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  Specs
  • Widescreen 2.35:1
  • 16:9 Enhanced
  Languages
  • English: Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround
  • Spanish: Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround
  • Italian: Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround
  Subtitles
    Spanish, Italian, Dutch, English - Hearing Impaired, Danish, Swedish, Norwegian, Finnish
  Extras
  • Theatrical trailer

The 13th Warrior

Buena Vista/Buena Vista . R4 . COLOR . 99 mins . MA15+ . PAL

  Feature
Contract

In my living room, there is one region 4 release that has remained on high rotation for more weeks than any other. That release is The 13th Warrior, and even after 12 months solid it’s still going strong. It is enjoyed not least by my wife, for whom it still rates as a definitive night’s viewing. As a whole we tend to pass over films of its pedigree (Crichton, McTiernan et al) - offerings such as your Jurassic Parks, and your Die Hards etc. So what, apart from maybe my wife’s apparent eagerness to watch Antonio Banderas sweat, makes it so damned appealing?

Antonio Banderas plays Ahmed Ibn Fadlan, a 10th century Arab from Baghdad banished as 'ambassador' to the wild lands of Europe for Banderas-type indiscretions. Happening upon a Viking village, Ahmed makes contact with these men from the North (he is meant to be an ambassador after all) and is initially horrified by their barbaric customs and lack of hygiene. However, Ahmed is unexpectedly enlisted into a small band of warriors charged with a sacred duty. Accompanying the warriors to their homeland, he assists them in the support of an aging king in the defense of his people; defense against an ancient evil and supernatural terror that is decimating the local population...

"But I am not a warrior! - Very soon, you will be."

The 13th Warrior is based on the novel Eaters of the Dead by Michael Crichton - the movie title being changed by Touchstone in post-production (a real mistake in my opinion). The novel is itself loosely based on the ancient legend of Beowulf - a great Scandinavian warrior who answers King Hrothgar's pleas for help to kill the man-eating monster Grendel. Later, after slaying the creature, Beowulf enters Grendel's lair to destroy its mother.

The main plot has been constructed in an unusual (read interesting) manner to your run of the mill Hollywood action blockbuster. Banderas as Ahmed, the civilised Arab, does not play the lead heroic role. Instead Ahmed is a spectator, providing a narrative thread, and observing the barbarity of the Vikings from a position more akin to that of a present-day audience. This allows the audience to connect with the story and experience a greater level of involvement in proceedings.

The real stars of this story are the Vikings themselves. A cast of mostly unknown Europeans (at least to me) provides us with realistic and perfectly suited performances. In particular, Vladimir Kulich as the Viking leader Buliwyf and Dennis Storhøi as Herger his right-hand man deliver entertaining and more importantly endearing performances. In actual fact, I cannot recall hearing one single American voice throughout the entire film! This adds immensely to the movie’s realistic feel - a fact obviously not lost on its makers.

I find the movie not so much thrilling as simply engrossing. The suspense is surprisingly well built as the story unfolds, ending with a satisfying and rewarding climax. The many scenes of battle middle-ages-style are realistic and well paced. The gore factor is actually quite low and all but the very squeamish will have no problem in this regard. The direction and cinematography on this movie are, in my humble option, breathtaking - hats off to McTiernan here. The Middle Ages is faithfully recreated in all its grotty splendor, and the results are photographed beautifully.

  Video
Contract

With its anamorphic transfer at the original theatrical aspect ratio of 2.35:1, The 13th Warrior looks wonderful. The image is sharp and clear, the black level is perfect and with frequent dark scenes (many of the battles taking place at night or in dark locations) the depth of shadow detail is fantastic.

In general the film's colours are muted - the Middle Ages was a dirty time. However, in many scenes these muted colours provide a contrast to brilliant flashes of red and orange fire. In fact I would have to say that the use of fire is a key-defining feature of the cinematic look and feel employed by the director, and the colour rendition is handled very nicely indeed.

At many points the plot calls for mist and fog, and in general the transfer does not disappoint. However, in a single place (at the end of the second battle), the picture suffers from severe posterisation for several seconds - marring an otherwise beautiful transfer. There are also a number of instances of aliasing, but these are not distracting and are typical of transfers this sharp.

Despite these flaws, this is a great transfer and one that does justice to this superbly photographed film.

  Audio
Contract

Although there are three audio tracks on this DVD, I sampled only the English Dolby Digital 5.1 track. At all times the dialogue is clear and distinct, and I detected no audio sync problems; although at times the Scandanavian accents are a little hard to understand. This in no way detracts from the film - in fact it adds greatly to the film’s authenticity and charm. As I've said before, it would have been a real crime to populate this film with American voices.

The surround channels and subwoofer get a real workout here - definitely a disc with which to impress your friends. Channel separation is great, with many directional effects throughout. Ambient sound is also fantastic, filling your living room with the crash of waves around your longship, the thunder of hooves, the clink of swords, the sounding of horns, the screams of the fallen. All in all a fantastic audio experience.

  Extras
Contract

Disapointingly the extras included with this disc are, well, non-existent - a real disappointment given that the film is a quite recent production, and also given its pedigree. With the film’s strong candidacy for cult status, surely a Special Edition can't be far off (fingers crossed...).

  Overall  
Contract

OK, so have I gushed enough? Sorry. But honestly The 13th Warrior is immensely enjoyable even after the 13th, or indeed the 30th, viewing. The film is perfectly cast, and the drama suspenseful and well paced. The performances produce endearing characters that add to the movie's re-watch potential, and the cinematography and sound are fantastic. In short, this is a film that transcends its genre, and should not be missed.


  • LINK: http://www.dvd.net.au/review.cgi?review_id=1397
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      And I quote...
    "...immensely enjoyable, even after the 13th, or indeed the 30th, viewing..."
    - Gavin Turner
      Review Equipment
    • DVD Player:
          Toshiba SD-2108
    • TV:
          Panasonic TC-68P90A TAU (80cm)
    • Receiver:
          Yamaha RX-V795
    • Amplifier:
          Yamaha RX-V795
    • Speakers:
          B&W 602
    • Centre Speaker:
          B&W CC6 S2
    • Surrounds:
          JM Lab Cobalt SR20
    • Subwoofer:
          B&W ASW-500
    • Audio Cables:
          Standard Optical
    • Video Cables:
          Standard Component RCA
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