18 Sep 2011

Conan Movie Review

So I finally got to watch the new Conan the Barbarian film, with Jason Momoa starring as Conan. I had gone expecting a pretty bad film, as the reviews that I had come across had been somewhat scathing. However, both my girlfriend and I agreed that the film was actually quite good. 

Of course neither of us had gone with the expectation that it would have some kind of deeper meaning, or social message. If that was what we had wanted, we would probably have been better off going to the theatre instead, or watching a Continental art film with subtitles. But this of course was Conan the Barbarian. We went there with the expectation of an action adventure with lots of violence in it, and that is exactly what we got!

Jason Momoa was excellent as Conan. Far better than Arnold Schwarzenegger ever was. I have collected Conan comics since I was a little boy and when i first saw the old Conan film, the first thought I had was "That is not Conan." Schwazenegger just never was vicious enough in the role. Momoa plays a ruthless Conan who is far closer to the Conan of the old Marvel Comics series.

Ron Perlman was very well-cast as Conan's father. It was good to see the producers keeping to the story of his being a blacksmith.

Lang as General George Pickett
Stephen Lang (perhaps best known for his portrayal of Major General George Pickett, who led the doomed Confederate assault against the centre of the Union line on the third day of the Battle of Gettysburg, in the 1993 film Gettysburg) also puts up a pretty good performance as the villainous Khalar Zym.

Although I had come across some critical remarks about how his acting had been ruined by his having to wear a 'funny hat', I really did not think his choice of headgear particularly outlandish. This is after all a fantasy movie. It is silly to expect a warlord in the Hyborian Age to use clothing and accessories similar to those that have been used historically in our own times.

 The plot was interesting and fast-paced. One criticism that has been made about this film was that the story moves from one location to another too quickly, without giving the viewer any sense of the size of the Hyborian world. However, it is difficult to see the point of having long sequences showing the characters travelling, for example,on a long sea voyage from Zingara to Messantia. Such scenes might be of interest to die-hard Conan fans who would have enjoyed the feeling of the passage of time on such a journey, but they would have made the film drag and been quite meaningless to those viewers who had never read a R.E. Howard story or an old copy of Savage Sword of Conan before.

One failing that this film shares with most fantasy/sword-and-sorcery ones, however, is that it never succeeds in giving the impression of being set in a substantial world. The action unfolds almost exclusively in 'peripheral' or 'outland' locations - a Zingaran slave colony, a barbarian village, a distant monastery, the Skull Cave. The two brief scenes in major settlements, in Messantia and in the City of Thieves, are both shot within taverns, with no outdoor city scenes.

This is a pity because, unlike Tolkien's Middle Earth, the different locations in Howard's Hyborian World were all designed to correspond to real historical counterparts, and would have been quite easy to re-create. Messantia could have quite convincingly been depicted using a medieval European or Mediterranean set. The City of Thieves in Zamora could have been re-created with an Arabian Nights/Middle Eastern set. Populating these cities with extras would have been relatively cheap and easy. Unlike Hobbiton or Rivendell, which had to be built from scratch and peopled with heavily made-up actors, these sets could easily have been filled by extras in period costumes, as there were only humans, and no dwarves or elves, in the Hyborian world. A wasted opportunity really.

On the whole, though, the film made for a thouroughly enjoyable evening out. I would give it a rating of seven out of ten.

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