Title: Conan (2011)
Director: Marcus Nispel
Cast: Jason Momoa, Ron Perlman, Rose McGowan
I saw this one in theaters during its original release but never bothered to review it because I was so immensely disappointed with it. I re-watched it yesterday at my brothers house just for the hell of it and I reassured myself that I hated it as much as I did when I watched it the first time, in fact, even more so. The good thing about this second viewing is that I finally got to zero in on the reasons why I hated this new Conan flick so much! In this Film Connoisseur’s eyes, this remake simply did not work. At least not when compared to the awesomeness of John Milius’s sword and sorcery classic. What exactly made this remake such an awful film? Why was it such a wasted opportunity? Read on my fellow readers…read on.
This remake starts a little bit further back in Conan’s life than the original film. On this one we actually get to see Conan being “battle born”, which means he was ripped from his dying mothers womb right in the middle of a war, on the battle field, which was actually kind of a cool way to start the movie. The scene is an example of how nonsensical this film actually is. The filmmakers didn’t care to make sense out of anything; they only care about making things look cool and having Conan strike heroic poses. For example, during the opening sequence we meet Conan’s mother (an old hag of a mother when compared to the bombshell that played Conan’s mom on the original) fighting in the battlefield. During these scenes we learn that Simerian women are so tough that they fight even when they are in an advanced state of pregnancy! Now that’s what I call a tough momma! So anyway, she gets stabbed by an enemy in her pregnant belly, and we see that the sword misses Conan The Unborn Baby by inches! Then, Conan’s dad rips the baby out of his wife’s womb! Just seconds before she dies she whimpers “his name will be…Conan!” One of the few cool things about this remake is that Conan’s dad is played by Ron Perlman, which is always a plus on any fantasy/sci-fi/adventure film. So anyways, Ron Perlman screams at the heavens and then raises Conan The Newborn Baby up in the air, right in the middle of the battlefield! Never mind all the swords that are swinging or the arrows that are flying through the air, or the war that is going on around him…this baby must be dramatically raised in the air for all to see! Cue the Conan logo, in 3-D no less. And enjoy that 3-D logo, because in theaters, the 3-D was so poor for this film that it’s really all that you saw in 3-D, the freaking Conan logo.
I kind of liked this opening for the film, meeting Conan before he is even born! Sadly, the movie crumbles into pieces from there on in. First up, this remake skips one of the coolest sequences from the original, the scene where we actually see Conan becoming the war hungry, head slashing, enemy crushing warrior that he is. You know that scene in the original in which we see Conan become a slave? These are the scenes where he is enslaved and trained to fight other warriors, for money. We see Conan receiving sword lessons, becoming a man, and finally being released by his master into the world, to be his own person. We see Conan venturing into the world for the first time, on his own, learning to survive in this cruel savage world. These scenes are so important because we see Conan becoming Conan The Barbarian, and we feel connected with the character because we’ve seen him grow, we’ve followed him through his metamorphosis. Well, on this new remake, they totally skipped this sequence! They go from Conan The Kid, to Conan The Adult without any sort of way to let us know that time has elapsed. And this really is one of this films biggest faults, there is no smoothness between transitions, the film doesn’t flow. It feels like a bunch of moments clumsily glued together. This has always been a problem I have with the films of Marcus Nispel, the editing on them is terrible. But the disappointments don’t stop there, read on my friends.
Strike a pose!
