Wednesday, 9 November 2011

Film Review: Conan the Barbarian

This remake business is getting a bit out of hand isn't it? Does no one have an original bone in their body anymore? Are movie-goers doomed to an eternity of iteration upon iteration? One would certainly hope not. But epitomising this trend of late is German-born director Marcus Nispel, someone who has built a career on remaking other people's movies (Friday the 13th, The Texas Chainsaw Masacre, Frankenstein). Unsurprisingly then his latest work is also another re-imagining, that of John Milius' Conan the Barbarian.

In the Hyborian Age of beards and broadswords, evil Khalar Zym (Lang) murders the chief (Perlman) of a barbarian tribe whilst in search for the last piece of a magic mask. Years later the son of the chief, Conan (Momoa), is determined to avenge his father's death by killing practically everyone else. Along the way he gets involved with Tamara (Nichols), the last of an ancient bloodline whom Zym needs to complete a ritual that will activate the mask and enable him to rule the world. Or some such tripe...

Of course, you don't go into a remake expecting something groundbreaking and this new Conan is no exception. Blood and boobs, both are here. What you do expect from remakes however is how they will inevitably shit all over the memory of the original you enjoyed all those years ago. Again, Conan is no exception. In which case it might be unfair to chide those responsible for this work of unrelenting barbarism. However, even with such low expectations this incarnation is pretty bad, omitting everything which gained the original its pulp classic status, most glaringly the Austrian behemoth himself. Indeed, Arnie's are big boots to fill. So big in fact that even the hulking figure of Jason Momoa, whom many will recognise from Stargate Atlantis and Game of Thrones, looks like a scrawny little child compared to the Teutonic slab.

To be fair, Conan the Barbarian has a reasonably captivating if unambitious opening involving a narrator spinning some yarn of dungeons and dragons while a camera pans across a dingy, windswept landscape. Shot in Bulgaria, the country certainly has a knack for strangely alluringly drab environments, cinematographer Thomas Kloss truly capturing some fascinating locations and stunning imagery. We are introduced to Conan, plucked from his mother on the field of battle, and follow him through his teenage years to manhood in the form of Momoa's rippling form. However it is this stage of adulthood where everything starts to go wrong, the film descending into a farcical circus of hacking and maiming. Conan, as you might expect, is dedicated to unfettered carnage. In 3D.

The plot becomes largely inconsequential, merely existing to shift characters along from point A to B. There's something about a magic mask and the need of 'pure blood' from an extinct lineage of sorceresses to activate it, but the film doesn't waste any more time explaining this than it took you to read that sentence. There's less acting than there is grunting as blank avatars flex and pose to ludicrous effect. Dialogue isn't welcome in this men of men's world, typified by a scene in which Rachel Nichol's character threatens to get chatty, only for Momoa to silence her by stuffing a rag in her mouth.

Indeed, Nichols proves to be a forgettable love interest, literally yelping and screaming so much to be heard that you begin to wish someone put her out of her misery. Momoa is a drab slate without hint of personality or charisma while Lang is just about passable as your generic villain. Perhaps the only person seemingly involved is Zym's daughter Marique (McGowan), a seductive sorceress who's the only character that infers any real menace. Action set pieces, while impressive the first time round, wear thin by the sixth, seventh, eighth, ninth time you see them to the point where all this sadism and barbarity is justified on the basis that, well, Conan is a barbarian. Indeed, our hero is so blank that he is almost indistinguishable from the bad guys. He fights under no moral code, nor does he stand for any kind of principle.

Conan the Barbarian exists to hack and maim as much folly as possible, purely for the sake of showcasing as much sadistic carnage as it possibly can. It's pure primitive savagery and as if to hammer this home Conan neatly surmises this film's philosophy on life, stating "I live, I love, I slay, I am content". It's the simple things after all, isn't it? In which case you might enjoy this simple film. Moreover though this lacks any sense of fun that in theory it should have in spades. It's all rather drudging.