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Conan the Barbarian
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The most legendary Barbarian of all time is back. Having thrived and evolved for eight consecutive decades in the public imagination -- in prose and graphics, on the big screen and small, in games and properties of all kinds -- Conan's exploits in the Hyborian Age now come alive like never before in a colossal action-adventure film.A quest that begins as a personal vendetta for the fierce Cimmerian warrior soon turns into an epic battle against hulking rivals, horrific monsters, and impossible odds, as Conan realizes he is the only hope of saving the great nations of Hyboria from an encroaching reign of supernatural evil.
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Although the film's set-up is the same as the '82 version -- raiders destroy Conan's Cimmerian village and thus the barbarian seeks revenge -- the ensuing story is completely different. The villains here are Khalar Zym and his witchy daughter, Marique, who seek to resurrect Zym's sorcerous wife, once they attain the needed pure blood necessary for their Acheron magic (or something to this effect).
- Jason Momoa, as Conan, is excellent. Far better than Arnie. It's hard to conceive of a better Conan.
- The Bulgarian locations are outstanding.
- The Costuming is more convincing than the '82 version. Conan's apparel, for instance, is more faithful to REH than Arnie's fur loincloth.
- Better acting than the '82 version, excluding James Earl Jones, of course.
- Brutal, thrilling action throughout.
- Convincing swordplay.
- Corsairs, highlighted by Conan's comrade Artus, effectively played by likable Nonso Anozie.
- Excellent sets/props. It definitely looks like the Hyborian Age.
- Good serious vibe, despite the cartooney, over-the-top last act.
- Rose McGowan as the witchy daughter is ee-vil and creepy.
- Ron Perlman as Conan's father is outstanding.
- The whole opening sequence.
- I liked how the film stressed the closeness and love of Conan and his father. There's a correlation between true greatness and a close relationship with a strong father-figure and his example of excellence.
- You have to give credit to the filmmakers for effectively illustrating Conan's youthful days and life in a Cimmerian village in general, something Conan's creator never delved into in any detail.
WHAT DOESN'T WORK:
- Deviated from Robert E. Howard, albeit not as much as the '82 version. Regardless, it certainly adhered to REH's overall pulp vibe. I'd prefer to see one of REH's originals put to film, like "A Witch Shall be Born" or "Beyond the Black River."
- Stephan Lang as Zym makes a worthy enough villain for Conan, but he comes off too cliched and cartoony, especially in the final act. James Earl Jones' Thulsa Doom worked better, likely because he was so unique.
- Rachel Nichols' Tamara is solid as the female protagonist, but she doesn't hold a candle to Sandahl Bergman's Valeria.
- The score is serviceable but pales in comparison with Basil Poledouris' score from the '82 version and "Conan The Destroyer." This score defintely won't be celebrated 30 years later like Basil's. Why didn't they just update Polerdouris' score?
- Too much "Modern Blockbuster Syndrome" that appeals to those with ADHD.
- Especially the over-the-top final act, which is way too comic booky. It's cartoony overkill, pure and simple. But, then again, it did bring to mind REH's "Jewels of Gwahlur," so maybe it's not so far off the mark.
- The 3D format was interesting but unnecessary. Why do theaters burden films with this needless expense?
- The biggest flaw was that there wasn't enough depth. The film needed more 'downtime' to contrast the wall-to-wall action, like campfire scenes (which would better indicate distances), more camaraderie on the ship, more development of Conan & Tamara's relationship, etc. Although it had some of this, it wasn't enough. Action sequences naturally hold more weight when the audience cares about the characters. As it is, it's clear that the filmmakers wanted to make an action flick above all else and this weakens the film.
- Along with lack of depth was the lack of epic-ness or moving moments. The '82 film deviated from REH but at least it made up for it with depth and epic-ness. For instance, when Conan & Subotai make their stand against the riders of doom or Conan's moving victory salute, not to mention the potent love & death/funeral scenes, etc. This 2011 version had glimpses of this, like when Conan is birthed on the battlefield then raised to the sky and when Conan's father expresses his love with his final act, but -- again -- it needed more.
The film runs 113 minutes.
THE DVD: I have to admit that I enjoyed the movie slightly more on non-3D DVD. Need I point out that the cover of the DVD is Conan to a 't'? The extras include a director's commentary (Marcus Nispel), a commentary with Momoa and McGowan, a 12-minute feature on REH, a slightly longer one on the character of Conan, and a couple of features on the action scenes.
CONCLUSION: The filmmakers got a lot of things right, like Momoa as Conan and the authentic look/feel of the Hyborian Age. The film's not bad at all and pulsates with energy, but it needed more depth, epic-ness and uniqueness to pull it out of its "blockbuster" mediocrity. It's violence for the sake of violence, which gets dull by the 90-minute mark, plus the last act is just cartooney overkill. Here's hoping that there will be a future Director's Cut DVD with important character-defining moments that were needlessly cut for the theatrical release ("Daredevil (Director's Cut)" comes to mind).
