relevance than I am. Given that the text is based on a piece of historical fiction I can understand why the latter faltered, but the story's focus is so scattershot throughout its generic collection of archetypes that it doesn't give Antonio Banderas an opportunity to shine. While the characters have flashy costumes to wear and nice scenery to stand against the backdrop of, they have nothing interesting to say. And even then, everything is lit too poorly to really get the full experience of their performances. Yet since the feature does not even know how to exploit the gimmicks of its cast, it is a waste of their time more than ours. Antonio Banderas rarely engages in any combat, opting instead to recite the philosophical poetry of an 8th grade history student. Every supporting cast member ends up as generic and forgettable as each other, a fate that even befalls an actor as legendary as Omar Sharif who was so dissatisfied with the experience that he temporarily retired from acting as a result.
The 13th Warrior is a stunningly misguided flop which serves as some of John McTiernan's worst work, spending copious millions of dollars on poor cinematography and a shortage of action scenes while shifting the focus onto a lifeless screenplay full of stock characters and cheap melodrama.
The 13th Warrior would have benefitted from better character development and story, but the design and direction of the film are all but too lavish and amazing to ignore.