Conan the Barbarian Blu-Ray Review (Mania.com)
Review Date: Saturday, 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.
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.
Mania Grade: C-
Blu-ray: Conan the Barbarian
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)