John McTiernan

The 13th Warrior (1999, John McTiernan)

No one in The 13th Warrior seems particularly thrilled to be participating in The 13th Warrior. Some people carry it better than others—Omar Sharif’s cameo is the only “good” acting in the film, as he translates and interprets events for lead Antonio Banderas, who can’t speak the common language with the Vikings they’ve come across. Vladimir Kulich, as Beowulf (13th Warrior is an adaptation of co-producer and shadow director Michael Crichton’s novel, Eaters of the Dead, which is a riff on Beowulf), is kind of fine. His presence is indicative of the problem with Warrior, which is no one wants to take it seriously and actually ask anyone to act, so they just get a handful of personable actors and a handful of romance novel cover models and put the band together. Kulich at least takes it seriously. Taking it seriously requires effort, which is on short supply.

And, really, on short demand. No one cares. William Wisher and Warren Lewis’s screenplay is not some poorly realized masterpiece. It’s a Viking movie with an Arabian guest star. With Antonio Banderas as a tenth century Muslim traveler—based on a real person, but the film… avoids treating Banderas as a real person. The script avoids Banderas as a person so much it isn’t until the last battle, which is a very noncommittal Seven Samurai homage because neither credited director McTiernan or uncredited Crichton are any good at the action. It’s particularly stunning from McTiernan considering he made Predator and the “monsters” in Warrior decapitate and camouflage too. Warrior’s almost willfully bad.

Anyway—the movie doesn’t show Muslim Banderas pray until the last battle scene. How Banderas is going to pray five times a day—at set times—while traveling with a bunch of Vikings on a mission to kill a monster and save a village? Exploring that culture clash would probably be interesting. But they can’t do it because it’s an action movie with what ought to be a pulpy premise but instead wants to get executed like a nerdy one and it’s not. Warrior either needs a compelling lead, compelling adversaries, or compelling cannon fodder (the Vikings slash samurai). It’s got none of those things. And it’s not even Banderas’s fault. He’s not good, but it’s very clearly not his fault. His biggest scene—outside that one prayer—is when he figures out how to speak Old Norse just from sitting around and listening to the Vikings talk for a couple hours. Now, if it’d been set over weeks and the journey had narrative weight, Warrior might have something going but of course it doesn’t because it’s terrible. And the whole translating thing really shouldn’t have been raised because initially it just makes you think Sharif’s going to be sticking around longer and he’s really just there to give the movie some actual Hollywood Middle Eastern star cred before turning it all over to not Middle Eastern Hollywood star Banderas.

Again, it’s a big shame as Sharif’s a lot of fun and he’s able to make Banderas likable in a way the film never repeats. Particularly not for Banderas’s romance with Viking woman Maria Bonnevie, which is one of those “in crisis” situation romances and lacks not just romance but any sense of humanity. Bonnevie’s not bad but you’re never happy to see her because the scenes are just bad and are somehow worse than the bad A plot.

The A plot never delivers. How two directors, cinematographer Peter Menzies Jr., and editor John Wright managed to so completely fumble the action sequences—the Vikings hunting the monsters, the monsters hunting the Vikings—is inexplicable when you consider the professional pedigree and production budget. No one wanted to spend any time figuring out how to make this movie and instead they rely on slow motion a bunch of times. Including slowing down Kulich’s battle cries at one point, which is just cringe-inducing.

If they’d done in serious, it’d have had a chance. Not with this cast, obviously, but with a serious take and a better script. Or if they’d just done it exploitation-y, maybe they couldn’t gotten some energy. The movie’s not even boring as much as it’s exhausting. It’s exhausted, it’s exhausting.

No one looks as miserable to be participating as Diane Venora, who’s got the thankless role of being a recognizable female name for the opening titles and maybe even the poster but nothing else.

The 13th Warrior is a stunning waste of time for everyone involved, viewer included.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by John McTiernan; screenplay by William Wisher and Warren Lewis, based on a novel by Michael Crichton; director of photography, Peter Menzies Jr.; edited by John Wright; music by Jerry Goldsmith; production designer, Wolf Kroeger; costume designer, Kate Harrington; produced by Crichton, McTiernan, and Ned Dowd; released by Touchstone Pictures.

Starring Antonio Banderas (Ahmed Ibn Fahdlan), Dennis Storhøi (Herger), Vladimir Kulich (Buliwyf), Maria Bonnevie (Olga), Richard Bremmer (Skeld), Tony Curran (Weath), Sven Wollter (King Hrothgar), Diane Venora (Queen Weilew), Anders T. Andersen (Prince Wigliff), and Omar Sharif (Melchisidek).


Medicine Man (1992, John McTiernan)

Whoever–studio executive, director, producer, whatever–gave Lorraine Bracco another job after Medicine Man is a couple things. One of the bravest persons in Hollywood and, additionally, a film criminal. Bracco’s performance is astoundingly bad. I mean, the character is terribly written too–a scientist smart enough to run a foundation, but she doesn’t know a thing about, you know, science. Given Connery’s rather vocal public statements about women working… nope, even with them, it’s a real surprise. I mean, the film’s thesis reads women with degrees, awards and jobs of consequence are actually quite stupid.

I rented the film on my post-Thomas Crown McTiernan high, but besides a Die Hard homage at the opening (the film opens with the same plane landing sound Die Hard does), there’s no visible sign of McTiernan doing any good work. Most of his shots are composed for pan and scanning on video (a Hollywood Pictures edict?) and the ones he wasn’t cropping in his head aren’t any good either.

Connery seemed fine, but since Bracco’s the protagonist (and the narrator), it’d be hard for him not to seem fine.

Jerry Goldsmith’s score is awful too, annoyingly so. I think the filmmakers were trying for Romancing the Stone, only with really boring medical jargon.

The writers have, thankfully, either gone on to little or to really embarrassing films….

But, as I frequently lament the state of film in the twenty-first century, it’s occasionally nice to be reminded there have been lots of bad stretches and Medicine Man‘s got a firm place in one of them.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by John McTiernan; screenplay by Tom Schulman and Sally Robinson, based on a story by Schulman; director of photography, Donald McAlpine; edited by Michael R. Miller, Mary Jo Markey and John W. Stuart; music by Jerry Goldsmith; production designer, John Krenz Reinhart Jr.; produced by Andrew G. Vajna and Donna Dubrow; released by Hollywood Pictures.

Starring Sean Connery (Dr. Robert Campbell), Lorraine Bracco (Dr. Rae Crane), José Wilker (Dr. Miguel Ornega), Rodolfo De Alexandre (Tanaki), Francisco Tsiren Tsere Rereme (Jahausa) and Elias Monteiro Da Silva (Palala).


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