Film Review: Conan the Barbarian

John Milius’ Conan the Barbarian from 1982 is not a perfect film. It is, however, a lot better than this 2011 mess directed by Marcus Nispel.

Conan is born into war; his mother gives birth on the battlefield. Raised by his father, Conan is a courageous fighter even at a young age. When his father is murdered, Conan vows to get revenge on his killers, travelling across land and sea to find the perpetrators…

Where does it all go wrong? At the very beginning, unfortunately for viewers. The overriding problem with the film is a severely lacking screenplay. Thomas Dean Donnelly, Joshua Oppenheimer and Sean Hood should be applauded for making significant changes from the 1982 rather than producing a straightforward remake. Nonetheless, they should also be lambasted for what they have produced in its place.

There is no real innovation anywhere in the film. The characters are dull archetypes and the dialogue is sometimes awful. Worse still is the unoriginal plotting. The film goes from point to point to point without providing viewers with anything remotely inspired. The central theme of revenge is timeless, but the writers should have found a more interesting way to tell this story.

As with many other sword and sorcery tales, Conan the Barbarian is more concerned with black and white rather than shades of grey. Considering this, the villain should be a powerful and dominant force, capable of being a real match for the hero. Instead, Khylar Zym is a feeble antagonist; a dull character that lacks the sense of menace that he should. With the film’s other issues, the villain really needed to be stronger and have a bit more depth.

The pacing is Nispel’s film is also lacking. The film is made up of action sequences and expository downtime, but some of the latter really exhibit a lull in pace. The prolonged finale also suffers from this same fate. It goes on for too long; when Conan finally faces his nemesis it is very much an anticlimax. Rather than the epic good vs. evil confrontation it should be, the fight sizzles instead of going out with a bang.

Jason Momoa is a suitable Conan, physically fitting the role. There is little else to the character, but Momoa is adequate. Stephen Lang is one-dimensional as Khylar Zym, bringing little spark to the character. Rachel Nichols is lifeless is damsel-in-distress Tamara, but part of the blame is due again to a lack of characterisation. Rose McGowan adds a little sparkle as Marique, although the role is restricted.

Conan the Barbarian is a disappointing film that would be best viewed in 2D if it must be viewed at all. Sword and sorcery fans would be better served revisiting the original film.

The Empire Big Screen Diaries – Day 3

Like the protagonist on an epic quest in a sword and sorcery film, I embarked on the final day of Empire Big Screen. First order of business was the Paramount Showcase. After a brief video animating the company’s biggest films, a series of trailers were shown. Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol was followed by Paranormal Activity 3 and Like Crazy. After this, a featurette on Cowboys and Aliens was screened, introduced by Jon Favreau (on video). We also got to see a short clip of the Footloose remake, and the trailer for The Devil Inside (which was highly reminiscent of last year’s The Last Exorcism). Two clips of the Shrek spin-off Puss in Boots were then screened. Te footage was great; the film looks as if it will be very funny. To round things off, footage of The Adventures of Tin Tin was screened with a message from producer Peter Jackson and director Steven Spielberg. The clips looked good, but I always think humans in CG-animation look weird.

After a brief interlude, the Lionsgate Showcase began. After the trailer for A Dangerous Method was shown, we got to see footage from Ralph Fiennes’ Coriolanus. Set in the modern day but with the original Shakespearean dialogue, the film looks interesting if a little unusual. The showcase was rounded up by four trailers – 50/50, Abduction, Warrior and Conan the Barbarian.

Seizing the opportunity for a proper lunch break, we headed to Armadillo (again). My fish burger was nice, but I felt bad that we didn’t leave a proper tip. In fairness, it was all the change we had, but apologies to Armadillo staff.

The Disney Showcase was the final one of the weekend. Real Steel was first up, with director Shawn Levy on stage to talk about the film. He also gave away tickets to the premiere, but asked the most difficult question ever. Needless to say, I did not know the answer. Two clips were then screened; the film looks like fairly standard family fare. Andrew Stanton then introduced John Carter and footage from the film was screened. Finally, Steven Spielberg (by video) introduced some footage of his upcoming film War Horse. What struck me more than anything was that Spielberg seems to have some hand in directing or producing many of the films discussed this weekend. He may have even a hand producing this post. Human star of the film Jeremy Irvine then came on stage to discuss making War Horse.

After hanging out in the press room for a bit (Jeremy Irvine was being interviewed there, talent-spotters!), it was time for The Muppets! Director of The Muppets James Bobin and star Kermit the Frog were interviewed live via satelite. I was told that the Muppets were originally meant to appear in person. Maybe it is just as well this did not happen, as I may have got kicked out for running up on stage and hugging Kermit. The interview was a lot of fun, and the clip screened involved Kermit singing a song. It almost brought a tear to the eye…

After all that excitement, it was time for the Conan the Barbarian premiere. Jason Momoa was present to introduce the film, shown at the biggest screen at the O2 Cineworld. The film was pretty disappointing itself (review to follow).

After the very last visit to the press room, I went to the secret screening. Cineworld tried to rob me blind with their popcorn prices, after which I settled down to watch the film. Before it started, I asked the gentleman next to me if he knew what the film was (I did by this point). When he answered “Cowboys and Aliens” I was perplexed, and thought he was joking until he showed me his ticket. I was in the wrong screen. After cursing my stupidity, I ran next door and luckily the trailers were still on. I then settled down to watch The Debt, a very good thriller (review to follow). And that concluded Empire Big Screen; the film was good way to end a busy but exciting weekend.

Many thanks to Empire and Romley Davies for having me, plus all the lovely people who made the weekend so much fun (you know who you are!).