13 Is an Unlucky Number
An Aisle Seat Entry
By Andy Dursin
We have seen it happen too often in the last few years: a movie is made,
and then somewhere along the line the "powers at be" -- be they
the studio, test audiences, or producers -- decide that the movie doesn't
quite work, and strive to improve it through the magic of refilming, and/or
rescoring, and recutting.
Such is the sorry case of THE 13TH WARRIOR (**1/2 of four), which as
it currently stands, is a flawed though entertaining Viking epic, filled
with thundering action sequences and the kind of old-fashioned adventure
we rarely see at the movies anymore. Antonio Banderas stars in this adaptation
of Michael Crichton's "Eaters of the Dead" (the film's original
title) as an Arab who improbably finds himself assisting a band of Vikings
who come to the aid of a small village besieged by an "unseen evil"
that strikes in the dark, in the fog, and feasts on the remains of its
Directed (at least during principal photography) by John McTiernan,
THE 13TH WARRIOR combines the blood n'guts violence of CONAN THE BARBARIAN
with the old-fashioned quest adventure of THE VIKINGS, and comes up with
an energetic and at-times thrilling fantasy with several memorable stand-
alone sequences. The movie has lavish production design and the look of
quality, and yet has so many holes that you feel compelled to give it an
"Incomplete" grade instead of a true rating, since it seems that
much of the movie was left on the cutting room floor.
Specifically, you know you are in trouble when
1. It seems as if the first half-hour of the film has been condensed
into the opening 90 seconds (if you don't pay attention, you'll miss all
60 seconds of the Bagdad scenes and Omar Sharif's introduction, which have
been cut into an incomprehensible prologue muttered by Banderas in voice-over
2. Characters completely disappear never to be seen again (such as Banderas's
love interest), and others are introduced if they have already played a
major part in the film, even though we've hardly seen them before (as in
the apparently arrogant leader of the village whom the Vikings have a problem
with). These players also disappear, never to be heard from again.
3. You'll have to figure out for yourself what the inner clan workings
of the "Eaters of the Dead" are, since the movie never explains
who, what, or why the mysterious tribe acts the way they do. Among the
many unexplained scenes (a cave meeting with a female tribal member is
also shot as if it holds more significance than we're told it does), one
particular naked child wanders back near the village fort. Has the child
been abducted by the tribe in their method of recruiting new members? Perhaps
Diane Verona's character had something to do with explaining what's going
on, but we don't see any of that in the final cut. (We are, however, treated
by an unbilled cameo by Anne Bancroft, who appears to conveniently explain
to our heroes how to kill the tribe's leader).
4. Plot holes abound through the film, such as: why do the Eaters primarily
attack in hundreds of numbers, yet when the Vikings first meet them, there
only a dozen of them?
5. Music cues don't seem to fit certain sequences, and the ending seems
to have no connection with the rest of the film.
THE 13TH WARRIOR's behind the scenes story has been well-documented
(eighteen months on the shelf, countless re-edits), and somewhere amongst
all of the post-production problems likely are the answers to the film's
Although he didn't write the script, Michael Crichton produced the film
and after John McTiernan turned in his first version of the movie, Crichton
promptly took over control, overseeing a mass of changes to the picture
which delayed its original Easter 1998 release date to a series of other
dates (Thanksgiving '98, Christmas '98, January '99, etc.) it never met
until last weekend.
While some new material was apparently added, it seems as if what Crichton
primarily did was hack away at McTiernan's original version. I'd love to
see McTiernan's original cut, which I assume includes all of the character
development and background information on the various tribes featured in
the film, most of which had to have been relegated to the cutting room
floor. After all, you don't typically open a movie with a helter-skelter
first five minutes which seems as if it encompasses enough narrative material
for a film onto itself.
