Dr. JUTA KITCHING (Language consultant)
- How did you get involved in THE 13TH WARRIOR?
- A request from the producers came to the University of B.C. for a linguist
with knowledge of Scandinavian languages and other languages, if possible.
I am a professor of Sociolinguistics, have a Swedish-Estonian background
and both a formal education and practical training in many languages.
So I was able to fill the linguistic needs of the film in terms of preparation
of the Viking actors in Norwegian and Melchisidek in Latin (plus phrases
in other languages here and there). I worked on the set as language consultant
for Norwegian / Swedish and Latin (with a few words of Greek and Arabic
; Arabic was not used). We even had a few lines of a B.C. First Nations'
language, Klahoose, prepared. There is probably more language work in
the discarded files than in the scenes of the released movie.
- John McTiernan says in the production notes: "We wanted to keep
the language relatively accurate." So what Nordic language exactly
are the Vikings speaking in THE 13TH WARRIOR?
- I think it was John McTiernan who chose Norwegian for the Vikings' language
because, in the US, Swedish has the reputation of having a "funny
accent" --this refers to the intonation pattern of Swedish which
some early immigrants kept (since the story deals with "Eastern Vikings",
Swedish and even Finnish and Estonian would have been historically fitting
as well, but probably less effective, considering the average audience's
knowledge base). The actors from Scandinavia spoke in their versions of
language and dialect. This we considered quite genuine and possibly true
to real life situations in medieval trading and rading societies. Dennis
[Storhøi] and Asbjørn [Riis]
spoke their versions of modern Norwegian/Danish, the two young boys spoke
modern standard Norwegian. The non-Scandinavian speakers needed most of
the teaching and coaching.
- I assume the first young boy you are referring to is the young prince
from the tent scenes. Would Oliver Sveinall (Haltaf) be the second boy?
Because he has got no lines in the final version...
- Yes, Oliver is the second boy. Actually, he had the more important part
and was present throughout the filming, with guardians and school instruction.
The messenger boy travelled with his father from Norway for two occasions,
as far as I know and saw. Oliver followed Mischa [Hausserman] around.
They were the bow and arrow Vikings, Oliver being the apprentice. I do
not know whether he had any lines, I did not teach him, but it seems to
me Mischa and he spoke...
- Before shooting, the actors spent a whole month rehearsing and training
in Canada. Were you present during pre-production too?
- Yes. I taught daily classes of 4-5 hours in Norwegian during the pre-production
period in Campbell River, B.C.. This was in June 97. For three weeks,
we learned some basics of the language and the lines of the various actors
as the script called for at the time. Then we practiced the transition
from Norwegian/Norse to English. In some cases, pronunciation of the foreign
script had to be drilled quite thoroughly and we also practiced the Norwegian
of the songs in class, mainly pronunciation but also singing. The Latin
of Omar and Dennis was practiced in individual sessions, also with the
three of us together some times. I spent another two weeks (June-July
97) in Campbell River during the filming of the tent scenes when I coached
the actors with their lines, just before they needed to act. These scenes
are around Omar / Melchisidek's entrance, when he addresses Vikings first
in Greek, then in Latin, in search of a common language of communication.
Later, I was present on set in Vancouver, and then at the Fraser River
(near Williams Lake) in October-November 97.
- The cast was rather international (from British Shakespearean actors
to American and Scandinavian ones). How did the actors deal (individually)
with their Viking dialogues?
- All actors dealt well with the foreign language dialogue. Some were
very interested in language learning and also gifted. The amount of foreign
language dialogue to be learned differed among the twelve Vikings.
- Another consultant is credited at the end of the movie, "Joy Ellison"...
- She was Antonio Banderas' coach for the English language.
- During the Baghdad scene, actors seem to have dialogues, but we can't
hear them (because they are covered by the narrator's voice-over). I was
wondering if this was intended right from the beginning or if these dialogs
were heard in some early roughcut...
- The dialogues which involved foreign languages and translation from
one language to another were all practiced, spoken and filmed in their
scripted form. I would have to look at the film again to know whether
the scene you refer to contains foreign language dialogue or not. If only
Ibn and Melchisidek converse, the dialogue would have been in English.