The thing I loved the most about the original Conan The Barbarian (1982), and this is the reason why it’s one of my favorite films EVER, is that it was a religion bashing film. Yeah, it had the balls to say that religion is a brainwashing institution, and that we don’t need it. The ones responsible for killing Conan’s parents are the leaders of a religious cult that is spreading through the land. The leader has such power over his followers that they will jump to their deaths if he commands it. The film shows how the mind of the parishioner is at the mercy of the religious leader. So strong is the grip of this religious man over people that even King Osric’s daughter is brainwashed into following Thulsa Doom’s cult. Thulsa Doom’s followers worship this mad man as if he was a holy man. He proclaims himself as their God, their father. He tells them that their world would be nothing without him. And what does Conan do with this religious leader? He chops his head off that’s what he does! He shows the parishioners that Thulsa Doom isn’t a God, and that he can die, just like the rest of us. And then he hurls Thulsa Doom’s head down the steps of the temple and burns it down to the ground! Conan even kills one of the snakes they worship! In the end, Thulsa Doom’s parishioners end up going home, finally free from his powerful grip over their minds. And did this new remake even comment on any of these themes? Nope. They focused more on the fights, the killing, the monsters and the special effects, not the why behind these things. It only cares about everything being in slow motion. Gone is the weight behind the message that the original had. This new remake is an empty shell of a movie with a dumb story behind it.
Yes we still have a crazy religious leader on this new one, but the thrust of the story is his desire to acquire a magical mask that will bring his evil witch of a wife back from the dead, that’s it. And you know what? They could have probably done a cool movie about that as well. Unfortunately, this is the kind of film that never lives up to its full potential. You feel it could have gone further with its ideas, but that it was such a rush job that it never really takes off. The ideas are half cooked, half assed and lazy. An example of this is this scene where Conan fights this giant creature with tentacles. Sounds like a promising scenario for Conan to fight a giant monster, a potentially cool sequence near the ending of the film right? Guess again! You never even get to see the monster, only its tentacles! How disappointing. At least on the original we get to see the giant snake that Conan fights!
How half assed are the ideas in this movie? Well, at one point Conan fights these sand creatures, we never know what the hell they are, but these have to be the lamest creatures that Conan has ever fought! All Conan has to do is slash them with his sword and poof! They crumble away! These lame-o creatures may look cool, but they were not a worthy adversary for Conan, who never seems to really be in any peril in this film! On the original film, Conan freaking dies! And demons come to take his soul to hell with them! He is placed on ‘the tree of woe’ to starve for killing one of Thulsa Dooms giant snakes! On this remake nothing touches Conan, there was no vulnerability to the character, no humanity to it. On the original you liked Conan for his weaknesses, he kicked ass, but he messed up as well. On this one he is an indestructible asshole.
New Conan (above) Old Conan (below)
Another thing I loved about the original film is that they shot in these exotic locations, everything looked real. Not so on this remake in which half of the film was shot on a sound stage, with green screen. I hate it when I can tell everything is a set, I never felt that way while watching the original film. Point is, the original film is a far superior film in every single way. Why? Because the talents behind it were truly talented individuals who gave a damn about making a good film that actually said something. Oliver Stone wrote the original film, but who wrote this new one? Somebody who didn’t know what would make a good Conan film, that’s who. And who directed it? They guy behind the god awful Pathfinder (2007), which was a terrible Conan rip off to begin with! Apparently, Marcus Nispel always wanted to make a Conan film, and when he’s finally given the chance to do it, he does this lazy, dumb, crap fest of a Conan film. Marcus Nispel didn’t know how to make a Conan film that felt believable, which is what John Milius did so well. The world we see on the 1982 film felt real to me; even though it also felt like a Frank Frazetta painting coming to life. This is a balance that very few directors achieve; making the fantastic seem real. Milius and crew actually went out and shot the film on location; with real wind and earth beneath his actors feet! Not green screen and Styrofoam. Oliver Stone wrote a film with some weight to it, unfortunately this new film is just the empty calories version of a Conan film, a major disappointment and a lost opportunity. They had more money and technology than John Milius had back in 1982, yet they still couldn’t make a better film. Which proves only one thing: what matters is the talent you put behind the camera, not the size of the budget. For this remake, the producers simply chose the wrong crew, they proved themselves unworthy of attempting a Conan film.
Rating: 1 1/2 out of 5
Frank Frazetta's Conan