Michael Crichton is most famous for populist, big-screen-friendly sci-fi fare, usually involving robots, dinosaurs or sinister alien globes at the bottom of the ocean. So when you consider his latest book-to-multiplex effort is based on an early novel (Eaters Of The Dead) which was little more than a dressed-up study of the Beowulf myth, you'd be forgiven for blurting: "What the bloody hell's he up to now?"
To be fair, the premise is enticing enough: it's 992, and a civilised Arab courtier hooks up with barbaric Viking warriors (promising a fascinating culture-clash set-up), before battling a mysterious foe (surely allowing for spectacular medieval fight scenes with a supernatural twist). Plus, with Die Hard helmer John McTiernan pointing the cameras, you'd at least expect the result to be visually stimulating.
Annoyingly, however, The 13th Warrior is a surprisingly boring mash of mumbled dialogue, pedestrian `battle' sequences, dead-end plot diversions and missed opportunities. There are flashes of competence (an amusingly executed duel, a cave-based excursion behind enemy lines, Omar Sharif's brief appearance), but most of the action is frustratingly botched. Banderas' accent is so unconvincing he can't even pronounce his own character's name properly; the exposition is laughable; and the Viking characters are simply ridiculous: there's King Viking, Big Viking, Viking With Mullett, Scottish-Accent Viking and, of course, Chirpy Brummie Viking.
Worst of all, Crichton's malformed offspring lumbers along without generating any dramatic thrust whatsoever. You're never made to care about the characters, or the outcome of the battles, or who exactly the enemy are. Which is just as well, because you never find out - the bad guys merely appear, fight for a bit, then bugger off. In the meantime, some Vikings die, some survive, and Banderas does his lamest impression of someone who cares about it all.
McTiernan's already disowned the project (much of which was reshot by Crichton), and it's easy to see why. The 13th Warrior is very much like a rusty, broken sword: dull and pointless.