As someone who watches a lot of films, I know that there are certain flicks I’m simply prone to like more than others. B movies – good ones and bad ones – have always been a fascination of mine. Over my years of writing about films, I’ve tried to narrow down specifically to what interests me most about these ‘side’ pictures, but I’ve never been able to nail my arguments exactly on the head. I tend to think it’s that, like any good purveyor of film, I’d like to think – if the opportunity presented itself – I could pen a great screenplay. I could give it all the right pieces; I could cast the right actors; I could devise the right look and capture the right feel. I could produce a pretty solid blockbuster, one that would net me untold riches, praise and adulation of fanboys everywhere, and a contract to continue churning out film after film for the entertainment of the masses so the cycle could repeat itself over and over again until my sad passing.
Then, I watch a film like 2011’s CONAN re-launch, and I figure, “Why bother?” I quickly follow up that thought with, “Is THIS the best we can do?”
If THE LORD OF THE RINGS franchise taught the entertainment industry anything, then that lesson would be that, simply, “There’s an astonishingly huge audience for well-made, well-produced, well-assembled fantasy films.” The Conan property – in many respects – has great similarity to Tolkien’s works: (1) it involves its own world creation; (2) there are strong men and strong women as central characters; (3) there’s more than enough swords and sorcery to keep an audience captivated; and (4) there’re creatures and castles aplenty! Sure, maybe Conan – with its heavy emphasis on blood, broads, and broadswords – is more of an adult-themed fantasy property, but I think you get the drift. There’re volumes and volumes of source material on top of Robert E. Howard’s written words, and, it’s clear that the makers of the film were familiar with the pieces that make-up a Conan story … but how could they have gotten it so horribly wrong?
I suppose there’s something to be said about casting a relative unknown in the lead role. Jason Momoa cut his teeth on SyFy’s “Stargate: Atlantis” but he really came to fruition in the role of Khal Drogo in HBO’s “Game of Thrones” series. Transitioning into the role as the lead Cimmerian could’ve required stronger acting chops only if the material (i.e. “the script”) required it, but let’s face facts, folks: we’re not talking Shakespeare here. Robert E. Howard essentially grew Conan for the pulps of the 1930’s (not that there’s anything wrong with that). Thankfully, this reboot kept Conan light on talk and relatively heavy on action. ‘Nuff said on that front.
I suppose there’s something to be said about placing the property of Conan in the hands of a relatively ‘fresh’ director. Marcus Nispel’s filmography on IMDB.com lists 16 films, but many of them appear to be documentaries associated to music videos. But there was the 2004 remake of THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE. He also directed PATHFINDER, a film that might be aptly described as very Conan-ish in appearances. He also directed the re-imagining of FRIDAY THE 13TH in 2009. While these are not necessarily any highbrow properties, one could wonder what a more skilled craftsman behind the camera might’ve done with the script. I can say that the film includes one horribly edited horse chase sequence … first, Conan’s trailing behind the baddie … suddenly, he’s alongside the baddie … then he’s behind the guy again … now, he’s somehow coming at him from the front … ??? … ??? In the hands of a more experienced director, this probably wouldn’t have happened.
And, then, there’s something to be said for story …
The film is an origins tale. Studios seem to prefer some tweaking of any hero’s beginnings when they re-visit a franchise, and CONAN is treated no differently. After being cut from the womb of his mother dying on a battlefield (no other context is given nor apparently felt needed by the scriptors), baby Conan matures into a young, bloodlusting killing machine. His father (played with little effort by genre-regular Ron Perlman, an actor who deserved better material than this) tries to tame his boy’s predilection for violence, but his untimely death at the hands of the film’s villain – Khalar Zym (played by the underrated Stephen Lang) – essentially gives the lad his life mission: to avenge his father’s murder. (So, at this point, we’re basically looking at Batman in a loincloth!) However, the next we see Conan, he’s grown into manhood, chiseled his own abs, and – lo and behold – never really done anything about going after the men who killed his old man. It’s a good thing that the script suddenly called for a chance encounter with one of the bad guys, or, otherwise, Conan may’ve suffered his first mid-life crisis before he avenged dear old dad. (This assumes that the average Cimmerian’s life expectancy craps out around 38 years old.)
Keep in mind: I love B pictures, of which CONAN clearly is a variety. I also love the property; I think “Conan the Barbarian” is one of Robert E. Howard’s greatest creations. I also love fantasy films.
But, again I ask, “Is this the BEST we can do?”
All of the right pieces were there. There’s some solid location shooting. There’s pretty standard costuming and effects work for a B picture. Much like the Conan of written legend, there are plenty of heavy, surly types that need to be dispatched at the hands of our hero. There are even plenty of maidens to be wooed; in fact, the earlier scenes from the film showed the greatest promise! Conan’s hanging out in a dimly lit tavern. He’s drinking and yucking it up with the men and he’s virtually surrounded by the best scantily-clad women a casting director could find! It’s fantasy come true, lifted right from the pages of any Conan comic book! Too bad the best stuff ended right there.