It is also possible that a voice-over was planned --I'm not sure about
- The characters involved in the Baghdad scene are "the Caliph",
"Shaharazhad's husband" and Ibn (Melchisidek doesn't show up
at all in this brief scene)...
- I believe that the voice-over was intended from the beginning ; the
has no dialogue for these first scenes.
- But you told me about "a few words of Arabic" that were "not
used". Weren't they dialogues for that particular scene?
- No. The Arabic was to be used by the Arab on horseback, when he saw
- Are you refering to the one that yells "The Tartars are coming!"?
- Written Arabic is seen in three scenes in the movie: 1. When Ibn is
"writing sounds" on the ground for Buliwyf (he writes some Islamic prayer)
; 2. When Buliwyf writes the same prayer on the sand, after disembarking
on the beach ; 3. At the end, when Ibn is seen writing his memories on
paper ; so I was wondering: did you also help actors practicing with written
- No. I had the Arabic prepared both in spoken form by phonetic transcription
and audiotape, and in written form. A person who could write in Arabic
actually did the writing, not the actors.
- Why didn't they use Arabic finally?
- I do not know the reasons for this decision ; they were not discussed
with me. One of the linguistic concerns for me was the use of English
to equal two foreign languages, English as Arabic before meeting the Vikings,
and English as "Norse" or Norwegian after meeting the Vikings. I thought
it could be confusing to the viewer. The production office advised me
not to raise my concern unless the director approached me first.
- Did they ever consider to have dialogues in Arabic between all the Arab
characters (before finally taking the decision that all the Arabs will
speak in English in the film)?
- They considered it during the time that I was preparing the script and
translating the foreign language sections during March-May. The original
script was inadequate for language and translation purposes, often with
inferences and short instructions rather than text to be translated. I
had to create much of the text (eg. Angel of Death scene and others) and
then put this text into the other language.
- Do you know if they envisaged, at one point, to use subtitles in the
- I don't know, but I never heard that being said.
- During a moment, everything the Vikings say is translated in Latin by
Herger, then translated in English by Omar Sharif, for Antonio Banderas'
and our benefit. But, I noticed scenes where the Latin translation is
- It seems to me that much of the Latin dialogue was cut. Anyway, much
of what was filmed with language takes was not used in the final version
of the film...
- On the contrary, there is one Latin translation from Herger that is
not translated by Melchisidek during the "passing the bowl"
scene (just before Herger passes the bowl to Ibn). I suspect this is because
of re-editing during post-production, as one joke --reported by test screenings
reviewers-- misses, supposed to be said by Herger at this moment, and
translated by Sharif: "What, don't you Arabs have any concept
- I was present during the shooting of this scene and am relying totally
on my memory here, although I wish I had the text before me to check ;
I remember the scene as the bowl being passed around, each Viking washing
his face, Herger washes and spits in the bowl and then passes it on to
Ibn to wash his face. Ibn comes from a more refined culture and does not
wash in that particular bowl but simply passes it on to the next Viking.
It is then that Herger comments about Arab cleanliness, implying that
Ibn does not wash.
- I noticed that the guy at the table, at the left of Buliwyf during the
banquet sequence, was not the same from one shot to another (same place,
but different guy with different clothes). In some shots, the guy is one
of the 12 Vikings wearing black (possibly Helfdane/Clive Russel), whereas
in other shots, it is an anonymous bearded Viking with white clothes [see
pictures at cut scene #7]. So
I assumed the footage with the unknown guy was from the re-shoots: these
are the shots involving Buliwyf killing some "would-be-king" with his
sword. Do you remember Buliwyf disembowelling a Viking next to him while
Ibn is speaking his poem/prayer from the shootings you attended?
- Neither of the men on each side of Buliwyf in your picture are the 12
Viking actors. They may be extras.
- That was my guess too...
- The Viking who was dressed in all black was Egtho/Daniel Southern. But
others too had dark clothing. In my memory, the original scene of the
rowdy funeral banquet had Buliwyf at the end of the table, his dog beside
him for protection or companionship, being presented as the heir apparent
to Ibn and demanding the song from Ibn. I saw no scuffle between Buliwyf
and any other possible heir, although something like that is implied in
the script. Wasn't it after this scene that all 12 Vikings --spread out
in the banquet room, supposedly being introduced and characterized--,
received their mandates from the oracle woman?
- Yes, yes.
