Conan The Barbarian (2011)

Rating: ***
Review Date: 8/21/11
Music: Tyler Bates
Cast: Jason Momoa, Rachel Nichols, Stephen Lang, Rose McGowan, Leo Howard, Ron Perlman, Morgan Freeman (narrator)

"I live, I love, I slay, and I bore you to tears."

A blunt and amateurish sword and sorcery film that lacks the grace, beauty, intelligence, and humanity of John Milius's original masterpiece. As a child, Conan (Leo Howard) witnessed the massacre of his village and the death of his barbarian father (Ron Perlman). Years later, he sets out on a quest for revenge, and becomes Hyboria's only hope for salvation against an evil madman (Stephen Lang).

I imagine that this is what "Kull The Conqueror" (1997) would have been like if it had taken itself seriously, as they share many similarities. Jason Momoa does an adequate job with the role of Conan and glares intensely throughout. However, I think I was more impressed with Leo Howard's unflinching performance as the young Conan. Rachel Nichols is beautiful and handles a sword well, but is strapped with the most embarrassing and inappropriate dialog in the film. Stephen Lang's portrayal of the villain Khalar Zym is serviceable, but his perfect teeth are a constant distraction. And Rose McGowan as an evil sorceress is ridiculous, but she seems to be thoroughly enjoying herself. Having her in the film is a bit of a tease after Robert Rodriguez's failed attempts to feature her in a Red Sonja film a few years back. Maybe some day...

Unfortunately, the narrative is a discontinuous mess of jerky edits with no sense of rhythm. The battle scenes are chaotic and claustrophobic, and while they feature some satisfying blood work, it's impossible to follow the action due to bad camera work and shoddy editing. Possibly the best aspect of the film is the art direction, and the fantastical locations look like they popped right out of a video game. Sadly, over-reliance on CGI effects makes the film look tacky and simply invites criticism. Composite shots also look surprisingly bad for this day and age. Tyler Bates' music score is bold and strong, but can't compare to Basil Poledouris' epic original score. It's also exceedingly loud, and attempts to drown out the rest of film. The only thing that can compete with the soundtrack for your attention are the ridiculously over-the-top sound effects, which are laughably excessive.

With all of its in-your-face violence and bloodshed, the film seems surprisingly dull and lifeless. No attempts at character development are made, and we're never invited to care about anyone. This just makes the wacky and emotionally dead love scene even more incomprehensible, and like most of the rest of the movie, you're left wondering where that came from and why. Still, for all of my criticisms, I found the film marginally entertaining and I appreciated its attempts to take itself seriously, unlike "Conan The Destroyer" (1984), "Red Sonja" (1985), and "Kull."