Home > Reviews > THE 13th WARRIOR – Jerry Goldsmith

THE 13th WARRIOR – Jerry Goldsmith

13thwarriorOriginal Review by Jonathan Broxton

In my opinion, the last two sword and sorcery movies to have truly great scores were Basil Poledouris’s Conan the Barbarian in 1981 and James Horner’s Krull in 1983 – the enduring legacy of a genre which, in recent years, has virtually died out in Hollywood. Although there is not very much sorcery in The 13th Warrior, there are plenty of flashing blades, and Jerry Goldsmith has conjured up a rousing, magnificent musical work to accompany them, the first “medieval epic” score for quite a few years that can be compared on equal terms to those earlier classics.

As many are aware, Goldsmith was not the first composer attached to the project – Graeme Revell had written and recorded nearly a full score before he was thrown out, along with director John McTiernan, in the wake of writer/producer Michael Crichton’s post-production take-over. Unfortunately, the film suffers somewhat from Crichton’s heavy-handed interference, with characters (including the fourth-billed Omar Sharif) and whole plot elements (such as Banderas’s love interest) being virtually eliminated from the final cut. The finished film, which sees Islamic scholar Antonio Banderas accompanying twelve Viking warriors to medieval Scandinavia to save a community from an army of flesh-eating savages – and eventually turning his experiences into the story of Beowulf – is a disjointed, confusing, but oddly entertaining affair, with a half-dozen rousing and bloodthirsty battle sequences, and a generous helping of gore on hand to keep the viewer awake and involved.

There are few composers better than Jerry Goldsmith when it comes to tackling this kind of film, although I don’t recall him ever scoring anything with a Viking element before. Despite early precedents such as Mario Nascimbene’s memorable The Vikings, the Norse epic is still very much uncharted territory, and one which does not have a clearly defined set of musical stereotypes. As such, Goldsmith has attacked The 13th Warrior with as much energy as he has throughout his career, and the resulting score comes at you with everything blazing – an impressively vibrant combination of exotic lyricism, lusty passion and good, old-fashioned Hollywood bombast.

The score is a combination of two main themes – the first being a mild, faintly romantic oboe theme for Ahmed Ibn Fahdlan, heard during ‘Old Baghdad’, the triumphant finale ‘A Useful Servant’ and in short bursts in many others. The almighty horn and percussion Viking theme, which effectively heralds the nobility and bravery of the Norsemen, receives exciting performances in ‘Exiled’, ‘The Great Hall’, ‘The Sword Maker’, and the massive 10-minute ‘Valhalla/Viking Escape’, cues in which caution and subtlety are thrown to the wind in favor of stirring power, allowing the listener to revel in the unbridled glory of Goldsmith’s music. When the third cue, ‘Semantics’, introduces a First Knight-style choir for the first time, it almost leaves you breathless.

Unsurprisingly, action plays a major part too, with ‘The Horns of Hell’, ‘The Fire Dragon’ and the aforementioned ‘Valhalla/Viking Escape’ being the obvious standouts. They each have a furious, almost primal intensity to them, with a brass section rumbling like thunder and metal percussion driving the tracks along. A vicious ascending brass motif for the evil Wendol clan is apparent in ‘Viking Heads’, ‘The Cave of Death’, ‘Mother Wendol’s Cave’ and others, and its inclusion is effective in creating a sense of imminent danger, but this particular technique is now becoming an overly-familiar Goldsmith trademark, and has been used too often in recent scores (the “bear theme” in The Edge, the theme for “Imhotep” in The Mummy etc.). In fact, quite a lot of The 13th Warrior sounds like The Mummy, especially in terms of the orchestration and cue construction. There are also some passing similarities to Hans Zimmer’s Crimson Tide, but this is mainly down to the rhythm of certain tracks, and the recurrent use of the choir.

While many critics have dismissed The 13th Warrior as nothing more than a polished rehash of other scores, I enjoyed it enormously. Goldsmith has always been good at scores such as this, and there is something tremendously inspiring about music of this nature, something which makes your blood pump faster and your emotions soar. The release, from Varèse Sarabande, is surprisingly generous at a touch over 55 minutes, with excellent sound and a praiseworthy liner note from Michael Crichton himself.

Rating: ****

Track Listing:

  • Old Baghdad (2:01)
  • Exiled (3:41)
  • Semantics (2:38)
  • The Great Hall (5:20)
  • Eaters of the Dead (3:32)
  • Viking Heads (1:29)
  • The Sword Maker (2:06)
  • The Horns of Hell (3:25)
  • The Fire Dragon (4:53)
  • Honey (2:36)
  • The Cave of Death (3:00)
  • Swing Across (1:49)
  • Mother Wendol’s Cave (4:12)
  • Underwater Escape (1:36)
  • Valhalla/Viking Victory (10:35)
  • A Useful Servant (1:18)

Running Time: 55 minutes 06 seconds

Varèse Sarabande VSD-6038 (1999)

Music composed and conducted by Jerry Goldsmith. Orchestrations by Alexander Courage. Recorded and mixed by Bruce Botnick. Edited by Ken Hall. Album produced by Jerry Goldsmith.

  1. No comments yet.
  1. No trackbacks yet.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: