Movie review: Conan the Barbarian in 3D
Another great classic is reanimated only to be burned by the local villagers (I mean scriptwriters).
You know, being what is generally considered highly intelligent and perceptive is both a blessing and a curse. Sure, it helps me notice things like smoke coming from under the hood of my car and make the intelligent connection that maybe I should stop before it blows up, but sometimes I know ahead of time when things are going to be horrible, and Conan the Barbarian is the perfect example of that. When I first saw the trailer I had that slow sinking sensation you get from stuff like swimming in the ocean and seeing a fin angling for you. It could be a dolphin, but odds are you are about to lose some significant anatomy.
This movie is also great example of being careful what you wish for. A couple months ago I was bitching about the fact that I couldn’t find a bad movie worthy of my sarcasm, and low and behold, here one is! Unfortunately it is a remake of one of my all time favorites, so I feel like I am desecrating a corpse.
How did I know this was going to blow? Well, first of all, some movies just really don’t need to be remade. Conan the Barbarian circa 1982 was cinematographic awesomeness that holds up even to this day. Arnold at his best, great action, a compelling story of love and revenge, and a guy who turns into a giant snake. What more could you ask for? So they show the trailer for this new turd and immediately I know it is going to suck, just in comparison to what was previously known. But was it going to suck as a stand alone film? In other words, if Conan had not been made in 1982, how likely was this to suck by itself? For insight on that question I turned to friend of all movie reviewers IMDB. My fears were allayed when I found out they had hired a bunch of people no one had ever heard of: sub par remake director Marcus Nispel (the Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2003, Friday the 13th 2009, the Very Best of Cher the Video Hits Collection 2004 (WTF???)); writer Thomas Dean Donnelly (Dylan Dog, Dead of (the) Night 2010, which I reviewed and it sucked, A Sound of Thunder 2005 (bad film adaptation of the Butterfly Effect), Sahara 2005, Thoughtcrimes 2003); his writing partner Joshua Oppenheimer, who has all the same credits and may just have been responsible on some level for the creation of the atomic bomb, and a couple other losers including Sean Hood, who wrote for the Crow Wicked Prayers 2005. With a pedigreed lineup like that there is no way this movie could really suck, right?
It’s not so much as I am disappointed in these less than talented individuals (I mean, look at their track record. You can’t expect much) as I am bitter at Hollywood for taking another cherished childhood memory and whoring it out for a few quick bucks. Does a decent directory and a couple of good writers really cost so much that you feel you have to inflict visual pollution on the screens of America? Hell, go to any film school, find 100 seniors, and tell them all to write a Conan script. Make it a contest and one of them will come up with something that reads better than this Miles O’Keefe worthy opus.
Anyway, the movie. How does it suck? Oh, let me count the ways. The thing is, with the original Conan (yes I am going to be making a lot of comparisons. With a film like that you can’t not. Deal with it), the writers kind of knew the level of acting they were dealing with (i.e. not a lot) and wrote the character and dialog to best suite Arnold’s acting strengths and weaknesses. There was minimal conversation and they made up for it with great direction and visuals, coming out with something brilliant. I cite the opening sequence as an example. Conan’s village is attacked by raiders under a double snake emblem. Everyone is killed, and Conan gets chained to the Wheel of Pain for fifteen years before being trained as a arena slave in gladiatorial games. That is pretty much it, but with almost no dialog whatsoever you are told everything about Conan you could possibly need. Where he is from, what motivates him, how he became so skilled in battle, etc. In this dog, I knew it was going to hell when Morgan Freeman (I think. Sure sounds like him, but I couldn’t find a credit) starts the film with a narration about what is motivating the bad guys (some kind of evil mask). Hey, morons. This is a film from primitive times. We don’t need a really complicated motivation for the bad guys to be bad. Simple rape and pillage should be sufficient.
Anyway, in the new film Conan is ripped from his mothers womb in battle by his father (Ron Perlman, why can’t you pick out a decent script?). There was a chance for a nice training montage that I, as a fan of Kung Fu movies, would have appreciated it, but they cut it down to show us how Conan was a brutal killer even before being trained. Good genes, I guess. Also I guess they paid for a blacksmith set so they had to show a sword being forged. His village gets overrun by the bad guy (Stephan Lang, and the only performance that didn’t totally suck) who is looking for the last piece of the magical mask that we were just told by Morgan Freeman that was broken up and scattered among the barbarians. Apparently he wants to use the mask to have his daughter resurrect his dead sorceress wife with the blood of a purebred (not sure what kind of purebred. Dalmatian, maybe?) so she can help him conquer the world. See what I mean about overly complicated.
