Conan: The Barbarian

To quote my buddy Nelson. “It was all right…”

To which I could only shrug and nod and say “Yeah.”

There was a lot to like in this movie, for sure. Unfortunately it was mixed in with plenty of things you just can’t get past.

The entire chapter about Conan as a boy was cool. He’s “born on the battlefield” and even as a child is a fighter to be reckoned with. His father (Ron Perlman) teaches him swordsmanship, and helps him craft a sword for himself. It’s not long however, before their village is raided by the Necromancer Khalar Zym (Stephen Lang) and his daughter (Rose McGowan), who are seeking a piece of an ancient mask which – legend holds – will allow them to raise the dead. Conan puts up quite fight for a little dude, but in the end, his father is killed, and Zym and his daughter make off with the piece of the relic.

Thus begins Conan’s quest for revenge.

When we next meet Conan, he’s a fully grown warrior (Jason Momoa). He fights and wenches his days away in a suitably barbarian fashion, while he searches the four corners of the Earth for the sorcerer and his daughter. When he finally crosses paths with one of their former henchman, he has found their trail at long last.

Momoa certainly looks the part. He’s dark and musclebound and I think they had him roll around in dirt each day before they rolled film. I don’t think any of the character’s shortcomings can be blamed on his acting, per se. I mean, he’s not asked to do much except glower. In fact, there are times when he lends some roguish charm to the character. Something that the non-film versions of the character have always had, but that Arnold was really never that good at.

What stood out to me though – glaringly – is not just his, but the entire cast’s perfect english. I mean, there’s a couple of characters that try silly accents, but those two stand out because nobody else is trying to do anything but sound southern Californian. It’s not just that Ahnuld put such a stamp on the character, it’s that we associate “Barbarians” with 1) the middle ages and 2) Central Europe (even though the Greeks used the term for ANY non-Greek). So to not even attempt to make the English “Olde”, and to not give them any sort of European tinge whatsoever is just kind of jarringly anachronistic. I mean, its like doing Robin Hood and not giving him a british accent. Oh, wait.

I’ve never considered Schwarzenegger’s germanic, guttural garbling to be an asset of his, but in the case of the original Conan, it actually lent itself to the strength of the role.

As to the rest of the film, the plot is thin, but it’s an action movie. So, hey. They do a good enough job with it. The action itself is maddening. It was great through 80% of the flick – I was totally prepared to say something to the effect of “the strength of the film is in its action sequences”. They were paced well, unique enough, the fight scenes were well choreographed… and then the finale was just… more than a little silly. Just when you needed the action the most, it lets you down.  

The director, Marcus Nispel, hasn’t really got any great credits to his name (although, the Friday the 13th remake was one of my favorites in the series), and here, every time he puts his “stamp” on the flick, it’s unwelcome. He’ll show up with a slow mo shot, or suddenly start quick cutting even though prior sequences didn’t and you’re just thinking… dude, go away. You would also think a movie with such a thin plot would be free of plot holes, but there’s plenty of times where you’re like “Wait, where did those guys come from?” or “Now why would she do that?”

Finally, I’d like to use my soapbox to bitch about a personal gripe. Is it really THAT expensive for Hollywood to use practical effects for blood anymore? Honestly? That is one area where film-making has taken a giant step backwards in special effects. If Sonny Corleone were shot on the causeway today, it would be all CGI blood and it would look like shit. That was 30 years ago and the effects were ten times as realistic as they are now!! I understand why “Spartacus: Blood and Sand” employed it, that was tv, they were keeping the budget down, and the cheese added some style to what otherwise could have been a bland show. But this is a HOLLYWOOD MOTION PICTURE!! Can I get a &$%#ing squib or two now and then? The fake, drawn on the screen, CGI blood splatters ruined several moments of what otherwise would have been perfectly acceptable battle sequences.

Rargh!!

Anyways, there’s plenty to enjoy if you’re looking for a diversion. It’s a fine enough little B Movie with a couple of battle scenes and action sequences where I was like, wow, this is really pretty good. But just where it could have shifted itself into a higher gear and claimed its place amongst the best movies of the summer, it stalls out and falls flat and leaves you a little disappointed. Because somewhere in here is a franchise worth rebooting.

I just don’t think this is it.

B-

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16 thoughts on “Conan: The Barbarian

  1. I share your rage on the death of practical effects.

    Haven’t seen Conan though. Need to see Rise of the Planet of the Apes first, but it’s been hard to carve out movie time lately.

  2. This looks entertaining enough although I expected there would be some crippling flaws here and there. It should be worth a DVD rental. And totally agree about the CGI blood, it really cheapens the movies when it’s used.

  3. Let me start by saying that I haven’t seen this yet and, quite frankly, don’t really remember the original too well. I appreciate and agree with your rant on the cgi blood. It sounds like overall the good outweighs the bad…I expect I will end up rating a little higher due to the aesthetic value of the film. And by that I mean jason momoa. Shirtless. Mmmmmmm…….pretty sure they could make an 8 hour documentary on grass growing and if jason momoa was in it shirtless I would watch it….just trying to inject a baser, less intelligent perspective to the blog.

