The Establishing Shot: Conan The Barbarian Review & Red Carpet Report

Thursday, August 25, 2011 Craig Grobler 0 Comments

Curious to know what Arnold Schwarzenegger thought of the new Conan The Barbarian? Read on. Let’s get this out of the way first though - Marcus Nispel’s Conan The Barbarian is not John MiliusConan The Barbarian. They are two completely different films.

I am a big fan of MiliusConan The Barbarian and for me it has transcended the genre into epic cinematic greatness, you can read more about my thought on this here! Marcus Nispel’s Conan The Barbarian is a fresh look at Robert E Howard’s Conan. It is aimed at a new generation and brings with it contemporary filmmaking techniques and sensibilities (gone are the dodgy spirits scratched into celluloid that bring Conan back to life – they have been replaced with over reliance on CG landscapes) as well as lots of blood and steel to the screen.

I know I am not alone in thinking Milius’ Conan is great – in a recent online poll Conan was voted into the number 3 fantasy film slot by fans.

Top 10 Fantasy Movies Poll

1. The Lord of the Rings Trilogy (2001 – 2003)
2. 300 (2006)
3. Conan the Barbarian (1982)
4. Highlander (1986)
5. The 13th Warrior (1999
6. Harry Potter Series (2001 – 2011)
7. Willow (1988)
8. Clash of the Titans (1981)
9. Gladiator (2000)
10. Excalibur (1981)

Source: Official Conan the Barbarian UK Facebook
If you look at the results of the poll, like me you’ll probably notice a couple of things:
- Yes! As good as Gladiator is it’s not Fantasy, it’s much closer to fact and there is no magik in it.
- Correct! Excalibur should definitely be further up on that list.
- But more importantly look at the dates next to the titles.

Fans of the Sword & Sorcery genre have been largely ignored. Sure, of late we have had the sucky Clash of The Titans, Season of the Witch as well as James Purefoy’s rather awesome Solomon Kane film based on another Robert E. Howard character.

So when I heard that Marcus Nispel was tackling Conan The Barbarian, although I was a little wary I was excited that the lands of Hyboria would be revisited by my favourite Barbarian. I always knew that Milius’ Conan was not only a great genre film but a great film. And chances were that despite Nispel’s familiartity with remakes - Friday the 13th, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre as well as with the genre – Pathfinder, his film would be a different film. As I began to learn more about Nispel’s Conan it became apparent that he was creating his own mythology closer to Robert E Howard’s Conan. The film even referencing one of Conan’s early adventures - The Tower of the Elephant where he destroys the powerful sorcerer Yara and arguably the legend of Conan begins.

I was even lucky enough to meet Jason Momoa, who let me scratch another item off my bucket list by arm wrestling me, and truth be told he is way too cool to be a Barbarian but I guess that’s why they call it acting. So when Conan The Barbarian first UK screening was scheduled to be it's European premiere at Empire’s Big Screen I made sure I was there.

Empire BIG SCREEN : European Premiere of Conan The Barbarian - Empire Magazine's Master of Ceremonies Chris Hewitt and Jason Momoa (Conan) introduce the UK Premiere of Marcus Nispel's Conan The Barbarian by Craig Grobler
In the clip below from the red carpet Jason Momoa very briefly talks about super hero roles, what he likes about the Conan character, his health regime since easing off on his intense Conan training, comparisons between his Conan The Barbarian and Arnold Schwarzenegger’s film, his upcoming role as Keegan a villain going up against Sylvester Stallone in Walter Hill’s adaptation of the noir revenge comic Bullet To The Head, his personal project the The Road To Paloma and what Arnold Schwarzenegger said about Momoa’s Conan as well as introduce the European premiere of Conan The Barbarian with Empire’s Chris Hewitt.

Marcus Nispel’s Conan The Barbarian starts with Conan being born, so this really is an origin story and like the tagline says “born on the battlefield” he is literally born on the battlefield. Unfortunately his mother dies giving birth so his warrior father, chief of the tribe (Ron Perlman) brings Conan up in the most warrior like of ways presumably. We are then taken to a brutal scene where Conan competes with some older kids for the right to fight with the Cimmerian warriors which can be seen here!.

