Conan The Barbarian (2011)
Directed by: Marcus Nispel
Written by: Joshua Oppenheimer, Robert E. Howard, Sean Hood, Thomas Dean Donnelly
Starring: Bob Sapp, Jason Momoa, Leo Howard, Ron Perlman, Rose McGowan, Stephen Lang
CONAN THE BARBARIAN
RUNNING TIME:113 mins
REVIEWED BY:Dr Lenera, Official HCF Critic
The evil Khalar Zym seeks the parts of a mask which, when complete, will turn the wearer into a powerful god. Meanwhile in the northern land of Cimmeria, Conan’s mother dies after giving birth to him during a battle. As a boy Conan starts to become a fine warrior, but then Zym and his band of brigands raid his village because it contains a part of the mask he is after, and kill Conan’s father. The boy spends many years in the wilderness but never forgets his mission of revenge and one day chances upon one of Zym’s old warriors whose nose he cut off as a child. While Conan at last gain knowledge as to Zym’s whereabouts, Zym reveals a plan to use the blood of a virgin to resurrect his dead wife………
Conan The Barbarian is bloody awful. That could be my review, but that won’t really do when I try to spend at least four paragraphs describing a film. Conan the sword swinging warrior first appeared in 1935 when Robert E. Howard wrote some short stories for Wierd Tales magazine in 1935, and has been the subject of countless books and comic books since, not to mention the two movies starring Arnold Schwarzenegger. Now I am a bit of a fan of those films, especially the first one, but even I have to admit that they don’t bare much resemblance to the source material, especially concerning Conan himself, who mutated from an agile, intelligent warrior to a brutish, muscle bound killer. I was willing to give this new version the benefit of the doubt, but within five minutes you’ll probably realise this is a piece of total and utter crap, and certainly no closer to Howard either. It’s inept in almost every way; the trouble is that it’s not even fun in a certain way, the way bad sword and sorcery clicks can be. I would imagine only barbarians would enjoy it.
It gets it wrong right from the opening, where a Lord Of The Rings-type setting-the-scene narration over various images is done by………..Morgan Freeman. Now I know he has a great voice and all, but it just doesn’t fit the tawdry CG imagery we are seeing. The first scene proper has Conan being born, and it really is an atrocious scene. Whilst everyone else around them fights, Conan’s mother starts to give birth, her husband comes over, performs a caesarean in about two seconds without even looking, then the woman dies as the enormous CG baby comes out. Then, in a bit I couldn’t believe, the father holds the baby in the air a la The Lion King…….whilst everyone is still battling around them. Much of the rest of the film is as inept, but sadly not nearly as amusing. The movie soon resolves itself into an endless series of battles in various locations which are all extremely different, from something resembling an Ancient Greek temple to an Arabian-type town, but which appear only around the block from each other because we hardly ever see Conan travelling. Presumably that was considered boring and wasting time which could be spent on fights.
Now I cannot believe that this critic, who is a big fan of many action movies including martial arts films, is saying this, but the endless brawling gets really boring, partially because there is never any tension and partially because every single bit of action is staged in one second cuts. I don’t like this way of filming action anyway, but director Marcus Nispel and cinematographer Thomas Kloss bodge it totally, with quite often the camera seeming like it’s having trouble catching up with whatever Conan is doing. I didn’t see this in 3D, but it must have been an incoherent blur most of the time. Even in 2D, I just wanted, once, to see a fight properly, to see Conan slice someone properly etc. There are two action scenes which actually may have been really good if filmed properly [and I don’t mean the really dull battle with an octopus-type creature where Conan just stands there and occasionally ducks] a horse chase, and a potentially thrilling set piece of Conan battling sand demons and jumping around on things Jackie Chan-style. In this sequence you can just about see some really great stunt work, and the sand demons look pretty good, though elsewhere the CGI is generally mediocre and sometimes abysmal, including the worse CG horse I have ever seen. It all winds up in inside a mountain atop a volcano, which starts to crumble [but stops for a bit to let people fight in specific areas] for no apparent reason.
It might sound like I am being too hard on a film which is basically about one man with a sword killing loads of other men and doesn’t really pretend to be anything else, but the original Conan The Barbarian gave proceedings an epic sweep and Conan The Destroyer at least made the premise into a fun romp; this effort does neither. It just tries to bludgeon you with endless sword swinging and crap CG blood. I will say that gorehounds may be pleased because the brutality in this movie is astonishing. Noses are sliced off [and later on fingers are inserted into where the nose was], heads are smashed to pulp on rocks, blood swishes out constantly, etc; though laughably Conan scrapes through with hardly a scratch. Honestly though, the BBFC really got this wrong by giving it a ‘15’. Now the script has apparently seen many changes but still gives the impression of being thrown together and at times is truly stupid. Conan has just been bested by Zym so he returns to fight him again almost immediately with no rest. Zym puts on the complete mask on his face, the mask that is supposed to make him a mighty god, the mask becomes like an Alien facehugger, but then nothing else happens. to him, he stays the same. This isn’t remarked upon either. Apart from a few quotes, there’s little of Howard, and the film at times seems to be more derived from films like The Scorpion King. Conan himself is just a growling psychopath, and although poor Jason Momoa, who is clearly a better actor than Arnie, actually does what he can with the role, he’s lost. Then again, everyone just grimaces [the villains sometimes do it into the camera] and yells and screams, that’s mostly the film’s dialogue.
This is coming from someone who liked his remake of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, but Nispel, who should be renamed Marcus Dismal, really proves himself to be a bad director. The film has no rhythm, some of the cutting between shots doesn’t match, some shots last too long: honesty, it’s as if Nispel and his editor Ken Blackwell have never been to film school. Stephen Lang is a dull main villain though Rose McGowan is rather fun, and wearing a truly crazy get-up, as his accomplice. Ron Perlman in his brief role just looks tired. Tyler Bates’ score backs the action reasonably well and lacks any memorable themes or indeed cues; it’s just monotonous. I don’t know why the whole film was made, really, because it’s as if they didn’t really try. Maybe one day they will film Howard’s Conan. In the meantime, excuse me while I try to banish this garbage from my mind and go and watch Red Sonja or Hawk The Slayer.
[pt-filmtitle]Conan the Barbarian[/pt-filmtitle]