CONAN The Barbarian - Review of the 2011 Film

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Supplement Four
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CONAN The Barbarian - Review of the 2011 Film

Postby Supplement Four » Sat Aug 20, 2011 7:30 am

EATING A LITTLE CROW





I predicted that this film would suck and suck in a major way. I went into the film (I had to see it--I'm a Conan fan) thinking it would be a waste of money. I thought I'd roll my eyes and secretly cry that "they" are screwing up the presentation of my favorite barbarian. At best, I thought this film would be a PRINCE OF PERSIA or a CLASH OF THE TITANS--a forgettable film that, although I enjoyed seeing, I would forget as soon as I got to my car outside the theater. But, my fear was that the film would be The Scorpion King or The Mummmy--a CGI action fest that bored me to tears (cliched line for cliched movies).

Well, it's time to eat a little crow.

I liked it, guys and gals. I really did.

Is it the answer to all of my Conan hopes and prayers? Definitely not. It's not to Conan fans what Lord of the Rings is to LotR fans. It's not the Holy Grail of Sword & Sorcery films, and not, by a long shot, the mother of all Conan films, of which I have been praying, for over a decade.

But, it is a good film. It is a watchable film. The movie reminds me of a fun pastiche Conan novel--something that John Maddox Roberts or Lin Carter would write. And, that, right there, made it so much better than what I had expected.

I hope the film does well. I see the critics are kicking the hell out of it. I am encouraged by the Batman franchise. Batman Begins is a so-so film, I think. I like the sober take on the caped crusader, but the film does not rock my world. Then, The Dark Knight hit screens. OH...MY...GOD...what a movie!

I hoping that Conan The Barbarian will be to its sequel what Batman Begins was to The Dark Knight--that we go from "OK. Pretty Good. Better Than I Thought" to "BEST FREAKIN' CONAN MOVIE EVER MADE".

But, that's hopes for the future. Let's look a little closer at CONAN THE BARBARIAN as I highlight what I liked and disliked about it.





SPOILERS BE HERE!
I probably shouldn't have to spoiler tag in a thread about reviews, but I will, anyway, just to be on the safe-side. I'd say I've got light spoilers below.







~ ACTING ~

Everybody in the film, from the non-speaking roles on up, are very good*. At the top of the heap, the most memorable performances are turned in by Rose McGowan and Leo Howard. Rose plays Marique, the bad guy's sorcery steeped daughter, and she hams up the role to perfection. I wouldn't give her an Oscar, but I have no doubt in my mind that she was the right person for the role.

Surprisingly, Leo Howard, playing the young Conan, is actually better onscreen than Momoa is playing the adult Conan. Leo turns in a performance that, for me, is spot on, selling me on him growing up to be the grim, savage barbarian that Howard gave us. I think the Nispel needs to have his casting direction ring up George Lucas that next time George needs to portray Darth Vader as a kid. Leo Howard's young Conan chews up and spits out Jake Lloyd's young Anakin Skywalker. Don't think Jake in The Phantom Menace--think about the performance Haley Joel Osment gave us in The Sixth Sense. Leo Howard is just flat-out "good" in this movie.

On the next tier, I'd put Stephen Lang Ron Perlman. Lang chews up the screen as the film's bad guy, Khalar Zim. I bought him completely as a power-hungry zealot. The mark of a good performance is that he left me thinking that there is a lot more to his story than what we saw on the screen in the film. I bet an entire prequel could be made (Maybe in book form one day? I'd buy it! Hell, maybe Dark Horse will take a swing at this?) that would fill in the gaps. He's a good bad-guy, worthy of taking his place next to Thulsa Doom from the original Conan movie.

Perlman isn't on the screen long, and he doesn't have many lines. But, I think Perlman's shows his his best work since playing Hell Boy (C'mon. He was good in that role even if you didn't like the films!) Perlman, playing Conan's father in this film, shows us (and those not so learned in the ways of Conan) what it means to be a "Cimmerian". Perlman took the part and made it more than it was (is my guess).





Two Exceptions...

