The 13th Warrior

The 13th Warrior (1999)
Buena Vista Home Entertainment
Cast: Antonio Banderas, Omar Sharif, Diane Venora
Extras: Theatrical Trailer

When we think of war movies, usually films like "Saving Private Ryan", "The Longest Day", "Gettysburg" or others come to mind. There were times however, when wars were of a somewhat smaller scale, but no less ferocious. "The 13th Warrior" takes us to the Middle ages where a clan of Vikings is drawn into bloody warfare with some mysterious enemy that seems invincible. The movie nicely combines an exotic Arabian flavor with the cold Northlands and presents us with a never-ending barrage of thrills and action. Beautifully staged and photographed, "The 13th Warrior" is a movie that was widely overlooked at the box office, but it is now available on DVD from Buena Vista Home Entertainment. As it turns out, it is a DVD you may not want to miss.

Abandoned from his Arabian homeland for loving the wrong woman, Ahmed (Antonio Baneras) has become an ambassador for his country in the northern European reaches. One day he meets a group of Vikings and tries to establish contact with them, but the language barrier makes things a little difficult. Without the help of his translator (Omar Sharif) he would be lost and he would not even know what is going on when one morning a young messenger appears, asking the Northmen for help. Their homeland has been invaded by an unknown evil and threatens all their villages. Without second thought the Vikings are determined to send their support and create a rescue party, hand-picked by the clan’s fortune teller. But the bones foretell that the rescuers will need the help of a 13th warrior, one that is not one of them, and soon Ahmed finds himself fighting side-by-side with a group of men he doesn’t know or understand. He puts all his efforts into learning their language and soon he makes friends with the Northmen he accompanies. Still he needs to learn one important lesson. How to fight for his life. Before long however, this lesson is brought upon him when the mysterious enemy attacks from the safety of night.

Despite its somber subject matter, the movie presents us with the bloodshed of this war in a rather furious manner, making this more of an action-adventure than a serious attempt at a historically correct movie. Ultimately it is what makes it such a thrilling movie experience. From the first minute we are drawn into the exotic world of Ahmed, sympathizing with him, and then fearing for his life. As he discovers the beauty and dangers of the Northlands, so does the viewer. Gradually the beauty of the landscape is unveiled in magnificent pictures and at the same pace the ominous threat is exposed, adding furious action and thrills to the mix.
The lack of an elaborate story or character development gives the film a somewhat limited appeal to wider audiences however. There is no romance, no love interest, not even a real bond developing between Ahmed and his newfound allies. At its heart, "The 13th Warrior" is nothing but a showcase for violent bloodshed that convinces through the fact that its thrills keep viewers in its grip from the beginning to the end.

Buena Vista Home Entertainment’s presentation of "The 13th Warrior" on this DVD is stunning to say the least. It features a widescreen transfer in the movie’s original 2.35:1 aspect ratio as it was presented in theaters. This is one of the few occasions that Buena Vista has actually created a transfer that is enhanced for 16×9 television sets and the effort has definitely paid off. The presentation is breathtakingly detail and crisp. Without any flaws in the film print, the DVD fully restores the beauty of this film. The picture is beautifully rendered, with natural looking fleshtones and powerful colors. Even the most subtle hues are captured without distortion or over-saturation. The black level on the disc is practically perfect, giving the image a lot of visual depth, flawlessly balancing it with the image highlights. No edge-enhancement artifacts are visible that would give the film an overly sharpened look, and compression artifacts are nowhere to be seen. This is a reference transfer that makes you wish that Buena Vista would release more 16×9 enhanced versions of their films.

The same is basically true for the audio transfer found on the disc. Presented in 5.1 channel Dolby Digital, the audio track is powerful and natural sounding. With a very wide sound stage, the track creates an immersive atmosphere for the movie, aggressively using the surround channels to enhance the experience. Integration and spatial placement is without flaws, giving the film a very active sonic presentation that adds additional life to the images on the screen. The same holds true for the integration of the music to the film. Always perfectly balanced its integration leaves enough space for the dialogues to come through, yet has enough bombast to dramatically enhance the action. The score has seen a fine surround mix that gives it a lot of dimension and spatial scope. With its strong bass extension and perfectly defined high ends, this audio track is a masterful example how a well prepared Dolby Digital surround track can enhance the movie experience as a whole.

Sadly this release does not contain any bonus materials other than the movie’s original theatrical trailer, making you wish Buena Vista would eventually also revise its policy in regards to bonus programming.

"The 13th Warrior" is a great guy’s movie. With its extensive battle scenes, the gross-out level and little characterizations, it is a furious and highly entertaining thrill-ride for the senses. Combined with the massive sonic barrage from this DVD, "The 13th Warrior" is a great release that will easily show off the capabilities of the DVD format and your home theater. Need another disc to show off to your friends? Here it is. This disc is clearly one of the best looking and sounding DVDs in the market but at the same time makes the lack of any supplemental materials all the more painful.