Conan the Barbarian – I live, I love, I slay

Title: Conan the Barbarian

Director/Stars: Jason Momoa (Actor), Ron Perlman (Actor), Marcus Nispel (Director)

Genre: Fantasy

Watched: August 24, 2011

Summary: Plot holes galore, but fun!


The new Conan is surely a guilty pleasure for the fantasy hound like myself. Yeah, the plot and characterization is a little weak, but it is gorgeous, and the action is comprehensible. I have to admit, I enjoyed it. It’s certainly faster paced than the awesome although slightly dated and admittedly cheesy original — my recent review here.

The casting is decent enough. Jason Momoa lacks a bit of the gravitas he had as Drogo in Game of Thrones, perhaps because he speaks English here. He has charisma, and handles the action well, but the American accent really bugged me, and he plays it with a touch of the comedic. Ron Perlman is fun as dad, although he doesn’t mention Crom, but he does talk about the secret of steel — at least indirectly. Stephen Lang has already proven he makes a good one-dimensional bad guy (although he’s no James Earl Jones). There are a bevy of distinctively made up sub-bosses, although none of them are as cool as Rexor and the other headbanger. Rachel Nichols is a little dull as the screaming victim/love interest, although she’s cute enough. But call me twisted, I thought Rose McGowan was hot and funny as nasty sorcerer-girl daughter of big-bad. Yeah her fivehead is CG, but she’s looking great for 38.

And the world looks awesome! The cities and temples (as seen in overhead shots) look totally kick ass. Funny too that they’re all so close together, as it never seems to take anyone more than an hour to ride/walk between locations. I guess the lack of public transit notwithstanding, the Age of Hyboria predates traffic. This is a fairly authentic (to the 1930s source material) Conan world. It has slave girls. Even George R. R. Martin likes slave girls. Said women in bondage are properly absent their tops.

The action scenes are fun and surprisingly clear. They could have edited this to death like a lot of recent movies, but you can make sense of what’s going on in a physical way. I had the good fortune to see it in 2D, without sunglasses.

Someone also did their medieval torture research. The noseless sub-boss employs a genuine torture device in his nameless workcamp. It’s somewhere between The Head Crusher and the Thumbscrew, but it’s real. I went to a torture museum in Volterra Italy, home of Twilight’s most leather-conscious vampire clan, so I’m all up on this stuff. Later in the movie, Tamara spends some quality time bound to a wheel, which is most reminiscent of this, fortunately for her, she’s way too pretty to break and leave for dead. Big-bad even uses a clever homebrew version of the Lead Sprinkler to harass Conan and dad.

But there are a lot of lost opportunities here. The backstory intro is cheesy as hell and not really necessary. Conan has some friends, but we don’t get to see him meet them, nor do they play a really important role in the story. There’s basically no characterization of anyone, but there could have been. Star Wars and Raiders of the Lost Ark manage to characterize and have plenty of action. We don’t really find out much about the world or any people in it, instead it merely serves as pretty backdrop.


But did I mention I really liked skanky sorcerer-girl Marique?

However, I do have a few questions:

Who cut infant Conan’s umbilical cord? Why did the big-bad bother with the whole “torture dad” bit when his little witch-daughter could just sniff out the mask piece anyway?  When Conan and friends role a bunch of boulders down at the slavers, how is it that they miss hitting all the slaves? Imagine the coincidence that after 20 years of searching for the “pure blood”, Conan arrives at the temple on the exact day in which the big-bad finds her. If sub-boss Remo is such a badass, why does he run from Conan the moment he sees him? Why does the big-bad travel with a ship carried on the back of twenty elephants? And given said elephants, why does he need a whipping crew of slaves to pull it too? And given all that, how do they get the ship on and off the elephants without a crane? Why after big-bad and daughter fall for the ancient trick of being taunted to kill their informant (the old priest) do they gloat? Why did not much come of sorcerer-girl’s poison? Why don’t we see sorcerer-girl at the hair salon, obviously this is where she spends most of her time? Why does Conan let the girl go wander in the woods after sex, knowing that the bad guy is looking for her? And where did those woods come from anyway, as they were on a rocky coastline? Oh, and when sorcerer-girl leaves a calling claw, how is it that she has all five a minute later? How does Conan manage to ride all the way to the city of thieves and back to big-bad’s hideout in about an hour? Why does the hideout have a little monster fun pool in the basement? How does Conan get out of said hideout? And how does his thieving friend? Why if sorcerer-girl is so badass, does she fall for a little cat-fight action and not pull out some new magic at the end? Why if this mask is so powerful does it not really help the big-bad any? Or even curse him as payback for his big-badness? After winning, why does Conan drop off the girl at home and ride off into the sunset with hardly a word of explanation? Surely he could have brought her home to his ruined hovel or had at least one more literal roll in the hay!