*I had to throw up an asterix on that first line of this section because I'm not being entirely truthful to you. Remember, this is all my opinion. So, a more truthful, revised statement would read: Everybody in the film, from the non-speaking roles on up, are very good, with two exceptions.

It's a drag that the two exceptions I'm about to name are the male and female leads in the film.

Momoa is acceptible as Conan. Physically, he looks the part. I never thought of Conan as a Schwarzenegger body builder, as the character is always depicted, from the excellent works of Frazetta to the character's appearances in comics. The curly, rather than straight, hair doesn't bother me. And, I kept looking to see if the filmmakers colored Momoa's eyes blue. I couldn't tell. In the end, brown or blue, it doesn't bother me that much.

I'm not trying to say that Jason Momoa is a "bad" Conan. He's not. Far from it. I was just hoping for a "perfect" Conan, the way Daniel Craig is "perfect" to play Bond (not physically, but Craig really captures the "essence" of Bond if you've read Fleming's books). Momoa doesn't seem to quite "get" the character, the way Howard wrote him. Momoa seems an amalgam of Conan characters by different writers, from the dark and brooding Conan that Howard originated, to Robert Jordan's more light hearted hero, with a touch of the Conan that we've seen in the comics. Hopefully, in a sequel, Momoa will better understand and express the character he is playing.

To be fair, although I think Christian Bale deserved the Oscar he got for his role in The Fighter, I'm not that excited about his portrayal of Batman. And, The Dark Knight is still a damn good film. I can forsee a "great" Conan film even with Momoa continuing in the role.

But, folks, there is one bad actor in this film. Rachel Nichols is just "NOT GOOD" in her role. She looks (and acts) like she just stepped off of Sex And The City to do this role. She's totally mis-cast. Everytime she was on screen, she pulled me out of my suspension of disbelief. I kept thinking, "She's too 'modern'. She looks like a last minute quick-cast for a TV show.

I didn't like her in the role at all.





One more thing....

Oh...and one more thing.... Isn't that Morgan Freeman doing the honors as narrator? Uncredited?





~ WRITING & DIRECTING ~

I'm very surprised to report that the story "ain't half bad". As I said above, the movie does play out like one of those TOR pastiche novels by one of the better authors. And, parts of the plot are also a homage to the original film: Conan's dad makes a sword for him--the sword is taken when entire village is whiped out by the bad guy--Conan escapes and vows revenge--Conan meets up with bad guy years later after Conan is a bad ass.

One thing that the screenwriters did, though, that I think was very smart (and unexpected), is that they crafted the story around Howard's Conan tales. Howard never wrote a story set during Conan's youth. The screenwriters started there and skipped the majority of Howard's stories. Although we see Conan's youth in the beginning of the film, the movie isn't a standard origin tale. We see Conan being born on a battlefield. We see Conan when he begins his warrior training among his clan. Then, we skip several years of Conan's life after many, many adventures that Howard has told us. Conan is in his prime when he catch back up with him again, and the subtext and voice over tells us that he's already been that new-to-civilization thief in Zamora and a pirate on the Great Western Ocean. Jason Momoa is in his early 30's, which is about in sync with Howard's story, taking the character to somewhere around the tales of Iron Shadows in the Moon or The Devil in Iron.

If CPI wanted to, the powers-that-be could make the tale told in the movie "official" and never step on any of Howard's toes with any of the Conan tales.

I think that was a brilliant move.





Cheesy lines....

With three writers on the film, though, I would hope that all the cheesy lines and situations were sandblasted from the final script. But, alas, a few eye-rollers did get through. For example, when Conan finds the man who killed his father, Khalar Zim, Conan's comrades--a whole ship full of 'em--pledge their allegiance to him and offer to go after Zim in force. Conan lowers his eyes so that he's peeking just under his Cro-Magnon brow and says, in a low, gravely voice, "I go alone on this one."

Oh God. Are you kidding me? Really? You've got an entire ship full of people to help you go against one of the biggest warlords known in this part of the world, and you decide to go it alone? You're that much a hero, huh? Gimme a break.





Scratching my head...

