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Review: ‘Conan the Barbarian’

Revenge and a Six-Pack

Above: Jason Momoa as "Conan the Barbarian."

Wow! What selection this week. Two remakes in 3-D to choose from this weekend: "Conan the Barbarian" and "Fright Night" (both opening August 19 throughout San Diego). First let's deal with the Barbarian.

Arnold Schwarzenegger took on the Conan role in the 1982 John Milius film, "Conan the Barbarian." Based on Robert E. Howard's book, inspired by Frank Frazetta's artwork, and boasting the talents of James Earl Jones and Max Von Sydow, the film was by no means great art but it made an indelible mark on a generation of kids. The film spawned a sequel, "Conan the Destroyer" (with Arnold) and 2 TV shows (without Arnold). So with the recent popularity of "300," "Spartacus," and "Game of Thrones," it was inevitable that "Conan" would get remade or rebooted. So now we have a 3-D "Conan the Barbarian" with "Game of Thrones'" Jason Momoa as the title character. I can't tell you how much cringing this caused for my friends who hold their childhood 80s films dear. "What next?" They moan, "A 'Back to the Future' reboot? A re-imagining of all the John Hughes' films?"

But wait I digress.

Back to "Conan." First adjust your expectations: there will be no "lamentations of their women;" Conan will not speak with a thick Austrian accent; there is no one with a trio of names the caliber of James Earl Jones and Max Von Sydow; and although it boasts an R-rating it doesn't make full use of it. But pects and abs are quite comparable between Arnold and Momoa, and on a certain level that's important.

Leo Howard as the young Conan and Ron Perlman as his father.

Lionsgate

Above: Leo Howard as the young Conan and Ron Perlman as his father.

That said, the new "Conan" starts well. In fact if there was a young Conan series like the young Indy one, I'd be down for it. The scenes of the feral young Conan (played by Leo Howard), with "Hellboy's" Ron Perlman as his dad, are great fun. The action is intense, brutal, and bloody, and the tough love father-son relationship is a good one. So the film opened with promise and the promise continued for a short time once Momoa took over the role as the adult Conan. Momoa is not quite as stiff as he seemed based on the trailer footage and it's much easier to understand him when he talks than Arnold. So long as Momoa's Conan is hot on the vengeance trail, the film has some energy. And when he shoves his fingers into a baddie's... well I won't say what, but it seemed to announce that the action would be ramped up to a satisfying degree and the vengeance would be sweet.

But then a woman, or more accurately romance, is added to the mix and it's a rapid descent from there. The testosterone level drops, the film cuts away from the violence before blood gets spilled, and the whole thing starts to look like a theme park ride. People actually cheered when Conan gagged the pure blooded Tamara (Rachel Nichols) and groaned when she chased after Conan rather than staying behind on the ship where she wouldn't have been able to annoy us any further. As Conan has to tend to Tamara, the action goes limp, becoming more comic booky and silly rather than brutal. As the other chief female, Rose McGowan fares a little better playing the evil witchy Marique.

Stephan Lang and Rose McGowan preparing for evil in "Conan the Barbarian."

Lionsgate

Above: Stephan Lang and Rose McGowan preparing for evil in "Conan the Barbarian."

As for the 3-D... again I feel like asking why? It was never put to good effect; only a few shots really popped or created a sense of depth. There's a cool fight with sand creatures and an underwater serpent-like creature but honestly there's no need to spend the extra bucks on the glasses because not much effort was made by the director Marcus Nispel to integrate the 3-D into the storytelling. But what can you really expect from a music video director who has essentially just done remakes. He did "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre" and "Friday the 13th" reduxes, and the one non-remake was the equally unoriginal "The Pathfinder."

The best I can say about "Conan the Barbarian" (rated R for strong bloody violence, some sexuality and nudity) is that it's not as bad as I was expecting. Faint praise for the muscular barbarian warrior. Based on this film I would say only a prequel with young Conan might be worth pursuing.

Companion viewing: "Conan the Barbarian" (1982), "The Beastmaster" (yep I brought that one up!), "300"

Comments

Avatar for user 'Missionaccomplished'

Missionaccomplished | August 22, 2011 at 10:39 a.m. ― 3 years, 2 months ago

"As Conan has to tend to Tamara, the action goes limp"

Yes, I can see where that would be a problem!

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Avatar for user 'Beth Accomando'

Beth Accomando, KPBS Staff | August 22, 2011 at 10:06 p.m. ― 3 years, 2 months ago

Exactly my point. ;)

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