Overall, though, it’s about 1000 times better than the Clash of the Titans remake.

For my review of the original manly man Arnold version, click here.

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Conan the Barbarian – Lamentation of their women

Title: Conan the Barbarian

Director/Stars: Arnold Schwarzenegger (Actor), James Earl Jones (Actor)

Genre: Drama

Watched: August 3, 2011 (and before)

Summary: Still one of the great fantasy films


In honor of the upcoming remake of this classic, the  release of the blu-ray, and the political demise of its star, I decided to rewatch this for like the 10th time — I think the last time was in 1997.

During the long long dark ages of fantasy filmmaking, before the wonder that is Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings, or the epic new HBO Game of Thrones, we fantasy fans had to be content with a sorry set of films indeed. Above the pathetic likes of Willow and Krull, the 1982 Dino De Laurentiis epic starring the pre-Terminator Mr. Universe was high art indeed. In fact, it’s pretty much hands down the best High Fantasy film prior to LOTR.

It’s fascinating to see how it’s aged. Pretty well.

Technically, the blu-ray isn’t radically better than the DVD in the picture quality department, although it looks good. There is some film grain from the era, and the movie has a lot of contrast which strains my plasma (I need to get an LCD or good new projector). The sound needed a major new restoration it didn’t get, it was pretty terrible. Which is a shame given the spectacular score. Nevertheless, none of this takes much away from the film.

This movie has blood, guts, and tits, snakes, swords, cannibals, wizards and all that long before HBO. Gotta love it. The period head-banger stylings of everyone, particularly the bad guys are great fun.

I love this trio of baddies. Check out heavy metal guitarist Nigel Tufnel on the right. Love him. And James Earl Jones is fantastic as cruel neo-hippy-killer Thulsa Doom. “Steel is week, flesh is strong!”

This movie feels big. It uses wide open location shots in Andalusia Spain to good effect, big sets, and crazy costumes. It’s just plain unabashed. Sure the dialog is laughably cheesy and the script ham-handed. Transitions are abrupt and there is little to no character development. But there are great lines like “time enough for the earth in the grave” and Atilla the Hun’s stolen quote, “To crush your enemies, see them driven before you, and to hear the lamentation of their women.” All good stuff.

What’s also very interesting is the forgotten style of epic storytelling, which has more in common with Lawrence of Arabia than it does with modern action crap like Transformers. This film has long Easy Rider style travel scenes with just the thunderous score and more interestingly, several almost ballet like giant action numbers with an operatic orchestral quality. These scenes, notably the raid on the Conan’s village, the assault on Set’s tower (awesome!), and the war-painted invasion of the cannibal Mountain of Power (more awesome!), have virtually no dialog. They have muted sound effects, but predominantly the mood is set with the booming orchestra and the intricately choreographed action, swaying as it does to the hypnotic score.

Really good stuff.

Peter Jackson knows his fantasy films, because he borrowed heavily from this in his own epic. Think the Black Riders at the Bree ferry, or the long descent to the bridge of Khazad-dûm. All favorite scenes of mine.

Michael Bey, eat your heart out!

Click for a review of the new 2011 Conan.

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