Another thing that got me to scratching my head was this big ship that Khalar Zim carries along with him wherever he goes. It's carried by elephants, surrounded by Zim's army. He uses it for his moble bedchamber. When I saw this in the trailer, I rolled my eyes and thought it was stupid. In the film, it actually came across as "cool". But, I kept waiting for Zim to throw the thing in the water. Why carry a ship--not a boat, but a ship--around with you if you're not going to cross some water with it? Zim uses the ship as a battering ram in one scene, and the rest of the time, it's his casa-on-the-trail, but not once does it even rain on the ship, much less have its keel sink into an ocean or a sea.





A prayer for excellence....

One final comment and a question pertaining to the writing of the film: What I really wanted to see was not another Conan-loses-his-village-tale. Why does Conan's village have to burned to the ground? I would love to see a well written, dramatic, well acted set-up where Conan's grandfather is feeding young Conan tales of traveling out of Cimmeria into the civilized lands and seeing Conan hang on his grandfather's every word and then struck with wanderlust once Conan grew to an adult. Sure, you can throw in an action scene, if you need to while still pulling this off. I mean, Conan doesn't have to be enslaved and/or have everyone he knows killed in front of his eyes. Hell, Khalar Zim could have been an underling that was in a Pict/Vanir/Hyrkanian/Other-Cimmerian-Clan raid upon Conan's village who killed his young love interest--but the raid was driven off by the Cimmerians. They don't all have to die to give us an engaging Conan tale. I'd like to see Conan return to his village in a later Conan movie and maybe see his grandfather or father die or old age, or a deer antler puncture, or even by the hand of the bad guy in that later film.

But, there's nothing to do about it now. It was just a hope of mine.

And, good God, I wish no character had ever uttered the word "Hyboria" in the movie. Thankfully, it doesn't happen that often.



My question: In the film, Conan returns to The City of Thieves. Now, I know that Howard never officially named the City of Thieves or indicated that it had a name other than that. I think it was de Camp & Co. that named the city as Arenjun. Is there some sort of licensing issue to where the screenwriters couldn't refer to the City of Thieves as "Arenjun"? Because, in the film, the place is named something else--I don't remember the exact spelling. But, it's close to "Arenjun", starting with an "A", though it is a different word.

If there is no reason why Arenjun wasn't used, then my question is: Why wasn't it?

If there is some legal reason why the name of the city was changed, then my question is: Why didn't the screenwriters just refer to the place (using the on-screen location titles, as was done in the film) as "The City of Thieves" and leave it at that? Why rename the place? Especially since legal reasons and licensing issues can change in the future?





Directing....

Nispel's directing is quite capable. I think the dark, brooding, tense atmosphere of Pathfinder would have been better served on this film. Much of Nispel's earlier film reminds me of a well told Conan tale.

On the other hand, Pathfinder didn't hold up as a "good" film, in my opinion, and Conan is a much better flick.

If you took the best aspects of Pathfinder and combined those with the best aspects of this Conan movie, you'd have a Conan tale that is much closer to "Great" than the movie that we have. I'm actually surprised that parts of Pathfinder make me think of what a Conan movie should be but nothing in the Conan film would transfer well to the Pathfinder film, in my opinion.

The opening of this film, set in Cimmeria, is done quite well. When the lights went out, I expected to start seeing that crappy, campy film I thought I was going to get. Instead, I was glued to my seat until Conan became a man. Good stuff.

I was worried that seeing young 12-year-old Conan fight would make me cringe, my suspension of disbelief destroyed by the young kid kicking adult seasoned warrior butt. But...it was done quite well. I would have preferred that Conan fight a single Pict adult warrior--not a squad of them. One kid besting a adult. Yes. That would have been better--much more believeable. But, I'll be darned, Conan fighting three still made me smile, and when young Conan dropped those three heads at his father's feet...well, I'm giving away too much. Yeah. It was cool.

I think the highlight of the directing in the film is the action scenes. I was afraid that Nispel was going to go all Matrix on us and have Conan jumping and zipping around as the trailer would have us believe. To my complete surprise, this isn't the case. Conan fights like a caged animal who has learned a few tricks, and since this film is set later in Conan's life, after several experiences described in Howard's tales, I can believe that Conan has, indeed, picked up a few tricks and polished his form a bit, displayed as it is in the film.