Crichton also brought Jerry Goldsmith in to write a new score for the
movie, replacing Graeme Revell's more "ethnic," less Hollywood-like
original soundtrack. Goldsmith's rousing orchestral score, while having
been criticized by many reviewers for its bombastic tendencies, is actually
one of Jerry's better efforts in the last few years, but even though Goldsmith
re-scored Crichton's first version of the film, he apparently didn't re-score
the movie again once Crichton removed even more footage over the last few
If you listen to the soundtrack album, you'll notice that many of the
album's opening tracks only appear in fragments. While some re-recording
was done in L.A. (at least according to the film credits), it doesn't seem
as if Jerry had enough time to completely go in and overhaul his music
to fit the final version that Crichton turned in.
Of course, all of this leads to the feeling one is left with at the
end of THE 13TH WARRIOR: that Crichton should have left well enough alone
with the production of McTiernan's film. Having been in the editing room
for the duration that this movie was in likely robbed the producers of
their objectivity in cutting together this severely compromised released
version of THE 13TH WARRIOR, and it's a shame since there are moments in
the movie which work splendidly: the glare of the Eaters' torches as they
thunder across the mist-ridden plains, on their way to attack the villagers;
the raw intensity of the battle scenes; and the entire story itself, which
seems like a natural candidate for a great, classic adventure story.
Unfortunately, the released 13TH WARRIOR misses greatnesses by a fairly
wide margin. The sad thing is that it perhaps wasn't so much the movie
itself that was the problem, but the insiders in the editing room who thought
they knew better in hacking the film to death, much in the same manner
that Crichton's Eaters slaughter the innocents in a film whose best moments
are likely the ones that we still haven't seen. (R, 102 mins; if anyone
out there has a copy of the workprint on video, please email me at email@example.com
as I'd be happy to trade with you; of course this is for private home use
only and will remain discreet!).
Trimark's horror line-up continues to churn out one DVD after another,
and to give credit where it's due, the company's transfers are improving
with each release. It's just too bad that the movies themselves are just
sorta... well, for an "acquired taste," anyhow.
The better of Trimark's two new DVDs is MR. MURDER, a mini-series from
earlier this year based on Dean Koontz's novel, with Stephen Baldwin playing
a horror writer who finds out that he's been cloned as an evil Captain
Kirk-type counterpart. The ensuing production plays like a variant on Stephen
King's THE DARK HALF, and it's at least a good hour too long, though at
least Trimark has included the full 178 minute version so you can't carp
that you don't get your money's worth here. The full-frame transfer looks
good, and the stereo sound features a score by Louis Febre with a theme
contributed by X-phile Mark Snow. Plus, the movie has James Coburn and
Julie Warner, so it couldn't possibly be a total washout... could it?
The other new Trimark effort is SOMETIMES THEY COME BACK... FOR MORE.
Now, before you read any further, try and remember what Stephen King's
story was about (or even what the first made-for-TV movie of this series
was), since this third movie to be allegedly based on King's short story
"Sometimes They Come Back" is set in an Antarctic research station
and plays like a Pagan version of Agatha Christie's "And Then There
Were None." In fact, about the only connection with King is that demons
lurk about, and one of the main characters's dead loves returns from the
grave to help him out. We'd call this a "loose inspiration" in
the loosest sense of the word, right? Anyhow, the movie isn't awful, and
director Daniel Berk at least fares fairly well filming the claustrophobic
horrors of this made-for-video production, which stars Clayton Rohner and
Faith Ford. The transfer is matted and the Dolby Surround soundtrack fares
well, sporting a run-of-the-kill synth score by Brian Langsbard. And the
next entry, I'm just guessing, will be called SOMETIMES THEY COME BACK...
FOR EVEN MORE?
Anchor Bay, meanwhile, has unleashed on DVD a vintage '70s made-for-TV
chiller, 1975's acclaimed TRILOGY OF TERROR, starring Karen Black in a
trio of Richard Matheson-penned stories, adapted for the small screen by
producer-director Dan Curtis, writer William F.Nolan (LOGAN'S RUN), and
Matheson himself. The first two tales are well-done examples of psychological
horror, if not fairly obvious with their requisite "twists,"
with the supernatural playing a large part in the third and best-known
story, "Amelia," with Black being chased around the house by
that little Zuni hunter doll. Capped by a neat (and predictable) coda,
it's the real reason why TRILOGY OF TERROR has a cult following among terror
fans, who will undoubtedly find the stunningly clean transfer on Anchor
Bay's DVD to be the finest presentation of Curtis's telefilm to date. The
full-frame DVD lacks any special features, although a recent, interesting
interview with Black is included with the liner notes, touching upon the
film and her somewhat unwanted career attachment to horror movies. Recommended,
particularly as we approach the Halloween season.
