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Album running time

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

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Artwork copyright (c) 1999 Touchstone Pictures; review copyright (c) 2001 James Southall

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Wind, lions, lost legends, knights and mummies join forces for entertaining action score

Scenario: Michael Crichton and Jerry Goldsmith are sitting in Goldsmith's studio, watching a rough cut of The 13th Warrior. Goldsmith's giving his first ideas of how to score the film. Does he go for the Viking element? Or perhaps he should concentrate on the middle-eastern aspects of the story. Or perhaps he should alter Hans Zimmer's theme from Crimson Tide a bit and use that. Yes, he chose the third option. The male choir and deep brass hits are both there. "Old Baghdad" is clearly modelled around Zimmer's piece; despite this, it's impossible not to enjoy it, and I'm sure it will go down as many people's favourite theme of 1999.

The 13th Warrior was a film with problems. John McTiernan directed it with Michael Crichton producing; then Crichton decided he didn't like what McTiernan had done, so he fired him and took over the editing and handled reshoots himself. The film is rumoured to have cost over $200m, making it the most expensive in history. Not entirely unsurprisingly, virtually nobody saw it, and the critics mauled it. Crichton's liner notes say that "We know nothing about what Viking music was like, which meant Jerry would have to invent it." Well, that's as maybe; but in 1959, we knew nothing of Roman music, so Miklós Rózsa had to invent it for Ben-Hur. Rózsa journeyed around Europe searching for traces of this ancient music, speaking to every expert he could find; and based his score around the results of his findings. Nowadays, the whole world could listen to Ben-Hur and identify it as "Roman music", even though in reality it's nothing of the sort. I doubt that anyone listening to any of The 13th Warrior would ever think of Vikings. Whatever Goldsmith thought their music was like, it would seem he is of the opinion that it most resembles, curiously enough, his own score from The Wind and the Lion. While this is no bad thing from a musical point of view, it would be nice - just once in a while - to think that composers still actually cared about what they are writing, rather than just churning out the music regardless. Goldsmith is such a brilliant composer, and I do not want to knock him personally for this; but I've heard Graeme Revell's rejected score for the movie, and Revell at least made the effort to try and make his score a little bit ethnically interesting, rather than just applying the standard Hollywood sound to it. I've no idea how Revell's score would have worked in the movie - I, like most people, have not seen it - but I have to say it makes a slightly more interesting - if less entertaining - album.

Anyway, to Goldsmith's score. Because of the production problems, it was actually recorded over a year before it was released, and before the music for The Mummy had been written. Effectively, the two scores are entirely interchangeable. There are some secondary motifs that are shared between them; the same music to represent the Arabs; the same frantic string writing for the action scenes. Another thing the two scores have in common is that they are hugely entertaining.

Given the subject matter of the movie, it's a little surprising that Goldsmith's score isn't a bit darker; there are a few moments of bleakness, but far fewer than one would expect. "Viking Heads" is the first really noteworthy action cue, and it's a good one. The deep male choir returns for "The Horns of Hell", which presents some rather grittier material, along with a good French horn rendition of the main theme. "The Fire Dragon" is probably my favourite cue; Goldsmith pulls out every trick in his (not inconsiderable) bag to give us one of those rollicking action cues that we will return to time and again. The penultimate track, "Valhalla / Viking Victory", over ten minutes long, is another of these.

The 13th Warrior is an enormously enjoyable score, but I really just can't help but wish that Goldsmith had made it a little more "authentic" sounding. It's so very similar to The Wind and the Lion, Baby: The Secret of the Lost Legend and The Mummy it's really quite disturbing; rarely has a Goldsmith score lifted so much from so many others. But, as I keep saying, taken on its own terms it is one of the highlights of 1999.

There is also an extended bootleg available, featuring essentially more of the same, and an alternate take of "The Great Hall". It doesn't add a whole lot to what's already here.

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