24 August 2011


Surprisingly, 1982's Conan the Barbarian really holds up to being revisited by a modern audience. It probably has Arnold Schwarzenegger's best acting outside of the early Terminator movies, and it's a rock solid, balls-to-the-wall fantasy action flick. It might not be the film that fans of Robert E. Howard's barbarian hero would have liked, but it's many lightyears ahead of the new version.

Marcus Nispel's remake, aptly titled Conan the Barbarian, shall henceforth be referred to as Conan, to avoid confusion. Born on the battlefield, Conan is the young son of a barbarian chieftain, raised by his father after his mother dies from an implausible combination of childbirth and combat. At a relatively early age, Conan's father is slaughtered in front of him by a maniacal warlord called Khalar Zym. Already a skilled warrior, Conan makes it his life's work to avenge his father and his tribe.

In the spirit of recent cinema outings, here's a One Mile Review of the film, featuring myself and Rob Simpson from Double Take, and Andy Winward of But We're British in the driving seat as ever. The video is spoiler-free, and captures our immediate reactions to the film.

And for those of you who prefer your film critiques faceless, or sans shaky-cam at the very least, here's a more in-depth and thought-out review. Having previously incensed fans of Howard, I learned not to try and write from the point of view of a fandom in which I am not included. So to clarify my earlier comment, I have read reviews of the John Milius rendition, which criticise the breaks with the character as written. Apparently Conan is much less given to gratuitous fighting and inept prayer than he is to thoughtful strategising and considered warfare.

That sounds like a Conan I would rather see, enough so that I'd be interested in reading the original stories, but I maintain that Schwarzenegger's Conan is now, relatively speaking, a lot closer to that than its painted. Because now Jason Momoa, an actor more than capable of playing Conan, has been deployed as an even less mindful interpretation of the barbarian. The new film is comical in how often Momoa yells "Hey" or "C'mere" to some poor sod he's arduously chasing down.

Also annoying is the introduction of an idiot button in Conan's personality, which has him constantly making rash and silly moves in the heat of battle because he's too easily wound up. Milius' Conan was a character you could get behind on his quest to take down James Earl Jones' evil sorcerer, but this one is only as likeable as Marty McFly became once they contrived that whole "Nobody calls me chicken" thing. Worst of all, you can't reconcile Momoa's grown-up Conan with his younger self, played by Leo Howard.

In what is easily the best part of the movie, we see young Conan being tutored in battle by his father. Ron Perlman is the parental figure, and the two actors share a credible relationship, which allows the younger barbarian to be ferocious and cunning to an extent that even seems to frighten his battle-hardened father. Hell, the first time we see Perlman is when he performs what can only be described as a Cimmerian section, on his wife, in the midst of a massive opening fight. This scene somehow isn't quite as goofy as some of the stuff in the rest of the film.

It all feels a tiny bit Pirates of the Caribbean, to me. Avatar's Stephen Lang gives a theatrical but tough performance as Khalar, while Rose McGowan camps it up a bit more as his witch daughter. Rachel Nichols plays a simpering but somewhat spunky damsel- a heroine in the vein of Gemma Arterton's character in Prince of Persia. This effect is tempered by the copious amounts of blood being spilled, and by Nichols' ample contribution of T'n'A to keep a male audience awake, both of which land the film with a 15 certificate.

However, the overall effect feels like they made this film as a remake, rather than as a fantasy film. Credit where it's due, it does deviate from the original film, distinguishing itself as a new adaptation of Howard's work, rather than a remake of Conan the Barbarian. But the man in the director's chair is Marcus Nispel, who directed atrocious remakes of Friday the 13th and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre for Platinum Dunes. He also counts Pathfinder amongst his credits, and although directing films like these is indubitably difficult, the overall feeling that this is a remake/reboot/reimagining/whatever, rather than a fantasy film, makes it feel directed by numbers.

Conan has a remake director doing a fantasy director's job. I wasn't a fan of Pathfinder, but it at least demonstrated more of Nispel's capability for the genre than this one does. It's the kind of fantasy film in which all the characters stand around talking about stuff they already know, over-explaining human relationships while the actual plot comes out undercooked. The film loses momentum once Ron Perlman disappears, what with the buckets of exposition that somehow get mixed in with the disaffecting gore and uninspired action sequences.

Conan is released on Friday, in 2D and 3D, in cinemas nationwide.
If you've seen Conan, why not share your comments below? Appreciation of that awesome C-section gag is welcome too.

I'm Mark the mad prophet, and until next time, don't watch anything I wouldn't watch.

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