Conan: The Barbarian (2011)

Let me just say this up front: I don’t really know squat about Conan.

My experience with the character is mostly from the Arnold Schwarzenegger movies in the 1980’s and from Frank Frazetta’s artwork for the Robert E. Howard books. I remember having one Conan book in my library and I never got through the whole thing. This was back in elementary when I had the attention span of a dust mite. Choose Your Own Adventure was more my speed. Probably the only reason I owned it was the girl in a fur bikini on the cover.

Despite my lack of familiarity with the source material, I am a fan of the barbarian genre. Back during the 80’s, barbarian movies were all the rage. There were impossibly silly examples like The Barbarians, a movie about barbarian brothers with oiled muscles and mullets, and more mainstream stuff like The Beastmaster (ok, maybe not really mainstream). 1982’s Conan the Barbarian was the mother of all of them and still one of the best. 1984’s sequel, Conan the Destroyer, while much dumber, was still entertaining for a young kid. It didn’t hurt that one of the rules of barbarian movies is that you MUST have either kick ass warrior women, or scantily clad demon priestesses. The young Olivia D’Abo fell under the second category. RAWR.

This year’s Conan re-boot starring the newest Pseudo- Schwarzenegger, Jason Momoa (Game of Thrones, Stargate: Atlantis) sticks to the same formula as the 80’s movies did but somehow it doesn’t feel nearly as fun.

It has many of the same elements that those late night movie staples had: oiled, bare-chested men with swords, half-naked women, stalwart comrades-at-arms, sneaky thieves, supernatural creatures, sorcery, lots of fake blood and a dismemberment or two. But it doesn’t have the same tongue-in-cheek silliness to it. It takes itself too seriously, and in the process, kills any charm it might have had.

The best portion of the film by far is the lead in of the first reel. The first few minutes show us the birth of Conan on the battlefield, as his mother and father fight off a raid (or something). After that bit, we fast forward to Conan’s coming of age. The ceremony is forgettable (something about getting an egg back to the village without breaking it), but the group of boys run into some grunting savages from a rival tribe while en route.

What ensues is a graphic little fight scene starring a young Conan, 14-year old Leo Howard (young Snake Eyes from G.I. Joe: Rise of Cobra) that kicks you in the nuts. This runt is a mean little fucker!

After that, we revisit the Cimmerian village where Conan’s father, Ron Perlman, begins teaching him the sword. There is of course a training montage (another requisite section of the genre), and then their lives are interrupted by the evil demon overlord, Khalar Zym (Stephen Lang) and the to-be-scantily-clad-later-in-the-film-when-she-isn’t-jailbait demon priestess, Marique (Rose McGowan).

Everything else that follows this sequence is pretty much boring.

Momoa may look the part of a barbarian, but he just doesn’t have the screen presence that Schwarzenegger did, or the charisma that Perlman has. He doesn’t even have the martial arts prowess that his onscreen younger self displays in his aforementioned scene. When he makes pronouncements like “No man should live in chains,” I crack up. He’s just that bad.

The rest of the cast isn’t much better. I could never stand Rose McGowan, and she doesn’t change my mind here. Neither she nor Stephen Lang really seem to be as sinister as Thulsa Doom or Queen Taramis, nor any of a number of villains I could name. And though I have a huge crush on Rachel Nichols, not even a love scene could bring this clunker back from the dead (it didn’t help that she’s said that they weren’t her boobs in the film).

Like most modern day films, the focus here were the computer generated effects. Unfortunately, none of it equaled the sheer vitality of the first portion of the film, which looked largely practical. Young Conan’s fight for example, was by far superior to the fight with the sand demons, or even the final battle in the heart of the volcano.

The whole exercise made me miss the days of rubber suits, matte paintings, and good old fashioned stunt work.

And a word of warning: DO NOT WATCH THIS MOVIE IN 3D!

3D as a gimmick does not work, unless a movie is shot with 3D cameras (such as Avatar) with the express purpose of exhibiting it in 3D. This movie is just another in a long line of recent stereographic conversions (a process where a movie shot on film is converted to something similar to 3D). The problems with this are many. First off, they charge you double what you’d pay normally. Second, there aren’t many scenes where the 3D adds anything to the proceedings, since it wasn’t shot with 3D in mind. Third, because you’re wearing dark glasses, every single scene that happens indoors is too dark to decipher. You are sitting there, in your glasses, looking like a moron, and thinking to yourself, “what the fuck is going on?!”

Seriously, this movie’s a disappointment. I can’t believe that the guys who wrote it is slated to do Doctor Strange in 2013. That’s gonna suck.

Just go out and buy Red Sonja. You can just borrow this from your Jason Momoa fan girl friend when it arrives on DVD.

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