I feel the need to comment to a few of the reviews I read from the first page, which I must say were totally off-base.
A few notes, at random, and in no particular order.
Several reviewers are evidently confused about the relationship of the movie to a textual source. Specifically, they don't get the point, because they misunderstand what it's trying to do. The movie is based on the novel "Eaters of the Dead", by Michael Crichton. This novel is a fictionalized history, written in the form of an epic translation (which it isn't), and recounts what happens when a group of Norsemen, accompanied by an Arab observer end up at war with a remnant population of Neandertals. Yes, Neandertals. It's not completely ridiculous, though the most recent evidence for neandertals that I know of (I'm an archaeologist) in northern Europe is about 25k before present. It didn't happen -- it's just Crichton's device, and it's a fun one. Neandertals are very close to modern people, but not the same. They are in some sense Other, and to xenophobes like medieval Norse they must have seemed, well, something like Grendel is discribed in Beowulf. When Crichton wrote this, originally in the 1970s, even less was known of Neandertals than now, thus the brutish characterization, exaggerated a bit by the movie.
Once this background is adequately understood, several criticisms should disappear:
A. One reviewer complains that the movie isn't faithful enough to the original text, apparently believing in this case the text written by Ahmed ibn-Fahlan, and published a few years ago. This reviewer appears unaware that this is a literary conceit on the part of the actual author, Michael Crichton.
B. Meanwhile, a second reviewer complains that the movie is insufficiently close to the Beowulf myth. As implied by the above, this criticism goes nowhere, because it is not a simple retelling of Beowulf. "Eaters of the Dead" is Crichton's effort to fictionally historicize Beowulf by placing it in the context of a struggle of Norse against a remnant population of neandertals. "The 13th Warrior" is a pretty accurate retelling of the encounter as envisioned by Crichton, and its relationship to Beowulf is as tangential as Crichton's.
C. A review complains about the ragged mobs of bad guys, clad in bear skins for no good reason. The reason is that there is good evidence to suppose Neandertals had a ritual life oriented in some way around cave bears. They might be ragged mobs because the book, and movie, are emphasizing their primitiveness, relative to the modern humans they are fighting. I had more difficulty with Neandertal cavalry, but there isn't any particular reason to believe a remnant population of Neandertals couldn't observe the use of domesticated horses, steal some, and figure it out from there.
D. I didn't think that was the lamest love interest subplot ever by far. First, the woman was gorgeous, so it can't be a waste. (heh, okay) Second, it underscores the relatively casual attitude of the norse toward sex, especially as initiated by women. This is obviously not a universal trait in medieval western cultures, and is a nice historical touch. It would have been sappier if he'd stayed or she'd followed, but neither happens. It's a moment of comfort and connection in a hopeless situation, and works well in that context.
E. We have no idea how a complex Neandertal society might work -- there's no evidence to suggest they might ever have had one. For them to coalesce briefly around a few charismatic leaders, and disperse when those leaders die, is no stretch at all. In fact, it's the most likely scenario. I'm not that'd happen in the middle of a battle, but maybe it would. Who knows? After all, if they had a structured society that *didn't* depend on the presence of charismatic leaders, they'd be more visible in the archaeological record, and might have been more of a threat. It'd be a different situation, certainly. Anyway, it's Crichton's story and it works.
I have no particular rebuttal to those who didn't like the characters or the acting or whatever, except to say I think they're dead wrong. And the reviewer suggesting this as MST2K material ... well...evidently doesn't know much about 13th Warrior OR MST2K. (Trying to be nice here). Hint: MST2K makes fun of *bad* movies, not good ones. I love the characters and thought the chemistry was terrific. Visually, it's stunning.
The movie just works great on a lot of levels. It's just a quietly great movie. Certainly on my top 10 list, and probably top 5. A lot of my friends avoided it in the theater, but when I show them the video, I haven't seen anyone not like it. I think it will have a solid second life. It should.
(Apologies for length)
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