Friday, August 19, 2011

Conan the Barbarian (2011)

I've posted briefly about this before but since it is being released today I thought I'd mention it a little more extensively, insofar as including links to as many trailers as I can find for it.  I'll probably post more about it later, after seeing it.  Enjoy!  (*edit* Or don't, because I now have and I don't recommend it.  My review follows the clips below with major spoilers!)

About the best thing I can say about it is that the script and direction reminds me of early Sam Raimi television work.  This does not appear to be intentional and is not what I had hoped to see in this long awaited retelling of the story of Conan.  Herc, Xena, Jack, and even Cleo would not be pleased to be compared to this movie.  There's camp here and it seems to be accidental for the most part which is not good.

As for the cast, Momoa is not a bad Conan but the dialogue he was given ruined any chance he had at setting a new standard for the iconic barbarian.  Rose McGowan stumbles around in her scenes in platform footwear that would embarrass a glam rock band and her delivery as the daughter-witch Marique just doesn't fit with the tone of the scenes in which she hams it up.  The various underlings on both sides of the conflict are either paper-thin villains or cliche sidekicks, all of which feel shoehorned into their scenes, and there are many more of them than are necessary.  I thought Stephen Lang did a fine enough job as the main antagonist, Zym, but his efforts are predictable due to the writing.  Rachel Nichols's Tamara seems lost much of the time or perhaps her worst takes were chosen for the final cut of the film.  Ron Perlman collected a paycheck and appears to know he is helping set up a story that will never really get off the ground despite the unusual way in which he helps bring Conan into the story.

There are tons of WTF moments, like when a happenstance location for Tamara and Conan to make love is suddenly available, but on the rocky shore of a otherwise deserted coastline and obviously below the high tide mark, yet conveniently filled with dry straw.  Or when McGowan's Marique captures Tamara and Conan figures it out because the witch has lost a "nail."  And there's a supposedly abandoned outpost chosen for a meet, and ruse of an exchange, but oddly there are tons of signs that the place would seem to be inhabited, like barrels upon barrels of explosive oil.  And how does Zym get the final piece of the mask to stick back together?  It has no power without the pure blood of the pure-blood (see what they did there?).  That blood takes another twenty years to locate, ostensibly so Conan and Marique can come of age, the former to seek revenge on someone whose name Conan doesn't know though everyone around him has vast knowledge of the unnamed king, including the long time friend with whom Conan has shared countless adventures.  Don't these friends ever talk to one another?

Portions, only portions, of the various action and fight scenes were worthwhile. Each one shows promise, but ultimately have some segment of them break the immersion with a bad cut or poor directorial choice. The coach chase is, at times, laughable.  Perhaps only the fight scene in the trailer when Conan is young holds up in its entirety. There are a lot of fight scenes, lots, so one would think that more of them would be good. Even the big effect of the sandmen, fairly well stolen from the Mummy franchise, feels unsatisfying.

They really try to cram a bunch of picturesque locations into the script, and while the mattes they use for the long range shots on many look pretty good, we really don't spend much time anywhere and the locales are underdeveloped, sometimes even being bolstered by a bit of dialogue just to remind us of the one-note nature of them. One character reminds us when we are in the City of Thieves while another makes sure we know that the monastery location is a peaceful place, set apart from civilization. Some of the setting and scenery is passable, while other images reek of cheese. The skull cave stands out as being particularly uninspired, though the underground sequences below said cave do show promise. However, as good as they look, the direction once again breaks all of the tension by feeling confused and rushed. The sacrificial wheel on which Tamara is chained toward the end above a crevasse taken from Mount Doom is bound to plummet and it does, and we yawn, and it gets jammed part way down and fought upon, and blah, blah, blah.  And how does Conan manage to destroy a portion of the bridge to finally win the day?  It, like much of the movie, is poorly executed.

I liked, however, the way the villains transport their ship.

Put this in your Netflix queue or maybe see this at a cheap early show but don't pay full price or shell out for the 3D version (which I admit I didn't see but there's no amount of in-your-face that's going to make up for having the rest of this movie in your face).  Although the thief that is saved from some guards toward the midpoint of the movie seems to be begging to be in a sequel, I'll bet he renegotiates that commitment out of his contract.


David Benson said...

Such a wasted opportunity. Why can't they just make something that's actually based on the works of REH? Such utter shite.

Mark CMG Clover said...

Indeed. And when you consider that what REH brings to the table is all about archetype characters, well-plotted stories, and cinematic fighting scenes, you'd think the screen writers and director would have come closer to the mark.