- The scene with Buliwyf triumphantly holding up the cut-off head was
a surprise to me. I did not see that being filmed.
- And it is also a surprise to me as this scene was NOT in the film version
I saw!!! In my video version, Buliwyf cuts the guy's chest, and right
after that, there goes the funeral sequence with the sacrificial woman.
But no beheading nor head-trophy!
- There was no beheading as such seen, only a quick sudden movement and
then Buliwyf holding a bloodyhead up. But the version of the film that
I reviewed for the producers, before it was released, did not have the
scene with the cut-off head. However, my memory may serve me wrong, as
I concentrated on the languages and their artistic authenticity...
- Do you remember if Sven-Ole Thorsen had a larger part during the shooting
of the tent scenes? Because he is hardly seen in the final version. Strangely,
he is credited as "Would-Be-King", but is not playing the one Viking who
attempts to kill Buliwyf during the banquet...
- Vladimir (Buliwyf) was present during the original filming of the tent
scene, Sven-Ole was not there at the time. Maybe the plan was to add the
second heir later. Later, in the land of the ailing king, Buliwyf has
still another heir apparent (the king's son?), who loses out to Buliwyf...
- I always thought there were TWO heirs apparent in the original tent
scene, one being Vladimir Kulich as "Buliwyf" and I thought the other
was Sven-OleThorsen as "Thorkel"...
- True. The original script has two heirs apparent. The scene is as follows:
While the warsong is being sung, Herger urges Ibn and Melchisidek to eat
what seems to be a joint of pork. Herger: "Edite, edite!" Ibn to
Melchisidek: "Ask him which pig is next in line to be chief pig."
Melchisidek : "Quis porcus deinde primus porcus est?" Herger: "Hic,
aut ille. Alter alterum occidet." Melchisidek to Ibn: "Him, or
him. One of them will kill the other." The instructions read: "Herger
points out two men at the head of the table, the empty throne between
them. They seem deep in their cups, like old buddies on a bender. One
of them, Buliwyf, is extraordinary looking. White-blond, very tall, with
an almost gaunt dignity. Even in this place. Something about the man,
inside the man, shines. A giant wolfhound sits always at his side."
- I must say I am very surprised by Melchisidek's literal translation!
That Ibn uses the word "pig" (to refer to the Vikings) in his conversation
with Melchisidek is understandable at this point of the story. But that
Melchisidek uses the same word in Latin ("porcus") in front of
Herger seems a little bit radical to me (Melchisidek seemed to me more
diplomatic than that)! Or maybe the intention was to show that Herger
is so drunk he did not even react to the insult?
- You are right, the saying is out of character with Melchisidek. It was
originally translated because the script included it thus. At this point,
some changes seem to have been made...
- The following review excerpt, written by a guy who attended some early
test-screening of the film, clearly mentions TWO heirs: "Herger stops
Ibn and Melchisidek with 'You can't speak with him.' (In Latin,
of course.) 'Why not?' 'He's dead,' the half-drunk guy laughs...
- Yes. Herger: "Non loquetor quia mortuus est." Melchisidek: "Apparently,
the king won't speak to us, because he's dead. This is his funeral."
- ...Melchisidek asks who is the heir and Herger points out TWO MEN
at the head of a table nearby. One is blond and has no facial hair (unusual
for a Viking), the other has brown hair and tons of beard. Everything
Herger says in Latin now is translated on the fly by Melchisidek for Ibn's
and our benefit. 'One of those men will eventually kill the other
to take the dead king's place.' They speak for a bit longer, they are
offered alcohol, which Ibn tries to refuse (being a devout Muslim), but
Melchisidek advises it would probably be taken as an insult. The partying
- Yes, these things were implied and acted out, singing, eating pork,
drinking mead out of a horn. When Buliwyf notices the guests, he asks:
Buliwyf: "Hvem er den fremmede?" (=Who is the stranger?) Herger:
"Det er en Araber fra Baghdad." Now follow Melchisidek's words
that you note have no latin go-between. This is obviously a line inserted
into this place in the dialogue later and had no latin translation (because
it was not part of the words spoken, only part of the description of the
scene). Melchisidek: "You are being introduced to one of the heirs
apparent, Buliwyf." After this, Buliwyf says that Ibn should sing
a song of glory: "Han ma synge en sang for oss, en sang om aere."
