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Film review: Conan the Barbarian

Updated on August 16, 2011

In 1982 a bulky unknown Austrian body builder got the lead in his first film; the actor was Arnold Schwarzenegger and the flick was Conan the Barbarian. Despite being written and directed by John Milius, who also wrote Apocalypse Now, it was far from a classic, even if it is often fondly remembered by many now. Still, the Austrian fella didn't do too bad out of it.

With the current trend in Hollywood of studios raping their back catalogue of films for the sole purpose of simply making a quick buck, it was only a matter of time before this title got pillaged. This time around, the lead Jason Momoa has slightly more acting experience, with some recurring roles in TV shows under his belt (you might remember him as the Jabba-yapping Khal Drogo in the recent Game of Thrones for instance), but like Arnie, this is his breakout lead role in a film. But does he have the six-pack and sandals to reign supreme as the ultimate Conan?

Growing up in Cimmeria is hard work for the young Conan; he feels he has more than most to prove as his father Corin (Ron Perlman) is the leader of the Cimmerian people. Even at a young age though, he still has a warrior's instinct.

The land they live in however, is far from peaceful. Khalar Zym (Stephen Lang) is on a bit of a mission to collect all the scattered pieces of a mystical mask. Once they are all reunited, whoever wears it will look rather silly wearing it, but will be all powerful.

Zym's quest soon leads him to Cimmeria, where instead of just asking nicely (manners cost nothing after all), he goes in heavy handed. So much so that he virtually wipes out the entire Cimmerian race. All but one.

Several years later, Conan (Momoa) embarks on a quest all of his own, to hunt down and kill the man that destroyed the place he once called home.

Sword and sandal stories are back in fashion, with the likes of Spartacus: Blood & Sand picking up from where 300 left off. Perhaps if this particular character appeared in a TV series, the results would have been slightly more flattering. As a one-off film (hopefully) however, it doesn't have a leg to stand on.

Director Marcus Nispel has borrowed heavily from the model recently put in place by the franchise that is TV's Spartacus, by having all females sporting as little clothing as possible. It's clear then that in Conan's times the jiggle is most definitely in. There's the violence too, but it oddly doesn't seem as visceral or as spectacular as seen on the Starz show. And then there's the foul language, which unfortunately, there isn't any sign of; If Conan had borrowed a leaf or two out of John Hannah's character Batiatus' book of curse words, it would have at least added some well needed colour. Sadly for Conan, everything about his adventure is drab.

Visually it looks OK, giving it that gritty, off-for-a-wander-in-a-fantasy-land kind of look, but where it quickly falls to its knees is in the acting, dialogue and story areas. In places, the acting and script make Xena: Warrior Princess positively highbrow entertainment.

The film starts with a voice-over that sounds uncannily like Morgan Freeman, although considering the 'talent' involved, it wouldn't be a surprise to learn that it was actually More Than Freeman from the TV ads. It doesn't really matter who it is, as its overall contribution is both fleeting and confusing.

And what should really be a simple enough story of Conan seeking revenge, ends up being a convoluted mess. The writers managed to write themselves into the tightest of corners in a circular room, which is some feat.

Jason Momoa is also a disappointment. Not only does he look physically smaller than Arnie (even in 3D), he also resembles Tarzan more than Conan. He doesn't even have a funny accent to laugh at.

The most troubling element however, is the fact that the original film, which is nearly 30 years old and was decidedly average back then, is still the more enjoyable experience out of the two. This then is very much the pretender to the Conan throne.

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    • Boomuk profile image

      Boom 6 years ago from London, UK

      We've recently had both Arnie Conan films shown on TV here in the UK, and they are spectacularly bad. Having said that, they still managed to be more entertaining than this!

      Thanks for your comments Rob, always appreciated.

    • Robwrite profile image

      Rob 6 years ago from Bay Ridge Brooklyn NY

      Nice review. Well written. This film isn't out yet in NY where I am, but I'm not sure if I'll go to see it when it does. I was only moderately entertained by the Ah-nuld version of the guy from Cimmeria, and I haven't seen anything from this one that indictes it will be any better.

      Thanks for the info;