Thursday, August 18, 2011

Conan the Barbarian (2011)

Stars - Jason Momoa
          Ron Perlman
          Rose McGowan
Directed by: Marcus Nispel
Summary: The tale of Conan the Cimmerian and his adventures across the continent of Hyboria on a quest to avenge the murder of his father and the slaughter of his village.(via imdb). 
Well, I can't say I didn't know what I was getting into as I made my way to my seat. This is a movie that should be firmly within my demographic. I grew up on the Ah-nuld version and me and my friends would quote the movie incessantly for years to come:
"What is best in life?" 
"To crush your enemies, to see them driven before you, and to hear the lamentations of their women."
So, when this reboot was announced, I was excited. It's an unfortunate truth that many of the movies my generation enjoyed as children don't hold up well for our kids' generation. I was hoping for something I could hold up along the 1982 version and get my kids excited about... and then, the first trailer came out, and I immediately lost interest. And every trailer or commercial that followed it would fail to renew my interest. Why? Visually, I could tell the styling was right, except for Rose McGowan's makeup, which we'll discuss later. There was every indication that the action would be intense, brutal and gory. Check, check, check. So, why was I so indifferent?
My plan at that point, was to wait for it be on Netflix or on demand services. But then, I won tickets to see the movie thanks to the Preston and Steve Show and WMMR. Free is free, so I went.
It was pretty much exactly what I expected. Great action, cheesy, faux Visigoth dialogue and ideology, and, mostly, limited acting range. I wasn't overly impressed, nor was I overly disappointed either. Momoa is impressive and inhabits the character well as a son bent on avenging the death of his father. The material is more faithful to the true Conan canon than the 1982 version, but keeps a similar tone. 

The movie's opening concludes with the birth of Conan, untimely ripped from his stabbed, dying mother's womb. The dialogue and the baby "puppet" were so corny and unbelievable that what was meant to be a tender moment between the always impressive and badass Perlman and his wife elicited peals of laughter among the crowded theatre. At this point, I thought the movie was in trouble, and we're only about 15 minutes in. It is quickly made up for in the ensuing chapter showing scenes from Conan's youth. A very impressive Leo Howard (G.I. Joe, Kickin' It) steals the movie and the thunder as a very capable child warrior. In all honesty, this sequence is the best part of the movie. I hope he is able to parlay this into a future as a marquee action star. He definitely has the chops for it. 
The plot is contrived and predictable, but you're not really expecting much else as you bide your time between action sets. The action and the intensity of his demeanor are what allow Momoa to shine. I see this as a stepping stone to future stardom, much as the original role propelled Schwarzennegger to action hero. There are plot holes galore and lots of unnecessary nudity early in the film, and a weirdly unsexy and uncomfortable sex scene later(more laughter from the crowd), so parents beware. The blood and gore factor is high, but not nearly at a Saw or Hostel level. 
The ending is easier to see coming than a steroidal elephant with gigantism, but, even so, is not unsatisfying and sets up a possible sequel, a la Conan the Destroyer.
A couple of mini rants before I close. I did see the film in 3D, which can add some nice depth, but in action sequences, your eyes don't adjust fast enough, so the 3D becomes blurry. Also, if any future action directors are reading this, please listen closely...


Sorry for yelling, but it really peeves me. They choreograph ad practice these intense fight scenes, and the whole thing is lost as the camera zooms from one close-up segment to another. Whatever happened to pulling back and showing the work? A good full-framed action sequence does not lose the intensity the quick cuts are meant to portray and adds a real sense of battling. I will now step down from the soapbox. Thank you for your attention.
Lastly, my only other beef was that the film failed to throw any bones to those who only went to see this out of love for the original. I would have expected some of the more memorable dialogue to show up, but it was left out. The only real nod to the past is the design of the iconic sword. To sum it up, wait and catch this on the small screen if you can. If your thirst for all things barbarian cannot wait, cuddle up with the original and wait it out. And then, jump to the sequel and Red Sonja too.

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