- I found this picture
of Buliwyf and Thorkel together in what appears to be some tent scene...
- This scene with Vladimir and Sven-Ole looks familiar... It is probably
the one originally meant but not filmed at the time of the tent scene.
I do not know when it was filmed.
- About the Melchisidek character, I was wondering if his background was
more elaborated in the original script... In the film, we do not know
much about him, except that he was "an old friend of Ibn's father"
(as it is said in the voice-over narration). According to another source,
he was in fact "a rich Turkish merchant. Ibn is sent on a quest by
his Arab father to the north, Melchisidek is the first person he meets
and introduces him, plus giving Ibn tippers on the nature of the Norsemen
of the North." Do you know more about the character? He definitively
was not in Crichton's original novel, so he must have been added by the
screenwriters. Also, I think Omar Sharif was casted in that part very
few time before the beginning of the shooting, so I was wondering whether
the character was added at the last minute? (And "Melchisidek", wasn't
there a biblical figure with the same name, or something like that? Melchizedek,
king of Salem, I think...)
- I know the script as it was first presented to me and have no clues
as to the writers' intentions in the choice of character or name. In my
script, Melchisidek was introduced as Ibn's elder, a tolerant gentleman's
gentleman. My first Latin lesson with Omar Sharif took place on Friday
June 27 in Campbell River, where the shooting had started the previous
day with the Vikings on horses and Ibn jumping with his white Arabian
- The treatment of the Wendols seems to evolve in terms of sound throughout
the film: during their first appearances (night attacks), animal squeals
are heard, then, in the cave scenes (at the entrance), towards the end,
we can hear them speak some "primitive" language... Was this
the "B.C. First Nations' language" you mentioned earlier?
- Yes. The words in the First Nations' language were intended for the
guard at the entrance to the cave, to be said when the Vikings entered.
I was not present when the scene was being shot and did not drill the
words with the actors at the time. I was however asked to prepare the
phrases and I had practiced them with an actor during the preproduction
- Do you remember this actor's name? Owen Walstrom is listed in the final
credits as playing the only "Wendol Guard" of the entire movie... I think
he is also a stuntman.
- I do not recognize him but it could be him. As to the words spoken in
the final version of the film... they are inaudible and incomprehensible
and could be any language. Klahoose is the First Nations' language in
which I drilled a couple of phrases with the actor concerned in the preproduction
period. Klahoose is spoken on Cortez Island, just opposite Campbell River,
where the filming took place. In addition, I had also prepared these phrases
in Finnish --because a "strange" language was called for. However, what
these guards actually grunt don't sound like what I taught...
- What did the "Norseman on ship" (as credited at the end) yell
at the Arabian caravan, at the beginning (just before they enter camp)?
- "Ohoy! Menn av karavanen! Hoerer dere meg?" = Men of
the caravan, do you hear me?
- How do you feel about the "learning the language sequence"
(camp fire sequence)? Film critics just loves that scene but a large number
of people in the audiences were reportedly confused or shocked (by the
dramatic license). Maybe because it is not evident that several nights
are melted into that one sequence... I am also curious to know how you
proceeded. Was the melting (from Viking words to English) actually done
on set, or during post-production, in the editing room, by mixing different
- This scene required knowledge of second language acquisition processes
and of Socio- and Psycholinguistics. It was prepared step-by-step, that
is, with gradual changes of phonetics (accent), cognates of vocabulary,
syntax (word order) and intonation. The text, as it was being slowly modified
from Norwegian to approach English, was practiced intensely for several
campfire scenes and also filmed several times, gradually introducing English
cognates and making the conversation slowly comprehensible to an English-speaking
audience, inserting more English words and adjusting pronunciation and
word order so that the listener began to understand, first bits and pieces
and finally the whole conversation (when all conversation became English).
This process aimed to imitate the linguistic and psychological development
and change that really take place when a person learns another language.
It was an attempt to capture on screen an involved human experience of
the transition from one language to another, first by arriving at comprehension
(Antonio/Ibn understands long before emotion and anger cause the eruption
of foreign speech when he defends is mother in the language of the Vikings
and they are surprised and wonder where he learned their language). The
actors had a very good sense of this linguistic phenomenon and performed
the language tasks very well. The final version in this important scene
has been considerably reduced. It seems to me that many takes were mixed
in the editing room.