I like, too, that the film shows lots of hero-realistic blood. That type of thing definitely fits dark and gritty "Conan".

I also smiled at an early scene, an homage to one of my favorite Dark Horse Conan comics. This scene...



Image



Is directly copied at the end of the pre-credit teaser opening as Conan is literally born on the battlefield.

I cheered at that one.



Comment: It's interesting the pronounciations used in the film. Acheron is not "Awk-er-on", as I've always said it and heard it. It's "Ah-sure-on", with the "ch" taking on the "sh" sound. And "Hyrkania", which I've always thought of as "Her-conn-ee-ah" sprouts another syllable and becomes "High-er-Cain-ee-ah".







~ Production Values ~

The sights and sounds in this film are...fantastic. I worried that the film would look "too CGI". It doesn't. And, I hate period pieces (or pseudo-period pieces, such as this one) where the costumes look like they were not hand made but just fell off the costume designer's modern day sewing machine. The Lord of the Rings films use fantasic, believeable, costumes. King Arthur is one of those films where the costumes don't sell the time period. Yes, folks, the wardrobe and props in Conan look damn good.

I was worried about the gadget sword that Khalar Zim uses. If he uses it one handed, he fights with a fork-like dual bladed weapon. He can zip it open and use it like a long two-sided sword. Or, he can snape the two sword blades apart and fight with one sword in each hand.

This is, again, another area where I was pleasantly surprised. The weapon wasn't over used, never focussed upon, and came across as "cool" when it was used in the film.

All the sets, all the armor, all the weapons...just downright looked good and "fit" the Hyborian Age. Enough "fantasy" is mixed in with the history-esque stuff that it provides for an imaginative, alien-if-familair, world.

The story takes us to several places during the Hyborian Age. We see Cimmeria, Zingara, The City of Thieves, and even an ancient Acheronian monastery. I smiled when this large, port-side metropolis came onscreen with the title "Messantia" written across the bottom. The original Conan film did its share of traveling, too, but I think this film did a much better job of making us feel like we were really witnessing the action in different places. This is due to the outstanding visuals.





A note on CGI....

I expected the film to look, well, too "CGI". And, although I think almost every scene in the film might have a touch of CGI in it, I'll go on record here and say that this is some of the best CGI work I've seen simply because the film doesn't look like a collection of obviously CGI enhanced footage. The producers must be using a new technique.

95% of the film looks fantastic. I was amazed. There is a fight scene, though, with some half-seen tentacled beast where the tentacles are obviously the old, stick-out-like-a-sore-thumb CGI effects. Remember the octo-beastie outsides the gates of Moria in The Fellowship of the Ring? Well, these tentacles look just as obviously "CGI".

Also, even with the neat-o CGI background, there are a couple of close-up shots where it looks like back-projection was used. You remember back-projection, right? It's when a screen is thrown up behind actors displaying a background while the actors act in front of the scene on a stage. This technique was used in the 40's and 60's, especially in scenes where the camera was on two actors sitting in the back of a cab while the city flew by outside the cab's back window. There's something a little "fake" about it, and I got that same "fake" feeling a few times seeing Conan in closeup with a CGI background in the back.





~ THUMBS UP, OR THUMBS DOWN? ~

If you want a solid rating, I'd give this film 3.5 stars out of 5. Not bad, when I was expecting to give it a "1". I'd give it a C+, on the standard grade-school ABCDF grading system. The film is a bit over a passing grade but not quite up there with the "A" and "B" best-films-I've-ever-seen movies. I reserve movies like Falling Down, Forrest Gump, Glengary Glen Ross, and Blow for those ratings.

Yes, it's a good film. Go see it.

Yes, I think Conan fans will like it more than non-Conan fans because, as a Conan fan, I "understood" the things that were not spelled out in the film.

And, yes, I hope there is a sequel, and I hope that sequel simple rock my world and drives me to write a single word review of that in-the-future movie by saying "GREAT" and just leaving it at that.
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Re: CONAN The Barbarian - Review of the 2011 Film

Postby Boneguard » Sat Aug 20, 2011 1:44 pm

I pretty much agree with you. Not great, but not bad either. and overall pretty well done and with good realistic CGI for the most part.