Then things take a turn when the village is attacked by Khalar Zym (Stephen Lang) and his vicious hordes. Zym is hunting for an artifact that will give him unimaginable power. The battle ends in Zym’s favour and Conan plays an unwitting role in his father’s demise. This irks him to no end and he swears vengeance.

Audience Persona: Jacque the Seat Jerker (the first in a series of posts where I profile audience members)
At this point I decided to move - whilst my chair in the front row was great for seeing Momoa introduce Conan it was not so great for watching Conan The Barbarian in 3D on the Sky Super Size Screen so I opted to move further back unfortunately I only found myself worse off when I discovered that a young guy sitting in my row must have had a nervous disposition and every time a bone shattered, blood flew out the screen or some one was bashed. He jerked around like a 12 year old girl watching Twilight, so pretty much for the entire 2 hours, it felt like another dimension had been added on top of the 3D and I was experiencing the 4th dimension Fight-o-rama. It was really distracting but I moved passed annoyed and wishing he would man up to feeling slightly embarrassed for the guy, as his date was becoming more peeved.
The point being if you are a little girly boy give Conan The Barbarian a miss. It is pretty hardcore.
Look if I went into Conan The Barbarian expecting Inception I might have been disappointed - but I have seen Nispel’s back catalogue and I know the kind of films he makes, so I went in to see Jason Momoa as a Barbarian hack, slash and bash his way to revenge which is exactly what I got. The story is pared to basics as per Howard's books Conan grows up as a thief, and whilst on high adventure bonds with similar like minded people and smashes those that aren't, but is always driven by a deep seated revenge while he crosses the globe.

In the meantime Zym has grown in notoriety and along with his madder than a bag of dropped rattlesnakes sorceress daughter Marique - played by an almost unrecognisable-y good Rose McGowan he is became a powerful overlord.

When their paths crossed again over a young maiden Tamara (Rachel Nichols) the scene is set for a showdown. Swords, muscles, steel, creatures, blood, magic are and lots of fun are on the cards.

It is pretty much exactly what I was expecting from Marcus Nispel and it looks visually spectacular. If you have enjoyed his previous film you’ll probably love Conan as I think it is his best effort yet. All credit to Nispel for not copping out or taking the lazy route by trying to make the film humorous. I really dislike the majority of films that try to prop up weak stories by distracting with humour or would have you believe that irony adds depth to characters – when all they are doing is saying we can't take this material seriously but we expect you to. Few films pull it off successfully and thankfully Conan steers right away from that and focuses on what Conan does best.

Once we get through the Conan's origin, and despite some brilliantly choreographed fight scenes the narrative weakens and lacks the spark to lift it. Even the strong performances from the leads; Stephen Lang, Jason Momoa and Rose McGowan are hampered by a weak script. Similar to Avatar, Thor, Piranha and The Hole among others, Conan makes the same mistakes that first time 3D directors make by paying too much attention to working out how to make the 3D and visuals work well and not enough on making the story great.

Having said that a highlight of the film are the really polished effects and 3D, this is something Nispel does really well, particularly the close shots and especially the creatures but the over use of obvious CG landscapes and architecture devalues the authenticity of the good effects across the film.

Conan is a fun high adventure film with some brilliant action/fight scenes and buckets of blood park your brain at the door sit back and bathe in the savage cinema that it is and you'll have lots of fun. Conan is satisfyingly brutal and I should be seen in 3D on the big screen to take it all in. I really hope the Conan team have learnt some lessons from Conan The Barbarian and come back twice as strong as I really want to see Jason Momoa back in the saddle and swinging his sword in further adventures of Conan

And if you are wondering what happened to Jacques – I saw the young couple a little later Jacques calming his nerves with a milkshake at one of the cafes at the O2, they seemed fine and would probably get over this hiccup.

Conan The Barbarian is on general release from this Friday, 24 August, 2011

Conan the Barbarian
The tale of Conan the Cimmerian and his adventures across the continent of Hyboria on a quest to avenge the murder of his father and the slaughter of his village.

Director: Marcus Nispel
Writers: Thomas Dean Donnelly, Joshua Oppenheimer
Stars: Jason Momoa, Ron Perlman and Rose McGowan

Empire Big Screen Conan The Barbarian Review & Premiere Report