Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Conan (2011)

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 


Jack Thursby said...

Thanks for the warning. I too love Milius' film - to the point where I can probably recite all of its minimalist dialogue.

Sad to hear this is such a bad film. Will probably catch this on TV in a year or so. Can't bring myself to pay good money.

Unknown said...

Yeah, thanks for the warning. I figured this new one was crap. I mean, how can you outdo the original? you can't. Plain and simple. Still, I'd love to see Robert Rodriguez take on RED SONJA. Too bad it looks like he won't be doing it anymore.

Franco Macabro said...

@Jack: I too am that kind of a Conan fan, I love that musical score the film opens with. Actually, the whole score for the film is so memorable and moving.

@J.D.: I was sooo curious to see that Robert Rodriguez version of Red Sonja, Rose McGowan was going to be Sonja, but I that project never came to be and she settled for a smaller role on this one. She does die a pretty gruesome death on this one though! Gory!

odenat said...

You are right about all you write from line 1 to the end. I started to watch the movie at my new 55'' T.V. guess what; i fell asleep during a Conan movie !
The movie is a big disappointment and it's a financial disaster. I guess there would be no other Conan movies for the next 30 years because of these morons

Franco Macabro said...

Odenat: You know what? I never thought of it that way, but yeah, if this movie lost money (or didnt make as much as they expected) its their fault we wont be seeing another Conan movie any time soon. And boy was this one a big time box office bomb! The film cost 90 million and only made 48 million back, damn that officially makes it a big ass turkey of a movie! A stinker! A box office bomb!

I guess they got what they deserved, had they made a decent movie they would have made their money back.

venoms5 said...

Tell us what you really think about the film, Fran, lol!

I didn't necessarily hate it in the same breath as I did the CLASH OF THE TITANS remake, although we'll likely never see the alleged original version of that one prior to studio interference. I guess going in with low expectations and coming out feeling no more disappointed than I expected to helped a lot on this one.

The original CONAN is just one of those movies that is so much a part of the American lexicon it doesn't matter who did it, nothing would compare on quite the same level as the '82 film. It was nice to see Conan as a pirate (albeit briefly) as he is depicted in a number of the stories, but this and everything else is a jumbled mess as if the makers are afraid of boring the audience with things like logic and characterization.

And so what if the Milius version wasn't 100% faithful to the material? Neither was this one.

An interesting note on the original CONAN movie, I was looking through a bunch of my old Savage Sword of Conan the Barbarian magazines when they were touting the film during its production and there's some storyboards of how the film was originally conceived to begin as opposed to what ended up being shot.

Fritz "Doc" Freakenstein said...

I’m not going to waste my time defending the new Conan the Barbarian film, because it just isn’t good enough to expend my time or effort on. You do surprise me, Francisco, when you state that Conan the Barbarian is a “remake” of the 1982 Conan film, because your reviews are usually well researched. The new film is a new version of the Conan character as written by Robert E. Howard for Weird Tales back in the 1930’s and not intended as a remake of the 1982 film. I’m not a big fan of the 1982 film, for the same reason I didn’t like the 2011 film. Neither film used the original stories as a basis for a plot; nor did they utilize much in the way the Howard’s Hyborian fantasy setting or characters, other than the names.

I like to think the reason that the Harry Potter films and the Lord of the Rings films were so successful, both critically and financially, is because they only altered or omitted slightly, plot devices and characters from their literary source. If the films had only used the names of the characters, but made up completely new plots for their films – as filmmakers have now done TWICE with Conan – I suspect they too would have had little to no success at the box office.

Yes, the new Conan film performed poorly at the box office. The 1982 film only made $39 million domestically and cost around $20 million to make. So unlike the new film it did make money, but it was hardly a blockbuster even by 1982 standards.

Franco Macabro said...

Venom5: I went in not expecting much, because of Marcus Nispel's involvement. I hated Pathfinder when I saw it; to me it was a cheap Conan rip-off. And now that Nispel got the chance to make a real Conan film, he does this? Such a wasted opportunity.

I agree, Milius's Conan is extremely iconic, which should have been reason enough for the filmmakers to put that extra effort to do a film that could be at that same level of quality, or surpass it. But alas, what we got was what we got. People like good well written characterization, it lets us know the character, but they ignored all of this and went for dumb action. The original balanced both elements very well.

The part about him being a pirate was cool, but did you feel the ship was a bit small? That it didnt really feel like a pirate ship, but more like a toy pirate ship?

Savage sword of Conan was such a cool magazine! I had a couple of issues myself. Loved reading them. I'm going to buy the collected editions, which are onsale at Amazon, it will be fun reading through those.

Thanks for commenting man!

Fritz: So your saying this was a "re-imaging" rather then a remake? I wasnt aware of this, it is referred to as a remake all over, and they do have similar plot lines, especially when it comes to Conan's parents being killed by a strange religious cult. But it's true, they went their own storyline about the magical mask that would bring back the evil witch. In that way it was similar to Mario Bava's Black Sunday, which was also about the resurrection of a powerful evil witch.

I've read some Conan comics (collected them for a while) like Savage Sword of Conan and King Conan and plain old Conan. Loved those comics, but I've never read Robert E. Howard's books, Im looking forward to them though. In this sense, I dont know much about Howard's universe, all I know about Conan as a character comes from the films, and the comics. I need to get down and reading those books. Sad to hear neither of the films has truly captured what Howard created.

Yeah, Milius's Conan wasnt a huge hit, but at least it wasnt a turkey like the new one. Plus, its quality as a film has garnered its space in popular culture. So much so that people still love to watch these old Conan films, I know I do.

Thanks for commenting Fritz!

SFF said...

ALl I can tell you is that Conan was on my MUST buy list. I was really excited to see a Jason Momoa as Conan film after enjoying his on Stargate Atlantis.

Week after week of bad news soured me and then along comes the latest installment of The Film Connoisseur and literally dismantles my hope and dream of a good film. You have singlehandedly taken it off my list.

I appreciate the review and comments here. Clearly this is a mess of a film. I'm going to reserve two hours to waste on something else. Oh well. Cheers sff

Franco Macabro said...

@The Sci-Fi Fanatic: If a good film is what you were expecting, than forget it man. This Conan dissapoints in my book.

Now in the other hand, if you want a half assed Conan film, be my guest! It does have a couple of cool moments here and there, but as a whole, it's definetly a mess.

Not even the musical score compares to the awesomeness of Milius's Conan. You know that grand orchestral score thats so memorable on the original? This new one replaced it with a really generic and unimpressive one! Sad but true...

If anything, see this new "Conan Film" as a curiosity.


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