Conan the Barbarian Blu-Ray Review -

Blu-ray Review

Mania Grade: C-

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  • Blu-ray: Conan the Barbarian
  • Rating: R
  • Starring: Jason Mamoa, Stephen Lang, Rose McGowan
  • Written By: Thomas Dean Donnelly, Joshua Oppenheimer, Sean Hood
  • Directed By: Marcus Nispel
  • Distributor: Lionsgate Home Entertainment
  • Original Year of Release: 2011
  • Extras: See Below
  • Series: Conan The Barbarian (2011)

Conan the Barbarian Blu-Ray Review

Conan Reboot fails to meet expectations

By Tim Janson     November 26, 2011


Let me preface this review by saying I am an absolute Conan nut…I’ve read and watched just about everything there from the Ace paperbacks to the later Baen Robert E. Howard Library editions featuring unedited versions of Howard’s stories, to the many Conan pastiches written by people like Robert Jordan, Steve Perry, John Maddox Roberts, to hundreds of Marvel Comics’ Conan the Barbarian and Savage Sword of Conan, to the animated cartoons, Schwarzenegger films and even the God awful short-lived live action TV series. While my vision of Conan has been colored by the art of Frank Frazetta, John Buscema, Alfredo Alcala, and others, I’m willing to overlook star Jason Mamoa’s rather slender physique. Howard himself often described Conan as being “giant” or “massive”.
But considering how much Director Marcus Nispel and writers Thomas Dean Donnelly, Joshua Oppenheimer, and Sean Hood profess to be fans of Conan they remarkably swing and miss through much of the film. The overblown plot concerns an artifact of ancient Acheron, a mask made of bones whose pieces were hidden among various barbarian tribes. Thousands of years later a ruthless warlord named Khalar Zym (Lang) has found all of the missing pieces but one. The last is located in Conan’s village and hidden by his father (Perlman) the tribe’s chief. Conan is just a boy at this point and watches helplessly as his people are slaughtered by Zym’s soldiers. Zym’s daughter the sorceress Marique (McGowan) locates the last part of the mask and Conan and his father are left to die. They need only find the last person with blood of ancient Archeron to activate the mask and resurrect Zym’s wife, also a sorceress. 
Now we cut ahead 20 years where we find Conan as a pirate and seeking Zym to exact his revenge for the murder of his father and his people. Yes Conan fans, it’s been almost 30 years since the first Conan film and all this new team of writers could come up with is essentially the SAME revenge plot of the earlier film, except with a far less intimidating villain than James Earl Jones’ Thulsa Doom. First off, there is no way that it is 20 years later which would make Conan around 30. Mamoa doesn’t look 30 and it just doesn’t fit. Mention is made by Conan’s friend Artus (Nonso Anozie) of Conan’s adventure in the story “The Tower of the Elephant” and its assumed this was a recent event…yet chronologically that story took place when Conan was only about 18 years old. Am I being nitpicky here? Yeah, but refer to the first sentence of this review. 
During the special features the writers proclaim their love for Howard’s work but didn’t feel any of them would fit well as a film. Really? You couldn’t make a film out of “Black Colossus” , “The People of the Black Circle” or “Red Nails”? Maybe you toss a shorter story like “Tower of the Elephant” or “Rogues in the House” into the mix. Good writers can do that. But you’ll note very early on that these are NOT good writers. Rather than the brawling, lustful, “thief, a reaver, a slayer”, we get a Conan who is a big Boy Scout who rescues imprisoned by allowing himself to be captured and rescues damsels in distress. I was half expecting to see him to help an old lady cross a busy road. Conan ends up saving Tamara who is the last of the Archeronian bloodline, from Zym and his daughter.
There’s little recognizable of Howard’s Hyborian world. The Cimmerian village was relatively well done as were the Pict warriors who attack a young Conan. But the rest of the world is flat and lifeless. What is Khalar Zym? A Kothian? A Nemedian? A Stygian? Probably not a Stygian but some frame of reference for Conan fans might have helped. It goes to show just how all over the Hyborian Map the film jumps. We are in Messantia on the Hyborian West Coast and yet Tamara constantly refers to being let go so she can return to Hyrkania…which is half a continent away. And reference is made to Argalon, the City of Thieves yet in Howard’s world Arenjun in Zamora was the City of Thieves. Why change it? I have no idea.
The film did do a few things right.   First by keeping an R rating while trying not to wedge itself into a PG-13 rating we get a fairly brutal and bloody film, although perhaps not as much as you’d expect from the R rating. Nispel instead felt the need for some gratuitous nudity to be thrown in for good measure. The other aspect which is a positive is that Mamoa’s Conan has a sharper wit and is generally shown to be smarter than Schwarzenegger’s more brawn over brains portrayal and thus is truer to Howard’s vision. Conan may have been a barbarian but he was no dummy. There are some worthwhile action sequences but even these suffer from some poor, erratic editing.
But in the end Conan the Barbarian comes off flatter than a worn out comic. Its villains are boring, its supporting characters are lifeless and Jason Mamoa just is NOT Conan.  
Blu-Ray Extras
The Conan Legacy (18:00) – A look at the history of the Conan character from the pulps to the paperbacks featuring the art of Frank Frazetta which gave the character new life. Also looks at Conan in the comics and how Marvel helped give Conan new popularity with comments by former Conan comic writer Roy Thomas. Also looks at the animated shows and live action TV show.
Robert E. Howard: The Man who Would be Conan (11:24) – A look at the life of Conan creator Robert E. Howard and how he used traditional mythology and local folklore to develop his stories.
Battle Royal: Engineering the Action (10:00) – A short featurette about how the fight scenes were staged and choreographed
Staging the Fights (5:47) – A look at the Pre-visualization fight scene practice sessions and how they were referenced for the film.