Whenever I receive a CD of a movie I have yet to see, I always treat
it with more than a little bit of trepidation. Until you see the context
for which the music was composed, of course, it's almost impossible to
judge how well the music fits a movie. Such is the case with STIGMATA,
which apparently boasts a pair of musical score efforts; one by Elia Cmiral
(RONIN), the other by Smashing Pumpkins member Billy Corgan in association
with Mike Garson. There are also a handful of techno-driven songs found
on the soundtrack by the likes of Chumbawumba among others, plus an original
song from Natalie Imbruglia, written for the film by Corgan.
Now, I don't know the extent of Cmiral's involvement in the film, though
for some reason his billing on the poster credits has been switched (he's
listed after Corgan now), and there's a notable absence of both his name
and score on Virgin's soundtrack CD (47753-2), which features some 36 minutes
of Corgan's output. Apparently some of Cmiral's music remains, though how
much and to what degree is something we'll just have to wait and see in
the movie to verify. (Cmiral's music will apparently be available from
Intrada in a special limited promo editon next month).
Corgan's music is certainly eclectic but a bit subtler than you might
imagine, it being an electronic assemblage of drum beats, grinding percussion,
sampled choruses, and the occasional pause for quieter piano passages (which
sound like a relative to Marty Davich's original scores from "ER").
Again, having not seen the film, it's difficult to criticize the score,
which does seem to be one of those soundtracks where a viewing of the film
is a real necessity to appreciate the work. The songs are more or less
a matter of taste (David Bowie and Bjork also contribute to the album),
though Imbruglia's song features some thematic material found in Corgan's
Virgin has also released an enjoyable all-song soundtrack from one of
the summer's flops, DICK, though it's hard to miss with a line-up of '70s
classics, featuring nine #1 hits among them. One of my favorites is "Love's
Theme," from the Love Unlimited Orchestra (written by Barry White),
an infectious disco instrumental with full-blown orchestra that has been
used in recent years on ABC's coverage of various PGA golf tournaments!
The lone original track is a routine cover of Abba's "Dancing Queen"
by Sixpence None the Richer, who fared better with their original hit "Kiss
Me" from the far more successful teen comedy SHE'S ALL THAT earlier
>From Ed Wang <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Hi, Andy. Wouldn't be surprised if someone else has already written
to you about this, but the last PG-rated animated feature was "The
Prince of Egypt" eight months ago, and it grossed $100 million domestic.
I think your comments about the difficulties of marketing a non-Disney
animated film are accurate, but I think Warner Brothers made the mistake
of marketing it LIKE an old Disney animated film; more specifically, as
a gee-whiz kiddie movie (witness the gee-whiz tone of the narrator in the
trailer). They might of thought about pitching the movie to fans of "The
Simpsons" (on which director Brad Bird used to work, and whose fans
have the right attitude and sense of humor for "The Iron Giant")
and to fans of anime (did anyone else besides me and Roger Ebert think
this movie approached the look and sensibility of a Miyazaki movie?). And,
oddly enough, I think that if they had been given this film, the guys at
Disney would have been able to market it differently and successfully (remember
that super-cool teaser trailer for "Tarzan"?; that one trailer
sucked in a huge adult audience). Please, please, please, Disney... buy
this movie outright from Warner Brothers and let your marketing department
have a go at it for the video release. Let's just say that I know for a
fact that there are more than a few fans of "The Iron Giant"
at Disney Feature Animation.
NEXT TIME: More of the usual, insane ramblings, and remember
to email with your comments at email@example.com.
Have a great week as we enter into September (already???!).