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Movie Review: Conan the Barbarian

Posted by Hex on September 8, 2011


Shane Brayton formerly SGT Brayton after eight years in the Army. Originally from upstate NY, but has moved back home to North Carolina. Is currently attending University of North Carolina Charlotte for an English and Education degree. Preparing to become a teacher but is working on a novel on the side. Loves RPGs, Warhammer 40K, video games, books, and nearly all styles of music.

We look forward to seeing more reviews from Shane.

When someone says Conan, what is the first thing that comes to your mind? Arnold Schwarzenegger in furry boots punching camels? Wilt Chamberlain in a fuzzy vest?

Well to anyone who wishes to see the new Conan the Barbarian, starring Jason Momoa, they are in for a vast update to the genre.
The overall look of the movie is reminiscent of the graphic novel representation of Robert E. Howard’s world. Hyboria is a land teeming with massive cities, and varying cultures. The older movies only glanced at what the entire world was supposed to be, while the new movie mirrors the world described in books and comics. This new vision is all thanks to director Marcus Nispel. In the last ten years he has been responsible for revamps such as The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Friday the 13th. He also added his style to the movie adaptation of the graphic novel Pathfinder. If fans of the Conan world have seen these new adaptations, they will be able to see examples of Nispel’s vision.

The story is a reinvention of the origins of Conan. The beginning of the movie sees our hero as a child, learning to be a warrior in the frozen land of Cimmeria. Similar to the first movie, we follow Conan on his mission of revenge.

Although it is common to overuse technology in newer movies, the designers seemed to have limited the CGI use to the landscape and the monsters. If they did use any in the fight scenes (ie. blood and gore), then it is very well done and mimics the effects of the old techniques. If you have trouble imagining the use of blood packets and fake innards, I suggest watching movies like Dog Soldiers or more recently Centurion.

As for the acting, there were improvements in Jason Momoa playing Conan over Arnold Schwarzenegger. For one, Mr. Momoa was able to portray the intelligence and cunning that Conan had in the written works. Stephen Lang, known most recently for his role as Colonel Quaritch in Avatar, has the role of the antagonist, Khalar Zym. I was honestly taken aback, as I did not recognize him. While not overly cruel, I saw in him malice and overwhelming drive, almost everything that a villain should have. It was a little distracting, however, as I kept wondering what he found so interesting behind his left shoulder.

The main downside that was found was in Rose McGowan’s performance. She was supposed to portray a witch just as evil as her father. In truth she had less malice and presence than a box full of puppies. I was more afraid of the younger version played by Ivana Staneva, who is a virtual unknown (this might explain why Red Sonja wasn’t made in 2009).

It did seem as though any character that didn’t have speaking roles were left to their own devices, which didn’t amount to much. Henchmen would stand about trying to look intimidating. During one scene I noticed a large man who looked like a close friend to Conan and possibly another side character for the movie. This interest lasted for about five seconds as he never moved from where he was and only opened his mouth to laugh.

Now for a personal take on the movie. It is unfortunate but throughout its entirety one thought was moving through my head: Why isn’t Conan more like Khal Drogo? If you don’t know, Jason Mamoa also plays a character very similar to Conan in the televised version of Game of Thrones. Although I was concentrating on the different aspects of the movie, it was a little difficult to keep interest with the storyline. The action, however, was awesome and kept my attention thoroughly.

Much like Star Trek (2009) did for the Star Trek universe, despite what some fans want, Conan the Barbarian (2011) has also updated to canon from its near 80 year origins.

As a recommendation, I would say that the general populace will not like the movie. This is only because they will not understand the nuances that true fans can see.

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  • Max

    I liked this one a lot, but I think that’s because I decided I was going to like it going in. Jason Momoa was definitely true to the Robert Howard Conan character, though the storyline really wasn’t. My two big gripes were the general video-gaminess of the fight scenes, and the crazy “boat on elephants” that the villain travels around in. What was the story with that thing?

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