Review: The 13th Warrior (1999)

Composer: Jerry Goldsmith

Label: Varese Sarabande

Catalogue Nr.: VSD 6038

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Michael Crichton's adaptation of the famous Beowulf tale released in 1976 lead to the production of an adventure film in 1997 called Eaters of the Dead directed by John McTiernan. Due to problems with the film during test screenings, Crichton took over the project and made various changes. The final film, released in 1999 as The 13th Warrior after several delays, is basically a film about the clash of the middle eastern and the Viking culture around AD 922. The Arab courtier Ahmad Ibn Fadlan is sent to the barbaric north and involuntarily teams up with a band of Vikings to fight a terrifying evil called Wendols. The nice story made The 13th Warrior a decent adventure film but if you believe some reports and opinions of people involved with the project, the final film is far away from McTiernan's original concept due to re-cuts and changes made by Crichton. Veteran actor Omar Sharif was so terribly disappointed by the final film that he temporarily retired from acting.

The score:

One of the major changes made by Crichton was the rejection of Graeme Revell's score. It was then Jerry Goldsmith's task to provide the film with the necessary adventurous tone. Crichton and Goldsmith already collaborated several times before on films like Coma (1978), The Great Train Robbery (1979) and Runaway (1984) and Crichton himself stated in the liner notes that he thought 'the only person to score it was Jerry Goldsmith'. How right he was!

The score consists of two crucial musical signatures: Arabian melodies and instruments in the orchestration representing the ethnicity of Ahmad Ibn Fadlan and heavy Nordic tones for horns, male choir and percussion representing the Vikings. Goldsmith is one of the veterans when it comes to the integration of ethnic (especially Arabian) tones into his usual orchestral music and thus The 13th Warrior really benefits from Goldsmith's ability to express the clash of cultures musically. Tracks like "Sword Maker" are a nice example for that, when the heavy Viking music is interrupted by the Arabian instrumentation with tender and playful flute performances.

It is interesting to hear the score following the change of setting during the film. At the beginning when we get to know Ahmad and his story the Arabian influence dominates the music as it can be heard in the tracks "Old Bagdad" and "Exiled". As soon as the journey to the north begins, the heavy tones for the Vikings are starting to take over the score in the track "Semantics" while there are still occasional integrations of Arabian ethnic sounds for the Arab character Ahmad. The themes in this score are of a rather simple nature. The rude and brutal Vikings have a kind of heroic but slow-paced and heavy horn fanfare while the elegant Arab has a more tender motif mostly for flutes and strings reminiscent of the love theme from Goldsmith's other adventure score from that year The Mummy. The evil Wendols are represented by another horn fanfare though it sounds more brutal than the one for the Vikings. Another motif in the score is used for the fog performed by only by flutes that foreshadows the arrival of the Wendol.

These motifs perfectly supplement each other especially during the striking action cues like "Viking Heads", The Horns Of Hell", "The Fire Dragon" and "Valhalla/Viking Victory". Fans of Goldsmith doing thrilling but dark action cues with lots of percussion, brass and whirling strings will certainly love The 13th Warrior. It is really one of the darkest adventure scores ever created by the composer along with The Shadow (1994) or The Mummy from the same year though The 13th Warrior is somewhat superior to the other two, mainly because there are no lengthy tracks of rather uninteresting suspense music as there were in The Mummy. There are cues of suspense music such as "Eaters of the Dead", "Cave of Death" or "Underwater Escape" but they consist of interesting ideas and never become repetitive or boring.

Review by Andreas Creutzburg

 

RATING:

Score as heard in the film: 88%

Score as heard on CD: 87%

TOTAL: 88%

 

The presentation:

This is one of the few occasions where a Varese Sarabande album is running longer than 30 to 40 minutes. A wealth of 54 minutes of score is included on this CD. The 6 page booklet contains very kind words by Michael Crichton about Jerry Goldsmith and his music and also contains images from the film (in black and white though). There is a bootleg with all the music from the film but you won't need it because this official release contains every important moment of score and does not leave out anything crucial.

Presentation by the Label: 79%

 

Summary:

Clearly one of Jerry Goldsmith's last great adventure scores from the 90's which is musically superior to his other, more famous adventure score for The Mummy from the same year. Goldsmith perfectly managed to express the clash of cultures in a very interesting musical way. The action cues are striking and just as dark as they are exciting while the entire score never gets boring during the nice running time of 54 minutes. Sadly, the composer was not able to compose an equally impressive adventure score again before his untimely passing in 2004. Many people complained that this score is too similar to The Mummy, but I would say that this is better than The Mummy... It's The 13th Warrior! Recommended!

 

Tracklisting:

01.  Old Bagdag (02:01)
02.  Exiled (03:41)
03.  Semantics (02:38)
04.  The Great Hall (05:20)
05.  Eaters Of The Dead (03:32)
06.  Viking Heads (01:29)
07.  The Sword Maker (02:06)
08.  The Horns Of Hell (03:25)
09.  The Fire Dragon (04:53)
10.  Honey (02:36)
11.  The Cave Of Death (03:00)
12.  Swing Across (01:49)
13.  Mother Wendol's Cave (04:12)
14.  Underwater Escape (01:36)
15.  Vahalla / Viking Victory (10:35)
16.  A Useful Servant (01:18)

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