Remakes are all the rage in Hollywood these days. Name a popular movie made during the last forty years and odds are it’s already been remade for a younger generation or some movie producer is busy drawing up the concepts for one. Nobody gets worked up when a movie like Arthur gets a remake, mention Dudley Moore to anybody under the age of 50 and you’ll get a blank stare and/or questions concerning his familial relationship with Demi. However, certain movies are sacrosanct in the minds of fans. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s 1982 Conan The Barbarian is such a movie.
While no classic in the same sense that Citizen Kane is regarded as one, the movie is beloved by a quite vocal group of fans, your faithful reviewer included. Conan The Barbarian introduced me to many of my firsts. It was my first sword and sorcery movie, my first Arnold movie and, most importantly of all, at least to me back in 82’, my first taste of onscreen boobies. I watch Conan religiously at least once every year, I can honestly say I’ve seen it at least 50 times, from beginning to end. I still own my old VHS copy of the movie as well as the DVD. I’ve yet to get the Blu-Ray, thus Crom laughs at me from his mountain.
So needless to say, thoughts of a remake initially bugged the heck out of me. Luckily, I had an ace up my sleeve. Being the resident geek here at Yell! Magazine, I was well versed in all things science fiction, thus, when Jason Momoa was first announced as Arnold’s replacement as the titular Cimmerian, I was quite happy with his selection. Unlike 90% of the original’s rabid fan base, my initial reaction to the news of Momoa’s casting wasn’t to log on to as many message boards as I could find and blurt out “What? The guy from Baywatch?” as often as I could to a receptive audience. No, to me Momoa was the insanely badass Ronon Dex from Stargate Atlantis. More recently, he was the larger than life Khal Drogo from HBO’s Game Of Thrones. Despite the protestations of geeks and the lamentations of their women, here was a guy who could act, fight and look like our favorite barbarian.
I’ve waited a few days to write this review because I was interested in seeing how the box office would react to this new Conan movie. Unfortunately, in typical meathead Hollywood fashion, the movie was released on one of the single most crowded weekends of the year and earned a measly 10 million dollars during its first three days of release. Not entirely unexpected since this past weekend saw the release of a children’s movie (Spy Kids), a horror movie (Fright Night) and a romantic picture (One Day) alongside Conan, which was already an R-rated movie, a hard sell in this market in any set of circumstances. Alas, box office glory is not in the cards for Conan The Barbarian 3D. This should in no way prevent you from seeing it.
Taking a cue from Robert E. Howard’s original stories, the movie’s opening moments depict Conan’s birth. As in the novels, Conan is quite literally born on the battlefield when his father is forced to take a sword to his wife’s stomach in order to perform an emergency Caesarian in the midst of a gigantic battle. The movie wastes no time in showering the audience in stomach churning gore merely a few minutes into its runtime as Conan, in fetus form, makes his bloody entrance. Fast forward a few years and the now teenaged Cimmerian, surprisingly well-played by young actor and martial artist Leo Howard, must undergo his rite of manhood. Conan The Barbarian pulls no punches in a sequence involving the young Howard maiming and killing several adult opponents in brutal, bone-crunching manner. Even a pint-sized Conan contains 300% more badass than the average male.
As with the 1982 version, the 2011 movie quickly deviates from Howard’s lore by slaughtering Conan’s entire clan and family, including his father. (Ron Perlman, making the most of his limited screen time.) The massacre is perpetrated by the warlord Khalar Zym (Avatar’s Stephen Lang, maniacal as ever) and his sorceress daughter, the eye-brow less Marique. (Rose McGowan, deliciously over the top.) Khalar is seeking McGuffin #2596 which will enable him to fulfill bad guy plot #2665.
Look, he’s the bad guy. Don’t think about it too much.
Fast forward about a decade and the now adult Conan has a few years of reaving, pirating and thieving experience under his loincloth, as well as a burning desire to see Zym burn in the fires of Arallu. Zym, meanwhile, as managed to locate the monk Tamara (Rachel Nichols, vacuous.) whose pure blood will finally unleash the mystical powers he’s been seeking. Tamara manages to escape from Zym’s clutches and hooks up with Conan, who begrudgingly grows to like the virginal monk’s fighting spirit. Along with her other… attributes.
Boobs. That was a boobs reference.
The duo embark on an epic quest to defeat Zym before he attains his goal. Director Marcus Nispel brings an appreciable washed-out, gritty feel to Conan’s Hyborian Age. There is humor but, thankfully, it’s kept small and in keeping with the tone of the movie. This is Conan, not Kull The Conqueror. The movie is understandly more modern than Arnold’s version, the effects are bigger and better while still retaining a certain goofy, B-movie charm. There are giant, tentacled monsters to fight, sand demons to destroy and at least one explicit, Cinemax-style sex scene to watch in glorious 3D. The only thing missing is a suitably heroic score, though, let’s face it, nothing was ever going to come close to Basil Poledouris’ legendary soundtrack. Conan The Barbarian 3D is sexy, violent and gory. It’s not a classic. It won’t win any awards. But it’s a lean, mean, star-making vehicle for Jason Momoa and I recommend it.
Yell! Rating (x/5 Skulls):
19 August 2011
Jason Momoa, Stephen Lang, Rachel Nichols, Ron Perlman, Thomas Dean Donnelly, and Joshua Oppenheimer