    • Mmm. You do it so well. LOL

      Anyways, its only fair. If I can try to drum up a contribution fund for my charity “Deborah Ann Woll Needs to Put it on the Record” in my True Blood threads, I can’t have double standards. LOL.

  4. This is one of those movies I call my hubby’s movies. It is one of the reasons I am grateful we watch 99% of our movies on DVD. I was extremely skeptical upon the start of this film, but like you, I actually found the beginning pretty interesting & got sucked in by the fact that young Conan kinda kicked butt…and then…grown up Conan came along and it just fell apart. Maybe if there’d been more action, maybe if the “sub-plot” of the pure-blood girl held together better. I agree with you completely about the blood & the accents, but felt you gave it a far too generous grade; I’d have gone with a C. If it had been corny & over-the-top like the originally then it might have been better, but it tried to be semi-serious & went splat.

    • Yeah, I’ve learned that Siskel and Ebert were copping out by giving Thumbs up and Thumbs down. How easy is that?

      I’ve even been kicking around the idea of going with an This movie is great / This movie is good / Meh / I didn’t care for it / This movie sucked type of standard. Just ideas.

      I’d probably revalue 75% of the grades I’ve given now that I’ve had some time to let the movies sink in, and now that I’m getting a little more experienced. I’d probably give it a C+ now looking back at it, which isn’t too far off. At the time, I was probably favoring the decent scenes… and there were a bunch of them early. Even the sand warriors scene was cool.

      Regardless, that’s why I go through all the rigamarole of actually writing the text, you know? LOL.

  5. Just saw this, while it is by no means ‘good’, by any rational definition of the word, it is also by no means the abysmal dreck-fest I was led to believe it was.

    First the bad; What might laughingly be referred to as the script. This flick was watchable when people were roaring at each other and waving swords and hammers and bloody finger knives and even giant snake, squid parts. The moment they started speaking it stopped being as watchable. Luckily there wasn’t much in the way of dialog.
    The 3D. Watching at home, even on BluRay, the gimmicky 3D action stood out like a sore thumb.
    The Music. While passable on it’s own, it pales in comparrison to the Basil Poulidouris score from the 80s version (one of my all time favorite scores)
    Rose McGowan. Oh, man is she painful to watch. I mean, she’s never been a brilliant actress, but she at least was easy on the eye. Gah!
    Morgan Freeman. Seriously? wtf?
    The Good: the look of the film is right on the mark. The sets and costumes, weapons and characters are straight off a Frank Frazetta page.
    The kid who played young Conan was great. As a matter of fact the entire first 15 minutes (wth the exception of the god-awful narration) was just about perfect. The Birth on the battlefield, Ron Perlman, the secrets of steel… all hit the right marks.
    Physically, Jason Momoa looked great, both in pose and motion. The fighting looked good, and really, isn’t that the most important thing in a Conan movie?

    So, lots of bad, but enough good to keep me watching. Honestly it would probably make for good Saturday morning blindingly hungover braindead fare… with the sound turned off. ;)

    • Mmmm.

      Agreed. Especially about the kid. If they did a movie JUST around him, with Ron Perlman as his dad, and then the end is the attack where everyone gets killed, I’d have like it a lot better.

      I wound up at a B-, but I think a C+ is more like it, after I’ve had some time to settle with it (instant grading is not the most accurate)

      What would you say? B-/C+ around there about right?

  6. I’m a tough grader. I’d go D+… but there are times when I’m willing to sit down a watch a D+ film. Especially if I can sync it to a pink floyd album. :D

    • You’re saying D+, Jaina says B+…

      My role is to be somewhere in the middle of that, kind of like lukewarm water.

      Definitely feeling more of a C+ though now… lots of temptation to regrade…

  7. I thought for what it was Conan was a good film. It never set out to be anything more than a bloody, sexy and silly B film and for that it succeeded. Jason Momoa was a good bit of casting as Conan. Ok, I admit it, I’ve been falling for him since he appeared in TV screens in Stargate Atlantis and after meeting the giant!

    I digress, I think I’d give it a B+. It’s predictable and dialog’s clunky as hell, but as a brain switch off and just let it roll over you film, it did well enough at that.

      • Jaina, I agree with everything you said (except for the part about falling for Momoa) and still say it’s a bad movie which I happened to enjoy. A straight qualitative analysis leads to no other conclusion but that it’s baaaaaaaaaad… but that doesn’t mean I cant enjoy it for what it is… but it’s still really not a good film. (I dont really believe on grading on a curve, or hadn’t you guessed? lol)

      • I flip flop when it comes to grading on a curve. I just think there are films out there that aim slightly below the bar and just want to entertain. If they succeed at doing that for me then … i give them points.

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