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How Time Flies
by Sarah L. Polson

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Everyone has a couple different kinds of "favorite" movies. There's the intellectual ones -- the ones we tell other people to impress them. Then there's the guilty pleasure favorite movies, which are the ones we know aren't good but could watch them several times a week and never get tired of them.

For me, the 13th Warrior is one of those guilty pleasure favorites. There's nothing spectacular about it. The acting is ok, the plot is ok, but it's nothing special -- and I can watch it over and over again and still enjoy it.

Director John McTiernan does do something in this movie that I find interesting though. He's able to show, in a convincing way, that an Arab and the audience have learned to speak Norwegian, so the audience doesn't have to suffer through sub-titles during the entire movie.

In the beginning of the movie, an Arab man ends up joining a group of Vikings who must travel back home to help protect their village from an invading enemy. The Arab doesn't speak Norwegian and neither apparently does the audience, so it's either sub-titled or translated for us through an interpreter in the movie.

McTiernan has a decision to make. He can either use sub-titles and interpreters through the entire movie (which we lazy audience members generally don't enjoy during what should be a brainless action movie), or he can just pretend we can all suddenly understand everything and lose some believability, or he has to show in a short period of time that we can all suddenly understand each other.

Obviously, he chose the third option. He solved the problem with a montage of fireside scenes during the group's trip back to Norway. The scenes apparently take place around the campfire after they've traveled all day.

During this sequence, the Arab and the audience start out not understanding anything the Vikings are saying. Then more and more English words start popping into conversation with each scene to show that the Arab is starting to learn the language. By the end of the sequence, the Arab and the audience can understand most, if not all of the language.

What adds to the believability of the sequence is the passage of time. As the scenes progress, we see changes in weather from rain to snow and cold that show this isn't just a matter of days during their travels but the passage of weeks and maybe even months.

It only takes a minute or two of movie time, but McTiernan makes us believe that enough time has passed that the Arab could have learned enough of the language to talk with the Vikings. And, most importantly, he doesn't have to annoy us with sub-titles.

The sequence is very well-done and well thought out and just goes to show that even our guilty pleasure movies can have parts to them that rival those in our intellectual picks.

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Smoke and Mirrors
Every other Wednesday

Movie magic isn't just about special affects. Sarah L. Polson shows you the other tricks and techniques used to manipulate movie goers.

Other Columns
Other columns by Sarah L. Polson:

A Whale of a Tale

Violence with a Purpose

Slo-mo, The Weapon of Choice

In Living Color

I'm Ready for My Close-up

All Columns

Sarah L. Polson
As a journalist from the midwest, Sarah L. Polson has a few years under her belt writing in the newspaper world. Having worked mainly in news writing, deviating from "just the facts" is a new experience for her.

If you have a comment, question, or suggestion, you can send a message to Sarah L. Polson by clicking here.

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