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jedibanner 11/26/2011 3:43:33 PM

Fully agree....said it before it came out and I'll say it again, he ain't Conan and this pile of turd ain't Conan. The effort was there but the story and the overacting of the vilains were just awfull.

Glad I didn't see this in theatre.

InnerSanctum 11/27/2011 6:09:06 AM

 I watched this last night.  It was laughably bad.  I think you are being overly generous with a C -.  I'm really no sure why it is so hard to get Conan right.  Like the review stated...there is an abudance of resources.  Instead, we get something that feels like it was filmed on backlots and a well manicured barbarian.  Meh.  

hanso 11/27/2011 6:57:46 AM

 The movie looked like a piece of straight to DVD crap in the trailers and the movie itself lived up to it.  If there was any doubt it'd be crap the opening of the flick made it perfectly clear that it indeed would be 2 hours of crap as it had Ron Perlman looking like an ape cavemen and holding up  the ridiculous looking baby Conan ala Lion King.

It wasn't a complete piece of crap cause it had boobies and that's always a plus in my book.

axia777 11/27/2011 7:03:41 AM

Such a disappointment.  Damn, the makers of this movie suck huge donkey choad.  Why?  They talked a large game of going back to the original Howard materials.  They did not.  I know I thought this movie would be good and that I hoped the trailers were wrong but I was wrong and this movie is crap.

You know what they should do with Conan?  Do a Showtime series with him.  Do it right.  Do it like A Song of Ice and Fire/Game of Thrones.  Showtime needs to get up on HBO's fantasy genre game.  HBO has True Blood and Game of Thrones now.  Showtime needs Conan.  An all adult Conan series could be seriously bad ass.

karas1 11/27/2011 5:51:27 PM

I saw a clip of Jason Mamoa at a Comicon pannel and somebody asked him who was tougher, his Conan or Kal Drogo from Game of Thrones.  He said Kal Drogo would cut Conan to pieces.

I was tempted to see this in the theater to support Mamoa who I liked in Stargate Atlantis and also Rose MaGowan who I enjoyed in Charmed.  But it looked unpleasantly bloody so I skipped it.  I guess I'm glad I didn't spend the cash to see it in a theater.  I'll catch it when it hits HBO.

axia777 11/27/2011 8:43:43 PM

@karas1 - Jason Mamoa is dead wrong. How wrong is he? Conan dies a King of Nations while Drogo dies like a punk from blood poisoning. How lame is that? Conan would tear Drogo's head off and use if for dog food. That would be the REAL Conan, not this crap Conan in this craptastic movie they crapped out on the world.


Chopsaki 11/28/2011 10:42:28 AM

Epic Fail :(

Dedpool3678 11/28/2011 12:08:15 PM

This could've easily been awesome!! It's definitely not as bad as say Conan the Destroyer, Kull the Conquerer, and Red Sonja. But Momoa did a great job in the part. The script was crap though.

ArkoblaConn 11/29/2011 6:42:30 AM

I am at least as much a Conan Fan as the author of this review and must say - completely agree.  I'm most frustrated with the fact that no one will use the Howard source material!  Such awesome stories and we get crap.  I even heard that Mamoa 'Had the next movie written'...but he had not read Howard.  Really??

I wanted to like the movie.  Having read the Stackpole movie tie in, I was happy that there were a steady stream of allusions to other parts of his life.  In the book, Conan is pining away for Belit, whom he just lost.  This does put him as an older, more wise character who has seen more than just his thieving days.  None of that is mentioned in the movie.  

And if the story wasn't bad enough, the actual FILM Making was awful.  The transitions from one scene to the next were difficult to follow.  In one sequence, Conan and and woman walk up a rocky cliff.  Next scene, they are in a cave making love.  Immediately following this, we see Conan leaving the cave and finding himself in a Forest!  No sign of rocky terrain.  

I guarentee you that Tim (author above) and I could come up with a better story for a Conan movie.  And there are lots of folks who can film a better movie than this effort.  I didn't mind Mamoa, but he doesn't get my vote for the next one by saying Drogo could take him out.  Pft!  

PS - In my version, we never see Conan's home village, his parents don't get killed, there is no stupid revenge for the village or parents...  I don't think we need an origin story for Conan.  We jump right in.  I suggest Red Nails or the People of the Black Circle as Tim does above.  The character needs to be taken like James Bond.  Don't try to cram everything into the movie - Make more!  Make them Right!  Follow the story!!   

axia777 11/30/2011 3:50:47 PM

I stil want a Showtime adult series with a near nobody as Conan.  They need to find someone who can act but is not super well known.

A series about Conan where it does show his origin, being born on the battle field as hs is cut from his mother's belly into blood, chaos and fire.  Then have the series follow his life as being a theif, a priate, a soldier, mercenary and then King.  It would make for some serious epic TV if done right with NO cheese inbetween.  If I was Showtime I would buy the rights to the Conan stuff ASAP.

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