Meanwhile, back to the story …
Khalar Zym’s quest? Well, as best as I can surmise, there’s this magical mask (the one covered in the film’s obligatory opening sequence narrated by Morgan Freeman?) that renders the wearer … what … er … magical? Mystical? Well, let’s just agree that it’s powerful! It never gets clearly defined, but, suffice it to say, once Zym has the mask, he’ll have the power to bring his dead sorceress/wife back from beyond the grave … not that we’re ever shown any footage of their loving marriage to believe he’d want to do it. We’re just supposed to accept his quest it at face value. Besides, his wife’s only scenes were those of her burning at the stake by … well … it’s never quite explained, but I’m sure they meant to do it! Alas, we’re never quite clear as to why that happened. It must’ve been because either (A) she was a sorceress or (B) it was Monday, and that’s what rapers and pillagers do on a Monday in the Hyborean Age.
Lo and behold, Zym has a daughter, Marique (played by Rose McGowan in what must singly be the absolute worst casting mistake for 2011). Now, don’t ask me why, but, apparently, Marique has the hots for her old man (she tries to seduce him in one scene). Despite having an obvious attraction for dad that could be better acted upon with mom out of the picture (hint hint), Marique still joins daddy dearest on his personal mission to bring big bad momma back from the dead. Why exactly? Again, we’re not told, so, as an audience, we’re just supposed to accept the obvious irony. Sadly, Marique preens about every scene, dangling menacingly her Freddy Krueger-like finger blades, and spouts her nonsensical lines in an almost fairy-tale voice that only further distorts any logical foundation for her character. (I’d really like to see the director’s notes to Ms. McGowan on this one!)
Seriously, you could take all of the parts of the world’s best sports car and lay them on the floor of an automotive garage. You could follow a massive instruction manual to assemble it properly. But, unless you complete the task properly, you’re not going to have the world’s best sports car. You may end up with a reasonable facsimile (think the first Conan movie with Arnold Schwarzenegger), but that doesn’t mean anyone’s going to want to buy it. Likewise, CONAN – as a motion picture – had all of the right pieces. A burly actor in a role that required burliness! Magicians and sorcerers! Voluptuous women throwing themselves at men! Buckets of bloodspray every time a baddie is gutted alive! A fairy princess (of sorts) that needs rescue! Caves full of skulls! Oceans with monsters! Swords as big as a man! Castles aplenty! But I’ve absolutely no idea whether the makers consulted the owner’s manual or not when they made this picture because what we’re left with was such a bruised and bloodied mess that should’ve been vastly more entertaining than it was.
Recommended only if you like epic failures, of which this is one, but I’ll still give it two stars for effort and because, as I’ve said, I like B pictures. So sue me. It’d make a great B picture.
I figured that it was a little odd that director Marcus Nispel’s (Friday the 13th remake) “Conan The Barbarian” was released first in Europe and the Philippines two days before it hit U.S. shores but what do I know. The film isn’t a remake of the 1982 Schwarzenegger film but rather a re-interpretation of the “Conan” mythos and is loosely based on the character created by Robert E. Howard. The film is also unrelated to the beloved comic series by Marvel comics … more
* out of **** In more ways than one, Marcus Nispel's re-imagining of the famous pulp novel series (and character) "Conan the Barbarian" certainly brings the pain. A high-budget action picture limited to the sounds of grunts, battle cries, and an occasional line of ridiculous dialogue; this latest addition to the almost decidedly short list of adaptations - for this franchise - is a brutal, noisy, mind-numbing and arguably tedious exercise in how much genre formula … more
Star Rating: Watching the original 1982 version of Conan the Barbarian, I had the distinct impression it was forced into existence – a film made before the talent or the technology was available to do the story justice. Apart from the unconvincing special effects, the phony-looking sets, and the insistent, overblown, annoying score by Basil Poledouris, the casting was the cinematic equivalent of a hack job; Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sandahl Bergman, though … more
I never watched the original Conan With Arnold Schwarzenegger, so when I heard of this movie I overlooked it, I wasnt intrested. Its not until I heard that Jason Momoa had the lead role did i start looking at this. Reason being Jason Momoa is known for his role as Ronon the tall, handsome, warrior type in the Stargate Atlantis TV Series. (not unlike Conan) And im sure acting in a movie is very differant than acting in a TV series. If anything I want to see this movie to … more
I have no idea what to expect from this new Conan film. I love the character, but thus far I've been unimpressed by previous attempts to adapt Robert E. Howard's famous barbarian warrior from page to screen, and this particular effort looks rather cheap and silly. We shall see...