With a stroke of luck I was able to attend a special screening of Conan the Barbarian in 3D before the movie hits theaters this Friday, 8/19/11. To be completely honest, I have no recollection of the original Conan story. My girlfriend Calais that went with me remembered bits and pieces but both of us did not really care what the original story was – we went with low expectations but hopeful to see lots of action and blood and whatever else you expect a barbarian to be good at.
Believe it or not, those low expectations were still a bit too high for most of the movie.
Jason Momoa (Game of Thrones, Stargate: Atlantis) fits so well into the Conan persona that it provides a very solid, straightforward and accurate representation of everything Conan ultimately stands for: himself. While that might sound like a negative, it certainly is not. Conan is an epic barbarian – he is exceptional at hand-to-hand and sword combat. He has battle wounds, he is driven by a personal goal, and he is thorough in making sure he reaches that goal. Conan, as a character, is very one dimensional and that is perfectly fine – he was designed to be an amazing warrior, not a quantum theorist. Overall, I approved of the decision and execution of the actor to Conan and applaud his good performance.
Stephen Lang (Avatar) plays an obsessed villain quite well as we have seen in previous performances. He does not disappoint as Khalar Zym in this movie. His character is obsessed with his own personal goals and demonstrates his brutality to get to them however he needs to. He is a good compliment for Jason Momoa, surprisingly, and they both have acceptable on-screen chemistry during the scenes focused on them (aside from the end).
The other actors and actresses are fine in their roles — except for Rose McGowan (Charmed) who plays Khalar Zym’s odd sorceress daughter Marique. Who did she sleep with/bribe/blackmail to get this part? There are numerous other people – not even other actresses – that I would have rather seen doing this than what she did. I would have rather had a random attractive female with no acting experience in her part. I can’t even call McGowan’s performance “acting.” It was like watching a session of poor interpretive dance from a sickly frog who could talk. Because that’s what she looks like, too – a sickly frog with a Star Wars hairdo. At least Queen Amidala (Natalie Portman) had decent acting with that head of hair. McGowan was definitely one of several large disappointments with the film.
Ah, several large disappointments, you say? Yes. First, the good parts. There are two exceptional scenes from the movie. My favorite one is boy Conan, at the beginning, kicking ass in true barbarian fashion. You can see the entire clip here. [Note: NSFW] There is another scene later in the movie that I do not feel is as good, but made for a decent/interesting fight with sand golems. Also, the 3D is not nearly as bad as it has been for other movies, but I would still have preferred 2D because they don’t really use it to any kind of advantage either. Some of the fight scenes get too blurry in the 3D, too.
Now on to those disappointments. After this boy Conan scene, there is a shorter scene about him and his father that really sets the stage for the rest of the movie; this scene is fine. It is pretty much everything that happens after this that becomes a total disappointment. It feels like this should have been one of those 6-part mini-series on Syfy that ended up getting 5 episodes chopped out and made for one long, poorly edited episode that moved so fast you pretty much assumed a majority of the movie. Many interesting and fantasy-esque places are shown in the movie that are named and are fully-functioning towns/cities/etc. They look amazing! And have no real importance. They are featured for a few minutes but only because they are a backdrop to fighting. Now, I like fighting. But I also like detailed fantasy worlds. Don’t show me this wondrous place and give it a name if it is really irrelevant to the overall story.
Another hindrance of the movie was the fact that there is no span of time they seem to be working with. You know that boy Conan and grown-up Conan had a gap of 20 years (again, from piecing together clues from later parts of this chop-fest), but aside from that you have no idea where anything is on the continent, how far of a journey it is (whether by foot or horseback), and he is obviously seen resting one night so you know one part of the journey is a decent length of time. I’m not saying make it a focal point, but throw in a one liner or description from someone so you know what time frame you’re working with. Does this take him a few days to accomplish? Weeks? Months? You really have no idea and it feels like you should in order to grasp the epic level the movie is trying to achieve but fails to do so many times.
One lesser but still strange scene that I am going to throw in is the very beginning scene. It is Conan’s birth and it is supposed to be epic and heart-wrenching in a barbarian sort of way; I mean, come on – he’s being born in the middle of a war. Literally. First, if I am his father taking care of his mother on a cart, I would not focus all of my attention on her while there are footmen, archers, and all kinds of chaos flying around me. If I was the villain, this is the perfect time to get in a stab to the kidney. Second, he takes the time to hold the baby up and yell, making himself a target in this violent disarray. Third, the baby looks really… alien-like. It’s pretty creepy how it looks. They CG’d it definitely, but that does not change the weirdo factor you get from this bundle of barbarian joy. And let’s not get me started on the sanitary issues.
Other parts of the movie I won’t go into as much detail because I won’t spoil it for those of you that do decide to watch it, but it does seem like a lot of random places appear in random areas (why is there a barn with hay in a cave?) and a lot of people are trying to kill the one person they need alive and physically well. You can read into the flaws in your own right.
Overall, watch the link I posted above and read other reviews. We were not the only ones sorely disappointed by this movie; after listening to those who were in the screening giving their comments and opinions to the lady from Lionsgate, we happened to be in a vast majority of the viewing audience.
Chan’s Camera Rating: 2 cameras out of 10 – I can’t even think of a target audience to recommend this to. Maybe if you’re 17 and want to see blood and boobies? Though the latter is limited in appearance. Not much of a movie for any viewer, then, I suppose.