Thursday, December 1, 2011

Clonin' the Barbarian: CONAN THE BARBARIAN (2011)

I know, I know, I can hear you. “What were you thinking?” My only defense is that Marcus Nispel did make one underappreciated sword film in 2007 and I figured he might be able to bring some of that here. It was like he was Clint Eastwood and I was Albert Popwell, and as he is putting this film in the can, I said “I gots ta know.” And when I found out, I had the same reaction.

I’m not even going to get into comparing two CONANs. Comparing the 1982 CONAN to the 2011 CONAN, is like comparing 1983 Ozzy Osbourne to 2003 Ozzy Osbourne. Suffice to say, that nasty sinking feeling in your gut that you got when the first pics of Jason Momoa came out was right. An insipid pretty-boy saddled with one of the most uninspired scripts since INDIANA JONES AND THE KINGDOM OF THE CRYSTAL SKULL.

How crap is the script, you ask? Well, Conan falls in love and shows his romantic side… do I need to continue? Both the lousy casting of every single actor on the set, and a script that is so banal and trite that it is stunning that it got a green light, even in Hollywood, this clunker is a chore to sit through. Even Morgan Freeman can’t seem to muster any enthusiasm as his narration is about as spirited as a reading from a 5th grade history text. Sure, there’s plenty of bloody swordfights, but there is nothing interesting about them. Nispel had some very creative set-pieces for his carnage in PATHFINDER (2007), but here, it’s mostly straightforward hack n’ slash. Ironically the three credited writers actually lift elements from PATHFINDER to prop up their lack of imagination. For instance there is a lengthy prologue with our hero as a child who grabs a sword and manages to dislodge a section of the face of the villain’s right-hand man. Which film am I talking about? Yep, both!

A famous critic once said that a James Bond movie is only as good as its villain. This actually applies to a lot of genre movies, in particular the fantasy film. PATHFINDER had Clancy Brown as a bloodthirsty, genocidal Viking leader, bent on conquering and enslaving a new land. Nothing fancy, but easily his best turn since The Kurgan. Here we have Stephen Lang as a would be conqueror searching for a mask that will turn him into a god, but, as it turns out, a god who is easily defeated by falling off a bridge. Yeah, sorry about the spoiler, but that is how it goes down. Does Conan savagely decapitate him in front of his followers? Nope. Is he drawn and quartered by angry villagers? Nope. He falls off a bridge. I’m not much for theology, but I’m pretty sure gods have the power to maintain their balance, no matter how challenging the situation. Matter of fact this movie seems to think that falling from heights is the worst fate that could befall (no pun intended) a person. Conan fights magic sand dudes that come up from the sand, attack and fall back into the sand. Yet, when they are knocked off some scaffolding in a sequence that seems to be lifted straight out of a Jackie Chan movie, they fall down and are destroyed. The sorceress also dies from a fall and Conan's love interest is threatened with one! I can only surmise that the writers were all severely acrophobic.

Yeah, I just spoiled the hell out of it. Sorry, but you should really thank me for it. I just saved you 113 minutes of your life that on your deathbed you will desperately want back. I can't believe this got made and released while the vastly superior Robert E. Howard adaptation SOLOMON KANE (2009) still languishes in purgatory. The impenetrable wisdom of Hollywood I guess.

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