MOVIE REVIEW – CONAN THE BARBARIAN
September 16, 2011
Directed by Marcus Nispel
Rating System: 0 – 5 Bubbly Head Deaths with Zero being the lowest and five being the highest.
Conan the Barbarian (hereafter referred to as CTB) is a reboot of the 1982 Arnold Schwarzenegger flick. This time around Jason Momoa gets to play the Mullet that became a king by his own hand. Joining him for the CGI ride is Ron Perlman, Stephen Lang, Rosie McGowan, and even a badly done narration bit by Morgan Freeman. The story begins with our Cimmerian being born in the middle of a battle. This apparently means that Conan is going to be a warrior. We see this confirmed in the very next scene as the now 9-year old Conan single-handedly kills a gaggle of Road Warrior extras, all while holding an egg in his mouth. (I am NOT making that up. There is a reason for it, it’s kind of a stupid one, but there is one.) At this point Khalar Zim (Stephen Lang) shows up. He’s looking (in LOTR fashion) for a missing piece of an ancient snake mask that the opening narration was kind enough to tell us about. A long time ago, this mask was apparently broken and hidden to stop anybody from possessing it and taking over the world. (Is it just me or doesn’t it seem like the ancient world was chock full of artifacts that would either destroy or enslave the world?) Khalar and his witch daughter Marique (an eyebrowless Rosie McGowan) kill Conan’s dad, find the mask piece, and then leave our little barbarian to burn to death. Which we all know is a classic super villain mistake, since Conan escapes and lives to fight another day.
From there the film jumps to a grown-up Conan (Momoa) moving from one mindless CGI filled battle scene after another until he bumps into Khalar and his crew. Which was confusing to me, since he had the full mask, yet somehow 15 years had passed and the new dark age had not started. Apparently he’s now looking for the last descendant of some ancient blood line to resurrect his dead wife. I’m not really sure, the plot silliness had gotten so bad that I had kind of lost interest by this point. Suffice it to say that Conan hacks and slashes his way through the rest of the film.
This film was basically a mess. An expensive mess, but a mess. Costumes and props were standard but uninspired – straight out of the Fantasy movie playbook. Like any fantasy film today, there is a lot of CGI and some of it was actually pretty good. My real problem was the sound design. Now, it could have been the sound system in the theater, but the sound design was horrible. The mix was so bad that unless a character was shouting, every line of dialog was unintelligible. For example, in the scene where Tamara (Rachel Nichols) tells Conan her name, the mix was so bad and mushy, I had no idea what it was until the end credits.
The other thing about this film that disappointed me is that it quickly became apparent that the film makers had little or no knowledge of the Conan character from the Robert E. Howard stories. Basically, they got that he was a pirate (which he was in several stories) but that’s about it. Everything else in the stories that made Conan who he was, was gone.
One thing that always sticks with me from the Arnold flick was Conan’s search for the answer to the riddle of steel. Thulsa Doom ultimately provides Conan with the answer when he tells him, “Steel isn’t strong, flesh is stronger. What is steel compared to the hand that wields it?” If we change steel to CGI and flesh to character, plot and heart, we get to the main problem that besets all fantasy/sci-fi/horror films of today. What does state of the art CGI get you if there is no high quality character development, plot and heart (what I would call direction and production) to control it and make it meaningful? The answer is, alas, nothing but a wasted 113 minutes of your life – like you get with this film.
GAME INSPIRATIONS FROM THE MOVIE
Obviously the Conan system is the way to go for this, with Dungeons and Dragons being a close second. You would have to work a lot on the plot to make it into a workable scenario. But the basic elements are all there. I could see a lot of potential for a campaign with your party trying to collect the various pieces of the mask before Khalar does. Each mask piece would be a different adventure. You can even have the mask pieces try to influence the party and get each of them to want to possess it. Now we’re talking! Party strife and conflict is always fun!
The best scene for me is when Khalar and Marique unleash several sand demons against Conan. The ensuing fight scene pitting Conan against warriors made of animated sand was pretty cool. Of course, the film makers didn’t take it as far as they should have. When it started, I thought they were copying the classic skeleton fight scene from Jason and the Argonauts. But instead of defining how many sand warriors were animated, they just had them (or maybe just one) jumping out of the sand periodically. Again, I enjoyed the scene, but it could have been done sooo much better.
If you really want to see a good Conan flick, I suggest you skip this mess and just pop in the DVD of the Arnold flick. Even after all this time, it still hacks quite a slash!
‘Course, what do I know?
You can check out this review as well as all the others at the Bloodwork blog on toxicbag.com.