Friday, August 19, 2011

Invariably Laughable: Conan the Barbarian



This review originally appeared on the San Francisco Appeal.

As someone who seems to be missing the part of the brain that gets any kind of entertainment out of movies featuring sorcerers, ancient lands, and men fighting with swords, I probably shouldn't be reviewing a movie like "Conan the Barbarian." Especially because I really couldn't tell a "good" fantasy epic from a "bad" one, since ultimately they all come off as profoundly stupid to me. (Except for the "Lord of the Rings" movies. That's the kind of mystical movie magic that was able to work its charms on me.)

I know I've seen parts of the 1982 Schwarzenegger version of "Conan," as it always seemed to be on cable television when I was growing up, but even then I knew that particular brand of movie wasn't for me, so I can't really compare the two films. But I can compare the naked chests of the actors playing the titular role, and have to say, Arnold's is far more impressive than Jason Momoa's. I bring this up because about half-way through the movie, as I was growing increasingly bored, I figured I could just concentrate on those pecs to keep myself entertained. Didn't work.

The movie opens with Morgan Freeman, AKA the go-to-voice-of-God, explaining that what we are about to witness is set in a time that never happened, in lands that never existed. Conan is born on the battlefield, and by "born," I mean his mother is stabbed in the gut with a sword during a fight, (an act we get to witness in vitro, perhaps the movie's best moment), and is subsequently ripped from her stomach by his father, (Ron Perlman), who then raises him to the heavens with a mighty roar, natch.

A young and barbaric Conan later witnesses the death of his father, and grows up pec-ish, and full of rage, on a quest to kill Khalar (Stephen Lang), the warlord responsible for his father's death. Khalar, meanwhile, is on a quest of his own, to find a woman of "pure blood," to help unleash the power of a magic mask made of bones. At Khalar's side is his gothy daughter, Marique (Rose McGowan), a witch with a receding hairline, finger blades, and wedge boots.

Once Tamara, (Rachel Nichols), the woman of "pure blood" is found (and pure blood just means something about lineage, not virginity, as I was convinced for half the movie), it is up to Conan to protect her, boss her around, and eventually bed her. After all, his self-professed mantra is, "I live; I love; I slay. I am content."

There is little dialogue in the movie--perhaps the better to sell the film overseas with--but what is there is invariably laughable, although not really funny enough to sustain the movie on a camp level. But if it's bloody sword fights you're after, then "Conan" gets the job done there; I never knew blood could spurt in such a variety of ways!

Of course, those blood spurts are presented in 3D, as everything seems to be these days, but the effect isn't utilized much, and instead it's one of those movies where the 3D effects are about depth, and not things flying at your face. Which is to say: A waste.

I came away from the movie thinking it was terrible, and not worth seeing by anyone, but again, I am not entirely sure what fans of this genre would be satisfied with! I DO know that the life of the books' author Robert E. Howard is a fascinating one--he was a weird dude!--and a movie about him, called "The Whole Wide World," which came out in 1996, and stars Vincent D'Onofrio, is definitely worth seeing. Go rent that, and leave "Conan" to the barbarians.

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