Anyway, Ron Perlman takes a molten steel shower and Conan escapes (what the hell? No Wheel of Pain? Lame.). Morgan cuts in with another expository monologue to avoid all that pesky story development and tells us that Conan is now a great warrior and thief. Conan is somehow the most civilized barbarian in the history of the world (you know, just not wearing a shirt so you can expose your overdeveloped pectorals does not make you a barbarian) and spends his time freeing slaves and whatnot (remember when Conan was just motivated for loot, and only discovered the bad guys when he broke into their tower to steel anything not nailed down?), with the help of some blatantly rubber boulders a la Star Trek TOS. I’m not kidding about the civilized barbarian, by the way, his speech and actions are about as far removed from actual barbarians as this movie is from talented writers.
So we find out the bad guy and his daughter (played horribly by Rose McGowen. Sorry Rose, I think you are hot, but if you are going to play a primitive evil sorceress can you please try to pretend you aren’t a SoCal bimbo?) have the mask, but instead of using the last 20 years to more or less conquer the world they have been looking for their purebred (English Bulldog?). By coincidence it is a hot young girl (ever notice the chosen one is never a fat male bookkeeper?) who lives in a monastery. Some brain deadening action occurs. The monastery has bad stuff happen to it. Conan rescues the purebred (Beagle?) but then sort of captures her to be used as bait for the bad guy. More bad action occurs. Magical hijinks ensues, including the only fight scene that didn’t make me want to pass out when Rose summons some Sandman-esque demons who are actually pretty cool. Unlimited henchmen, bad and good, are killed by the truckload. We grind our way to the pretty dumb ending that I and I think no one else in the audience cared about.
The stars. Sand demons. One star. Ron Perlman. One star. Jason Momoa, whom I like from Stargate Atlantis. One star. Some completely and utterly unnecessary but highly appreciated gratuitous nudity. One star. Giant octopus fight. One star. I’ll give props for costuming. One star. Most of the villains looked pretty cool and had some nice variety. One star. Total: seven stars.
Now the black holes. Honestly, I found it really kind of boring. I was in serious danger of dozing off, and not just in the acting scenes. The action was so repetitive and predictable, and I had no connection with Conan whatsoever, not to mention that he doesn’t even get slightly hurt so there was never any tension. One black hole. A pale imitation of a great film. One black hole. No Wheel of Pain. One black hole. No “What is best in life?” One black hole (What is Best in Life image courtesy of the movie t shirt category). No Riddle of Steel (they had some dumb Mystery of Steel, but it was lame). One black hole. Dialog so bad that Robert DiNiro couldn’t deliver it well (“I live. I love. I slay, and I am content.”-Conan). Two black holes. Wooden, mediocre acting almost all around. Two black holes. Remember how Conan’s love interest was an accomplished warrior herself? Not here. One black hole. Conan’s thief sidekick falls into the annoying comic relief category (in the original he was pretty cool). One black hole. Annoying monologs in place of decent direction and story telling. One black hole. Location subtitles for places that don’t really exist. Are we supposed to know or care? This isn’t a James Bond film. One black hole. Conan the Civilized Barbarian. One black hole. The main bad guy had a really stupid double bladed sword. One black hole. Is it unreasonable to assume four trained warriors can capture a woman with no weapons training whatsoever without her sticking a knife in the unguarded heart of one of them? Where does that need to have the girl strike back at least once per fight come from? I’ve seen it in other films and it always strikes me as pandering. One black hole. General bad direction. One black hole. Generally bad writing. One black hole. Total: eighteen black holes.
Wow. Eleven black holes. A film finally got a worse score than Green Lantern from me. A lot of that is because I am a Conan fan (Conan O’Brien too, for that matter) and see this as some of the most odious crud possible being shoved down our throats in the pursuit of a quick buck, but I have to go with what I know. And honestly, if you are going to remake a movie or attempt to restart a franchise that give me the absolute right to make all the comparisons I like. If you didn’t want to be compared to the original you should have called this something like A Barbarian Kills Some Guys. I would have probably seen that and not really bitched so much.
Anyway, big weekend for movies. I plan to see Fright Night, and Attack the Block. If I can stomach it I might force myself to see Spy Kids: All the Time in the World 3D, but that looks pretty painful. There’s something out called One Day that looks wholesomely romantic, so I might see that later in the week.
Speaking of 3D, I want to call shenanigans on the whole 3D thing. It did nothing for this movie, to the point that at one time I took my glasses off and honestly didn’t see a lot of problems for like five minutes. I think the day will come when they sell us on 3D glasses only to show us a 2D film and laugh all the way to the bank.
By the way, my friend Joshua over at theStream.tv just posted a video with Jeff Lewis (Vork, from the Guild) for a game show they do called Stream, Lose, or Draw that is pretty funny. I am a huge Vork fan, if only bacause I knew about eight guys like him back when I played WOW.