13th Warrior, The
John McTiernan's (Die Hard, Predator) medieval period film starring Antonio Banderas comes to DVD from Buena Vista. The film, while criticized, is in my opinion an excellent hack and slash flick whose only real flaw is the film's inability to fully develop many of the characters. Buena Vista provides us a pretty standard movie only edition highlighted by the fact it is 16x9 enhanced.
An Arab, Ahmed Ibn Fahdlan Ibn Al Abbas Ibn Rasid Ibn Hammad (Antonio Banderas) or "Eban" for short, has enjoyed his life as a poet, but one day he meets a beautiful woman who belongs to another man and his life would be forever changed. Her jealous husband complained to the Caliph, who in turn made Eban the Ambassador to the land of the Tossuk Ulad, a country far to the North. This effectively banishes Eban from his home and away from the object of his desires. While journeying to the North, Eban and his companion Melchisidek (Omar Sharif) come across a Northmen's encampment. There they are celebrating the "funeral" of their late King. Eban is introduced to the Northmen's strange customs and soon they befriend him. After a new King is chosen the sudden arrival of a boy from the Northmen's homeland captures their attention.
Wulfgar the messenger, who is the son of the great King Hrothgar (Sven Wollter) to the North, tells the new leader Buliwyf (Vladimir Kulich) that his homeland is being ravaged by an ancient evil, a terror that has no name, "The Wendol". Bound by honor, the Northmen must return home to defend their land from this menace. With the help of an oracle 13 warriors are chosen to return to the North. However, the 13th Warrior must be an outsider and not a Northman. The Northmen choose Eban as the 13th Warrior and reluctantly he agrees to aid them in their quest. However, Eban will soon realize the Wendol the Northmen face are no ordinary race, but savage warriors who are eaters of the dead.
I have a soft spot for these kinds of films and I love medieval epics like Excalbur, Conan the Barbarian, etc. Here we have a pretty atypical storyline of the outsider who fights alongside a group of individuals who at first believe him to be weak. Gradually the outsider proves himself in courage and strength and turns out to be one of the strongest among them. We've seen this kind of film before, but I think The 13th Warrior works very well. The film builds a nice bit of suspense and atmosphere around the Wendol by showing us some of their handy work early on in the film. The film also makes use of some gore and features a few decapitations, which will please a horror audience.
The film uses very natural lighting, which gives The 13th Warrior a more authentic feel, but the downside to this is some of the battles that take place at night are dark and it is hard to see what is going on and who is doing what. The battle scenes are definitely the films strongest point and the action is pretty good. If the film has a failing it's the fact many of the characters are underdeveloped. The 13th Warrior, like its title, features 13 warriors and many of them we will hardly remember at the close of the film. Granted, chunks of them are killed off in each battle so they don't have much screen time, but an effort to develop them a bit more would have paid off.
The film is also photographed beautifully and features gorgeous sprawling landscapes that look fantastic on this DVD. Some scenes take place in a forest, where you can see the streams of sunlight breaking through the trees up above; this was a great effect. Finally, on the acting side of things we have Antonio Banderas who is slowly getting better at playing these kinds of characters. Here he gets to play an Arab character and flex his character acting ability and for the most part he does a good job playing the stranger in a strange land. I enjoyed The 13th Warrior very much and it goes great with popcorn.
Buena Vista present's The 13th Warrior letterboxed at 2.35:1 in an excellent 16x9 enhanced transfer. The transfer is very clean throughout with very little grain detectable and the small amount of grain, which appears mostly in the nighttime scenes, doesn't become distracting. Colors are vivid and look gorgeous especially during the films outdoor daylight scenes, which display fantastic earthly tones of brown and green. The transfer at times is very dark and it sometimes becomes hard to make out what is going on, but this is by design and not a fault of the transfer.
The film uses very natural lighting to lose the appearance of a film lit like the average Hollywood film. There are many instances where torches and fires provide the only light during some scenes. The nighttime scenes and scenes shot within darkened interiors (like the scenes in the Wendol's cave near the end of the film) look great with only some slight grain on occasion. Blacks level is very good and solid. Flesh tones also looked very good and well saturated. The print used for the transfer is in near pristine condition with only a couple specks and nicks ever becoming noticeable.
In addition to the great visual quality, The 13th Warrior's Dolby Digital 5.1 track sounds excellent. The sounds during the intense battles are really engulfing and help to draw you into the action. The sounds of the Northmen's journey to the North by ship sounds fantastic making good use of the surrounds. Jerry Goldsmith, who once again provided an excellent score, did a great job and it sounds great on this DVD. Dialogue was crystal clear and I didn't note any distortion.
All we get is a theatrical trailer and...ugh.. "Film Recommendations", which conveniently feature Buena Vista's other releases. For $29.99 there aren't enough extras to justify such a high price. Hopefully price reductions for non-Special Editions will be on Buena Vista's agenda for the future.
Buena Vista has thankfully been stepping up the quality and commitment of their new releases. Here we get an excellent presentation thanks to a 16x9 enhanced transfer and an excellent DD 5.1 soundtrack. The price, however, is still a bit too high for a movie only DVD. Fans of hack and slash movies like Conan the Barbarian or Braveheart should give The 13th Warrior a try. It may not be as good as the aforementioned films, but it is an effective action film directed by one of the experts of the genre John McTiernan.
Image Quality - A
Sound - A
Supplements - C+
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