Title: Conan The Barbarian
Director: Marcus Nispel
Writers: Thomas Dean Donnelly, Joshua Oppenheimer, and Sean Hood (Based on the works of Robert E. Howard)
Distributed By: Lionsgate
Starring: Jason Momoa, Ron Perlman, Stephen Lang, Rachel Nichols, Rose McGowan, Nonso Anozie
Release Date: August 19, 2011
MPAA: Rated R
Article written by Guest Journalist Aaron Nicewonger
A power-hungry man is on a quest for an ancient mask that will grant him immortality or god-like power, or something they never quite fully explain. It will bring his dead sorceress wife to life again. And apparently his sorceress wife and the mask will allow him to rule the world. But in order to do these things, he has to destroy Conan’s village and people, apparently. He also has to make a blood sacrifice with Conan’s love-interest. Wonder how it turns out for the unfortunate bastard? Of course you do!
The film begins with a narrative over a flashback, to set up the main story line of our villain’s quest.
Narrated by none other than Morgan Freeman…which, normally, should be cool. However, it’s delivered in that same down-home Memphis drawl that he invokes when narrating things like The Shawshank Redemption and March of the Penguins. It’s completely out of place and doesn’t fit the film at all. He could have easily channeled some sort of intensity in his voice more befitting a fantasy sword-fighting action flick. Did he forget that he was in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves?
*The ONLY Spoiler in this review needs to be mentioned.*
Following the phoned-in intro, the audience is treated to the most over-the-top character introduction ever put to film. A pregnant woman is fighting in the midst of a huge battle, and the camera is circling the fetus inside her womb. She’s mortally wounded and cries for her husband (Ron Perlman), telling him she needs to see her son before dying. Corin (Perlman) proceeds to gut her like a fish with his dagger and pull the baby out. She names him Conan and instantly dies in a manner akin to Natalie Portman in Revenge of the Sith. Corin holds the baby aloft like he’s in The Lion King and begins to scream into the camera. All the while, a battle is still going on. And apparently everyone is ignoring the troubled couple.
*That will be the only spoiler of this review. Normally I avoid them, but that was so ridiculous that it had to be shared.*
The next scene is years later, and we learn quickly that young Conan is brash and impulsive and desires nothing but to prove himself a true Cimmerian warrior.
Shortly after a few scenes showing his nature, and developing his relationship with his father, the village is sacked and burnt to a cinder, like the beginnings of so many good movies before it. Thus begins Conan’s quest for revenge.
Normally, when telling you about a film’s under-performance, one might say something like, “Well the cast did the best with the poor script they were given,” but that wouldn’t be true here.
The only three actors here that seem to care about their performance, that seem to take this seriously, are Ron Perlman and the star, Jason Momoa; and Leo Howard deserves major accolades for giving it everything he’s got with his performance as Young Conan. Everyone else in the film overacts with such ham-fisted zeal that it’s hard to reconcile that they’re appearing in the same film. Ron Perlman gives the most endearing performance in the film, and Jason Momoa gives the rawest, most real performance. But, the most entertaining performance goes to Conan’s best friend Artus, played by the talented Nonso Anozie. Which is sad really, because these actors have proven in other films (especially Stephen Lang) that they have real talent, yet do nothing to indicate that in this film.
While addressing complaints, I had no idea I’d be jumping on a bandwagon by disliking Tyler Bates. Apparently, a lot of people have a lot of issues with this composer. He’s been in trouble for plagiarizing other scores in the past it seems, and gets labeled as generic and lackluster when concerning his original pieces. That’s the impression I got here, as well. You could have swapped this score for any other generic action movie score, and you would never know the difference.
Which can be said for most of the film. Which seems to be the overall problem. It feels generic, lackluster, and frankly underdeveloped or unfinished.
For example, there’s a bit of a sub-plot hinted at between the father-daughter villain team where the daughter is jealous of her dead mother and wishes to replace her at her father’s side. We get about a minute of this in a really well done, really creepy scene, and that’s it. It’s never mentioned again. I expected it to come back, in the form of a double-cross or something, especially with all the opportunities the film gives it. That’s how most of this movie comes across. Unfinished. It just throws a new character or sub-plot at the viewer, and then they’re either gone for the rest of the movie or you see them pop up once for a minute.
Finally, one should mention two big faults this movie has. Cinematographer Thomas Kloss, and ALL 22 members of the Sound Department. This movie looks and sounds horrible. Lots of wasted camera work with no powerful angles or sweeping motions. Sure, there are a few standout moments, but mostly…nothing. And this has got to be one of the worst sound mixes put to film. The sound effects are loud and garish, and make it hard to hear anything else, and the music tends to overpower the dialogue. Manowar should be happy with the decibel level.
This movie has been touted up as being based on the original works of Robert E. Howard, and not being a reimagining of the Conan films of the 80s. Well, visually, the wardrobe seems based on the look of the Dark Horse comics (which are a reimagining of the Marvel comics based on REH’s work). And the scars are definitely inspired by the famous Conan paintings by Frank Frazetta. But the plot of this new film is undeniably a pastiche of the Conan films from ’82 and ’84. First part, Conan’s blacksmith-warrior father and his village are attacked by the evil villain, a la Conan the Barbarian (1982). The rest of the movie centers on the villain’s three-part quest for Godhood and world domination, a la Conan the Destroyer. But instead of “find gem, find horn, make sacrifice,” we get “find mask, find chosen one, make sacrifice.”
As a stand-alone film, I’d give this sword-and-sorcery/fantasy flick 4 out of 10. As both an adaptation of Robert E. Howard’s Conan and as an adaption of REH’s work as a whole, I’d give it 3 out of 10.
I hope you enjoyed reading this as much as I enjoyed writing it. And I hope you stick with us for the final entry in our month-long tribute to Conan.
Next week, All Things CONAN! We’re talkin’ games, spin-offs, comics, books/stories, even TV Shows!
Hope you all come back to check out the last week of Conan Month!