- What are the Vikings talking about during this sequence, before Ibn
(and the audience) starts to understand them?
- This is a long sequence and much was said and practiced. It is a highly
interesting process to me and I thought the final version was good. However,
much was changed and superimposed. The "details" are actually
too many and perhaps not necessary. There were 5 camp scenes in the script.
We practiced them diligently, emphasizing story-telling. I analyzed carefully
how to present the transition from Norwegian to English, from non-comprehension
to comprehension. I chose phonetic substitutions and lexical cognates
meticulously and used suitable code-mixing strategies to narrow the gap
between the two languages. The language of the stories was constructed
to progress gradually from 100% Norwegian to 75% to 50/50, then to 75%
English and 100% English with Ibn's great moment of understanding and
speaking. The end product gives snippets of the stories, the takes and
sounds are mixed in the editing room.
- About the stories told in Norwegian by the Vikings during the "learning
the language sequence", were they written in the script or did you have
to make them up too? Did the actors provide inputs about their characters
for these stories? (I remember that Asbjørn Riis told me about
a story on how his character got his gladiator helmet...)
- We did all of those things; I would have stories prepared, which we
read through, then had new ideas, the actors provided their input. Often,
it was a team-effort. But the route from teaching to screen saw changes
en route too.
- Did you work on scenes that were not included in the final cut? The
first hour of the released version seems to have been severely shortened...
- I worked on many scenes that were not included in the final cut but
I cannot recall the specifics from memory. I can say, however, that several
scenes are cut, some are rearranged, translations which were spoken separately
are superimposed. For example, at the funeral banquet, there were women,
there was much eating (Ibn had his own set of fine knives and forks along)
and drinking out of horns and singing. These scenes are not in the final
- Some extra from Campbell River reported about
"a Viking battle song" shot during the tent scenes (allegedly,
the director did not like Daniel Southern's version of the song...). Do
you remember this?
- I think the first version was presented by Asbjørn, Dennis and
me. There were actually two songs, for different scenes. Our songs were
based on Scandinavian traditional melodies and rhythms. The director did
not accept these songs. Then Oliver [Sveinall]'s father, a Norwegian
musician present on set with his son, was asked to compose the necessary
songs (not much different from our first version). I drilled the actors
with the pronunciation, we practiced and then used one song in the tent
scene. Daniel Southern may have been the lead singer here. I do not know
whether he made up any songs. Anyway, none of these appear in the final
- Asbjørn Riis told me about some cut scene involving him and the
- Yes. This scene was on the riverbank where Ibn's party first arrived
before entering the tent. Halga meets them and, in the original script,
he lifts the Caravan leader off the horse and carries him off towards
- Weren't there Norwegian dialogues in that scene?
- As I already said, the first Norwegian is that of the Viking calling
out from the ship: "Menn av karavanen! HÝrer dere meg?" This is
not translated. The second Norwegian sentence is Halga's: "Merkelige
folk. Hva vil de?" (= Strange people. What do they want?) This has
no translation either. Ibn and Mechisidek converse in English. The Caravan
Leader was to say a few words in Arabic to Halga, who again would respond
in Norwegian (I think the short expressions here have been omitted and
no dialogue takes place); instead, the giant Halga just lifts him off
the horse and goes towards the tent. But I think all this is replaced
by another Halga-scene; again, I am not absolutely sure.
- Have you heard about additional photography on this movie?
- I did hear that some reshooting was taking place at John McTiernan's
ranch and L.A.. I do not know the reasons for this. Rumor had it that
some scenes had problems with the sound, but I do not know whether this
- Were there a lot of lines rewritten during the shooting?
- Not a lot in my area where language was the focus. I had already rewritten,
actually written, them before shooting.
During my work for the film, I was very absorbed in the translation, teaching
and coaching and now all the "fun and games" is flooding back
to my memory again. I had, of course, worked on the translation of the
text in various languages from March to May 97, prior to pre-production
and teaching in Campbell River, as I already said. The translation is
another topic altogether because, in addition to it being an academic
exercise, it was also a creative challenge. The script was often noncommittal
in that it could for example give such vague directives as "mutters
under his breath in Norwegian", or "pronounces a magic
spell in Norse" or "enquires about such-and-such in Latin".
