Adventurous epic set in 922 A.D. starring Antonio Banderas serves as actor and narrator as Arab courtier named Ahmed Ibn Fahdlan who finds himself involved with a band of Vikings set on a quest to quell a band of mysterious savages. These people reportedly pillage people at random and eat their flesh. The mystery of these people drives the story, but once you discover and see them, they may not meet the potentially horrifying expectations of the audience.
At a gathering, Banderas is chosen as the thirteenth person of a war party set to destroy the flesh eaters. He makes a slow transformation from layperson to warrior as his counterparts encounter several obstacles throughout their mission. Banderas still shows appealing vulnerability as his formidable physical talents are exercised in some intense war sequences. This vulnerability combined with the narration and Ahmed’s general curiosity brings the audience closer to the Viking group. The audience best identifies with Ahmed as he asks the Vikings questions you might ask and changes from a spectator to a protagonist in the story.
Omar Sharif (Dr. Zhivago) and Diane Venora (The Jackal) also star as Melchisidek and Queen Weilew, respectively, in small, but prominent roles. Vladimir Kulich as Buliwyf and Dennis Storhoi as Herger the Joyous have the best roles as vibrant Viking warriors who inject the plot with realistic portrayals. Their roles combine with the direction to produce an intimate, realistic view into an ancient world revolving around exploration and sometimes war. The list of supporting characters reads like a roll call for Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs – Edgtho the Silent, Helfdane the Fat, Skeld the Superstitious and Hyglak the Quarrelsome.
The story, overdrawn at times, and settings ultimately drive this movie to a disappointing climax with the mysterious “flesheaters.” High expectations of some horrifying and groundbreaking discoveries are built up as the characters talk about the “flesh eaters” throughout the story, but they “never live up to the hype” (such is life). You may find disappointment when you actually see these people, but their motives are still explained in a satisfying manner by the filmmakers.
Moments of awkward editing and a few confusing sequences might be attributed to having two directors on the film. Author/director Michael Crichton, who also wrote Eaters of the Dead, the book this film is based on, took over after director John McTiernan (Predator, DieHard) left. This respectable epic (**1/2 out of four stars) runs 102 minutes and is rated R for war, violence, and gore.
Copyright ©Michael Siebenaler