And Jason Momoa was wearing blue contacts -I was looking for that and in one scene you can briefly see it.

Now If they do go ahread with the Red Sonja Remake with Rose McGowan as Red it should be awesome, she was pretty good as Marique.
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Re: CONAN The Barbarian - Review of the 2011 Film

Postby Supplement Four » Sun Aug 21, 2011 3:15 am

There is one interesting game-related moment in the film. In the Cimmeria sourcebook, it is mentioned that when Cimmerians see hooded crows that they believe the crow signals the site of a battlefield. It's one of the few Cimmerian superstitiions mentioned in that game aid.

Well, there is a very short shot of a hooded crow (a hooded crow is a dark colored crow with a white apron around its neck) pecking on a body at the end of the scene where Conan's village is decimated.

Now, where Lawrence Whitaker, the writer of the Cimmeria game supplement, got that idea, I don't know. Maybe he made it up. But, I suspect that it might be a true Celtic superstition as I've seen several Celtic-isms make it into the book (like the Beltain festival) as Cimmerian-isms.

So, I doubt that the hooded crow makes an appearance because of the d20 Conan RPG, but it is kinda neat that it's in there.
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Re: CONAN The Barbarian - Review of the 2011 Film

Postby MidnightSun » Sun Aug 21, 2011 4:40 am

Crows have always been symbols of death and war. They are in fact rather intelligent creatures. A modern crow for example, knows when to drop a nut on a crossing and when it's green light to pick it up. (see what i did with the green light? hehe)

http://youtu.be/loywBRJS9I0
Video at 45 seconds.

Now the "back in the day" crows were just as smart. They would follow travelling armies knowing that battles will ensue with many injured and dead. Then they would feast upon what they can scavenge. This is why a crow is associated with death and battle. They're not prophets, but they indeed tend to circle the dying. That's where the superstition that a crow is a sign of death comes from, I think.

Now this is obviously not the explanation, but I thought it's interesting enough to have some merit.
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Re: CONAN The Barbarian - Review of the 2011 Film

Postby Da Boss » Sun Aug 21, 2011 12:18 pm

Really looking forward to Conan - the trailer looked great.

although I hope it will be alot better than Batman Begins / Dark Knight which I found overlong and tedious in places with only one good character...........
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Re: CONAN The Barbarian - Review of the 2011 Film

Postby Supplement Four » Mon Aug 22, 2011 2:43 pm

This shouldn't come as a surprise to Conan fans (in fact, most Conan fans embrace it), but I should have mentioned in my revidew that there is plenty of blood and grit in the new Conan film--probably more than I've seen in most other movies. Think "Spartacus", the new series, with a little more reality to it, and you'll have it about right.

There's a scene where the bad guy slams a monks head on the ground, braining him in an Al Capone kind of way. Big circle of blood on the marble steps. Lots of limbs flying and blood in the combat scenes, and there's an action scene about every 10 minutes.

That type of thing is "Conan" and fits Howard's universe well, but that type of graphic violence isn't for everyone.
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Re: CONAN The Barbarian - Review of the 2011 Film

Postby rabindranath72 » Tue Aug 23, 2011 6:11 pm

Watched it, didn't like it at all. It's a passable fantasy film, but it's not Conan. And re-threading the same theme of the 1982 film is just LAME. For Crom's sake, would have it been so f***ing difficult to adapt one of Howard's stories instead of hiring some 2nd rate screenwriter?!?!? I mean, Hour of the Dragon would have made for an EPIC film.
Another point: Conan lends itself well to episodic treatment. With a bit of foresight, they might have planned something like Pirates of the Caribbean; take the main character, and narrate his adventures. Perhaps progressing in time; so the first film might have been about the Tower of the Elephant, the last one The Hour of the Dragon.
Seeing how bad this did at the box office, I fear it might have well poisoned the franchise for the next 20 years. SHAME on you Paradox for allowing this s**t!!! :evil: :evil: :evil:
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Re: CONAN The Barbarian - Review of the 2011 Film

Postby LucaCherstich » Thu Aug 25, 2011 7:22 pm

I've seen the movie on monday night.
I really liked the visual references to ancient world (e,g, the Nemrud Dagh statues from Turkey, or a few scenes which resemble archeological sites in Syria and Iraq), the yremind me of that mix between cultures which the HYborian Age was.
I like the costumes and weapons, quite good for the Hyborian Age.