In other words, there was no text supplied to be translated, so I had
to make it up, to create the discourse and then translate.
- Did John McTiernan mentioned the "Beowulf" poem during
rehearsal or actual shooting?
- Not to my knowledge, but one of the actors asked me for a library search
of appropriate sections of "Beowulf", which I copied
and supplied to him.
- Could it possibly be Vladimir Kulich?
- Actually, it was Richard Bremmer. I had also discussed "Havamal"
and "Edda", two Norse epics, in class.
- Back in early 1997, there were rumours circulating about Arnold Schwarzenegger
doing some cameo appearance in the movie. Did you hear about this on the
- I heard Arnold Schwarzenegger mentioned a couple of times on set, to
the effect that it would be nice if he came, but I do not know of any
- It is said that Anne Bancroft plays the "Second Oracle" in
the movie (the one they meet in the woods). Can you confirm this? Strangely,
she is not listed in the final credits (instead, actress Suzanne
Bertish is)... I suspect they shot the same scene with different actresses
(concerning the old witch part, and also the Wendol Mother part).
- This is the first time I hear Anne Bancroft's name in connection with
THE 13TH WARRIOR. I was not present during the shooting of the meeting
in the woods. The old witch is an older Norwegian actress. I'd have to
check who the Wendol Mother was...
- Well, Suzanne Bertish said in some interview that she played the part
of the second oracle, but Asbjørn Riis told me the second oracle
was played by Anne Bancroft (see also his homepage)...
The first oracle (tent scene), aka the Angel of Death, is played by Turid
Balke (according to the film credits), I think she is the one you saw
during the shooting. About this first oracle, I noticed that every word
she says is repeated louder by some other person in the viking assistance.
She is accompanied by some young boy (apparently to help her walking)
but the repeating voice is definitely not his (rather a man's voice).
Do you remember such a thing (character repeating all the oracle's dialogues)
from the shootings you attended?
- I remember the crowd of Vikings repeating... Perhaps it was necessary
to sharpen one of the voices and make it stand out in the editing period.
The young boy was just a companion of the Angel of Death and said nothing.
- What about the dispute between Michael Crichton and John McTiernan?
- Michael Crichton was present at least a couple of days during the preproduction
period in Campbell River. I witnessed no conflict. Later, when the release
dragged on, I heard that there was some conflict which caused the delay.
- Do you know why they changed the title of the movie, from EATERS OF
THE DEAD to THE 13TH WARRIOR?
- I suspect because of perceived audience reaction, but I don't know why
- Last but not least, how did you feel about the finished/released version
of THE 13TH WARRIOR?
- Somewhat deflated. A tremendous amount of work had gone into the production.
The preparation was superb, professional, of highest quality: the plans,
drawings, models of the art department impressed me, the location scouts
had found gorgeous spots so appropriate for a Viking film ; costumes,
hair, wigs, make-up ; animals, saddles & gear much made on location
; the building of a whole village, of the Viking ships ; training of actors
in needed skills ; everything --too much to list-- was well thought out.
I handled the language input. The final version of the film did not reflect
the wealth of artistry, craftsmanship and beauty which was present on
the set, in my opinion.
Personally, I would like to have seen more of Melchisidek, and the Vikings
who were very busy in preproduction. For example, the archer flashes by
and you remember him for his braid, not archery ; his young helper, Oliver,
who was on set the whole time, is hardly shown ; Halga had a larger role
than just telling the Arab that he is taking a dog to war ; much lacks
the right emphasis.
The following critiques at the time of the release of THE 13TH WARRIOR
may interest you. A Canadian newspaper, National Post, called Banderas
"an exiled Arab with a rare gift for language." The Vancouver
Sun wrote (and lots of workers on the set were Vancouverites who would
be in the know): "THE 13TH WARRIOR is left with little to actually
offer the viewer except, perhaps, one or two glorious scenes of B.C.'s
coastline and the tragic realization that after months of infighting between
the film's co-producers, author Michael Crichton and director John McTiernan,
a worthy film may lie on the cutting room floor." Yet, Entertainment
Weekly, at the time, told us that THE 13TH WARRIOR was "the
most unexpectedly audacious, exhilarating, and wildly creative adventure
thriller in ages..."