John McTiernan's excellent presentation of Michael Crichton's story "The Eaters of the Dead" depicts an earlier time in our history, the days when Vikings roamed Europe and plied their trade overseas. The story centres around Ahmed Ibn Fadlan played by Antonio Banderas and his first contact with the 'North Men' lead by Bulwyf (Beowulf) played by the typecast Vladimr Kulich and follows his journey as he travels with them to face an ancient evil. Fadlan and Bulwyf and the other eleven warriors battle an unnameable horror in a far off Nordic kingdom that was shot in Canada but looks and sounds suspiciously like dark ages Scotland - one of the characters refers to a settlement in the next 'Glen'.
The story while alluding to the 'Saga of Beowulf' has a root in history in the tale of the 'Rus' as recorded by the real Ahmed Ibn Fadlan. Fadlan a scholar from Bagdad in the old kingdom of Persia was sent to the North to be an Ambassador to the King of Volga and recorded his experiences of a brutal civilisation of Viking Warriors (the Swedish 'Rus') with shockingly barbaric rituals and an existence based on superstition and violence. The movie tones this down somewhat but still maintains certain parts of Fadlan's writings.
Beautifully set and executed, this film is replete with battles, mystery and intrigue punctuated by some marvellous moments - a particular favourite of mine is when Fadlan says he cannot wield a Viking sword because it is too heavy; his Viking friend smiles, shrugs and simply says "Grow stronger". There were some inconsistencies though, certainly in costuming, but mostly a fine production. I would have liked to see some extras on the DVD, and in some places it is clear that the movie has been cut for length - what about the removed scenes?
A movie I watch time and time again if only to join in with the Viking battle chant before the 'Magnificent Seven' style last stand. A bloke's movie to be sure, but a terrific one.