What if we do not consider the scenography/costume side but just the movie side, my considerations change....

It's a passable movie for my tastes...but what makes me angry is that this movie had all the elements to make it good (scenography, actors, etc...) but it was not made so!
I like Momoa's Conan (who is teh REH Conan more than Arnie was)....but who did the screenplay, who wrotes the diaogues, or the director are all, plainly said, low level and poor professionists.

Combat scenes cannot be watched.
Too quick and confunsionary.
I got bored by many of them.
John Milius slow combat were much more enjoable.
I'm not saying that everybody should copy that style.
Quick combat can be enjoyed....if it only becomes understandable to somebody who watch the movie!

History's pace and rhythm is terrible, especially at the end.
Conan's final confrontation with Zim is anything but climax.
And the farewell scene between Conan & the woman is irrationally quick and senseless.
Why the hell is the woman brought back to a ruined, spoiled and wrecked monastery?
And why Conan makes the whole trip from Argos (????) to Cimmeria just to raise the sword to teh air, saying soem stupidity, and not leave it in the father's tomb?

The director should really go back to school.

And regarding references to previous Conan worlds...they are very stupid and very basic.
There are 2 Conan which we all like like.
They are 2 different things, but are both good.
First Conan is REH Conan. Quicky, gritty. Simply a creation of a genius.
Second Conan is John Milius' Conan (and I SAY AGAIN: J.Milius made the difference, not Arnie). Certainly not a REH-canon movie, but Slow, Epic and viscerally masculine.
How this new movie make references to those two Conans?
I understand the movie make references: BUT THEY ARE PATHETIC.
Tavern scene: "This is the Conan who killed Yara in the Tower of Elephant" = REH reference is done.
Father & Conan scene: "The Secret of Steel? Mix some Ice and Fire and the secret is done!"
Once the authors aknowledged this, the whole story could be put anywhere but in any fantasy world with a Conan-like barbarian hero.

Furthermore, many references to the Hyborian Age are, simply said, WRONG.
For example, why do the Zingaran slavers dress like Shemites and wield scimitars?

The story: who needed Zim and bloody Acheron mask (whose pieces were hidden in the huts of different Barbarian peoples) , when we have 90 years of Conan stories from both REH and all later pastiches?
A few bits are, from a graphic point of view, stupid: WHY DOES THE MASK OF ACHERON LOOKS LIKE A SQUID ON ZIM'S HEAD?
He is ridicolous!

I must admit I enjoyed many part of the movie watching it, but I cannot help but thinking that they missed the chance of making a good movie, while creating only a passable movie.
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Re: CONAN The Barbarian - Review of the 2011 Film

Postby Supplement Four » Thu Aug 25, 2011 10:25 pm

I'm reading the novelization by Michael Stackpole, and, wow, it's really a good version of the story. Michael did what I think a good novelization writer should do. He gives us what is in the move plus much, much more. Fully, the first third of the novel is set in Cimmerian and focusses on Conan's youth. This is done very well. What happens to Conan once his father is killed? In the movie, we get a bit of voice over mentioning Venarium and such, then we catch up with Conan as an adult in his 30's.

In the novel, Conan spends another three years with his grandfather after Corin dies. Conan's grand-pops lived on a homestead not far from Conan's village, so this explains how grand-pops survived the massacre. The book focusses on that relationship--which is supposed to be one of the most influential in the barbar's life. Conacht (grandfather) completes young Conan's training and teaches him much more than Conan's father did.

As far as catching up with the adult Conan, the story is set not long after Queen of the Black Coast. Belit is gone, and Conan is a far-traveled, very-experienced mercenary of both sea and land.

It's a pretty good read.

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