UPDATE: I just finished my third viewing of the movie and, I have to say, I was entertained from beginning to end. Isn't this the most important factor when viewing a movie, particularly an action-adventure one? Yes, it lacks the epic-ness and magic of the '82 version; and its focus on wall-to-wall action limits the film's effectiveness, but it's still a very worthy Conan movie. It's serious and brutal, and -- thankfully -- lacks "cute" characters. It's certainly better than "Conan the Destroyer" and leagues better than "Red Sonja" and (rolling my eyes) "Kull the Conqueror."
GRADE: Visually and action-wise, this is a Grade A adaption of Conan all the way, but storywise I'd give it a C+ or B-, even though it has a couple glimpses of greatness. Overall Grade: B
Pretty much sat and waited for the movie to end. Thank god it was a short movie.
I rent movies from Netflix before I buy since 3D Blu-rays can be more expensive.
For some reason Hollywood seems to think that a better image, sound, or 3D make up for bad writing/acting...they don't.
Also, don't buy the first edition of anything, there is always an "Extended", "Super", "Ultimate", "Collectors" version of whatever movie at some point. I used to do it but I'm sick of the double, triple dipping...hear me Disney and your "Ultimate", "Platinum", "Gold", "Silver", "Special Anniversary" 3D, DVD , Blu-ray versions of all of your movies. I will no longer buy anything from any distributor until it's been out for at least a year. Even then I will buy one version of your movie and no more.
Oh, and Flixster.com/UltraViolet sucks! If you see a movie with a digital UltraViolet copy don't buy it. If you give me a digital version of a movie, don't make visit a new site or make me register for a new service. I already have one and don't care about all of the other services. It's also not a real digital copy as much as streaming service so if you're not on a wifi connection you can't view your movie.
Johnny himself was my lifelong best friend/fill-in dad/and hero. Where I was a geek;he was the family black sheep, given to brooding; brawling (he never lost a fight in or out of the boxing ring!)and a temper that made The Hulk look like a school-girl. I tell you this, not to share my life's story,but to explain my vested interest in;indeed, love for,the character REH created. Because, with the rage; the blue eyes; the brooding; the lustiness;etc.,when I read the books, I saw Johnny as the character. Sadly, I lost him 2 years ago.And with him,my world.So, if anybody had a personal reason to view the new "Conan the Barbarian" with a wary eye, it was me. And I was blown away!
I won't list each and every little thing they got right...we'd be here all day. But I will say that it is 90% the essence of Howard's character.There's also some of Thomas's; Truman's...hell, even a nod or two to Milius, who clearly didn't get Conan at all! (Groveling and whining at an enemies feet; looking ashamed,head down, refusing to meet a king's gaze, in a throne room?!This is NOT Conan! Where's the arrogance? The defiance in the face of his captors? The rage at his enemies?...In the Nispel version, that's where!)
There are those who say it should have gone to a Cameron; a Jackson; even Ridley Scott or Mel Gibson. Jackson, based on the first 2 "Rings" films, okay. But "Return of the King";"King Kong"? They are 'disappointing' to be kind. Cameron hasn't made a film with true excitement and rooting interest since "Aliens";Scott has way too many muted conversations and far too much "Saving-Private-Ryan"-shaky-cam action in "Gladiator and His "Kingdom of Heaven" & "Robin Hood"? Yawn! Gibson has too many scenes of basically the same conversation between Robert the Bruce and Wallace in "Braveheart" and his action is either poorly photographed or nonexistant.(A siege that sort of begins;is never shown;and the next scene we see Wallace and company fleeing the burning ruins? Sheesh!)
Howard's Conan lived life.His actions,swift and brutal;his lustiness almost without measure; a "Blood red haze" didn't swim before his eyes because he was the village idiot(like the '80s versions.) He ate and drank all aspects of life like a starving man at a feast.And this is what the 2011 film captures: with its cast; its director;its photography;its costuming...even the music is better than I expected. Is it perfect? No.Duh. Movies are made by people and people are far from it.But Mamoa owns the part like Craig owns Bond.And the rest of the cast backs him up at every turn. If you've only seen it once( or worse,took a friend's advice and not seen it at all) give it a chance on dvd. It pays homage to almost every incarnation of the character and Mamoa is riveting to watch.And for less than 100 million dollars? In this day and age? Hell, it looks like it cost twice that much!
Finally,I can say, after almost forty years, I've seen the 'real' Conan on the screen! I just hope the spirit of my big brother was there to see it with me. Rick Garrett