The 13th Warrior
25 July 2004
This is utterly pointless, and you don't have to read it. Why am I bothering to fulminate against the plotting of a movie? It's a waste of my time, and a waste of yours.
And yet, I am just so angry about this... Go pour yourself another drink, while I rail - or no, not rail. I want to go back to fulminating. It's from the Latin for lightning, and it has, oh, I don't know, alchemical aspirations - fulminate of mercury, &c - which rather appeal just now. I want to concoct some hellish steaming brew, and make these people drink it...
I saw a film last night. The 13th Warrior: fairly standard stuff, fantasy/historical where a wandering Arab encounters a boatload of Vikings and is swept off on an adventure. Nothing outstanding about it, nothing outstandingly wrong. Except. Right at the start, the first meeting, they are seeing off their dead chieftain in the traditional manner, the burning boat, with the sacrifice of a beautiful blonde to serve him on his way.
And then at the end, the hero-Viking - having led his men in a Seven Samurai/Magnificent Seven/any one of a hundred imitations rescue of a village against hordes of wicked warriors - understands himself to be dying, and is promised that he shall have a king's burial. Oho, thinks Chaz, we've been told about this already...
Meanwhile, our Arab-hero has been canoodling with a beautiful blonde serving-wench. Aha, thinks Chaz, this is the set-up, the bitter twist to salt the inevitable victory.
And Chaz sits there waiting for it to happen. And the hero-Viking does die, and they do bear him off to bury him, and Chaz waits to chuckle grimly at that moment where our Arab-hero realises that his girl is to be taken from him for the sacrifice, and the only question is whether she will go willingly or drunkenly or druggedly or screaming, and what he will do in response -
- and it never happens. It just doesn't happen. And he sails away, and their only excuse would have been to show her going with him, the sickly-sweet rather than the bittersweet, and that doesn't happen either, and it's an outrage. It's a violation of all known storytelling values. And I know this is Hollywood, and I know they do this as a matter of routine, but they had it all there to do and they just ignored it, it's like watching chessplayers agree a draw when there's an obvious checkmate on the board, it's unforgiveable. It makes a nonsense of the entire piece, it's an utter failure to understand how narrative works and what it's for, and I am so furious about it, still, twenty-four hours later...
© Chaz Brenchley 2004
Reproduced here by permission of Chaz Brenchley, who asserts his moral right to be identified as the author of this work.