Wednesday, 17 August 2011

FILM REVIEW: Conan The Barbarian


I could literally just fill this review with photos of Jason Momoa topless and snarling. Maybe I'll do that instead, as what I'm about to write kinda sucks...

The main draw for going to this was seeing the man in person present the premiere, and he is the boomingst man I've ever heard. "THIS IS THE QUIETEST CINEMA I HAVE EVER BEEN IN," came this voice of God from somewhere in the big superscreen as Chris Hewitt's appearance on stage had dropped the room to a hush. Then this humongous man appeared waving and grinning to the packed auditorium as I struggled like a fan girl with my camera (which I still couldn't get to work). "THIS IS THE BIGGEST SCREEN I HAVE EVER SEEN IN MY LIFE," he declared. Surely only a few feet bigger than yourself Mr Momoa? What he privately thinks about Marcus Nispel's take on Conan The Barbarian he'll probably keep to himself, but here he was praising how good it was and urged us all to enjoy ourselves. Well, it's not boring I'll put it that way.

The 'prologue' of Conan's birth into the world reeked of ridiculosity throughout (yes it gets a new adjective) and this then lingered throughout the rest of the film. Did Ron Perlman just deliver his own son by pulling him out? Is this the world of Conan? (on the plus side, RON PERLMAN. I didn't even know he was in this, so I had a mini seizure)

I'm unfamiliar with the literary work of Robert E Howard and the earlier adaptations of the stories, but I'm always intrigued by a land which isn't our own, with ripples of fantasy running along the edges of the map. The land Conan inhabits is the Hyborian age - akin to our own world, but set after the fall of Atlantis and before the dawn of other civilisations (thanks Wikipedia). It's filled with sorcery, religion, revellers and slavery, and amongst them is the wildchild orphan Conan, who fights for no-one and for no cause. The landscapes and cinematography are just breathtaking (it was all filmed in Bulgaria, somewhere I'm now desperate to go. At least I got travel recommendations out of this!) - and what I find deeply, deeply disappointing is that we didn't get to properly explore it. We had lots of handy little place names appear on the screen, but there felt no history or mythology steeped in these places - it was all just a massive battleground. The Skull Cave was so striking, but all just wasted. I wish they'd done more.

The story - well, there was no story, put it that way. Just a few grunts of direction and that was it. Again, unfamiliar with the underlying material, but Robert E Howard wrote tonnes of stories for his hero. Surely one of them had potential for use? Why come up with a brand new tale, and why come up with such an unoriginal lousy one? Conan's father is killed when he is a little boy by a warlord and his crazy magic-mad daughter (Rose McGowan) and he is left alone. Later, as a grown up Momoa, he hears of them stalking the land looking for the "pure blood" to bring back a dead sorceress and he chases after them on a quest for revenge. But of course, as there's absolutely zilch in the way of character development, suspense, peril, or surprise and everything is so sketchily told - you don't really care. Of course Conan will win. At least throw a twist in there. "You have a sister!" No, better: "ROSE MCGOWAN IS YOUR SISTER!" Hell, I could write a better trashy swords and sandal romp than this.

Rose McGowan is lovely, and she does her best playing a bordering on incestuous witch (she had plenty of practice on Charmed. BEING A WITCH), but she just cannot act. Nor can Rachel Nichols, who playing the female love interest (and "pure blood"), I wanted to smack a fair few times. Yes partly out of jealousy, but also partly out of having the charisma of a piece of paper. She was annoying, pointless, capable in battle but yet somehow completely uninspiring or empowering, and her relationship with Conan was laughable (talk about a rehearsed sex scene. Although, go on then, we get to see a largely naked Momoa).

Fighting in a village, fighting in a prison, fighting on a ship, fighting in a monastery, fighting in a cave, fighting on horses, fighting people made out of sand... that's largely the premise of the film. There's a tiny bit of dialogue in there somewhere, you might just find it. It all gets so repetitive after a while that your eyes are enjoying it but you find your mind wandering... although fighting on a massive wheel was my personal favourite, and pretty impressive. If only the girl had died. Le sigh.

And I think this has to the biggest non-use of 3D I have ever seen in my life. Seriously, who worked on this? 

Don't be expecting the beginning of an epic franchise as there's no richness, scope or intrigue to this film which is a disservice to its creator, and also to Jason Momoa, who is a damn fine actor (see Game of Thrones) and doesn't deserve the barrel of abuse that's about to come flying his way. He's such a pretty Conan - go just to stare at how beautiful he is (I did), but apparently he has written - actually written - the script for a possible sequel (he has signed on to three films) so I wonder what will come of that.

Conan the Barbarian is big, dumb and silly and has a strong whiff of Kevin Sorbo about it. Nispel shouldn't have been allowed anywhere near it. Here's hoping any further 'adventures' have a bit more brains about them.


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