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Conan the Borebarian

By Crom! Jason Momoa as Conan the Barbarian in the film of the same name really has the gods on his side. Whenever he seems to be in mortal peril, you can be sure that some lazy deus ex machina — a ship waiting at the bottom of the right cliff, a convenient rock fall — will save his neck.

Then again, perhaps the gods owe him a favour or two for his rough childhood. In the opening scene of the film, Conan’s dad (played by Ron Perlman) cuts the lad out of his dying mother’s belly on the battlefield. A few years later, young Conan watches as a warlord shatters the bucolic peace of his village and slaughters his entire tribe of noble savages.

Conan swears revenge and eventually ends up serving as the protector of a young woman of a pure and ancient lineage whose blood said warlord is after. The villain needs the girl’s vital fluids to activate a relic that will resurrect his necromancer wife and make him all-powerful. Why is open to question since he already seems to lord over the mythical Hyborian Age that the film is set in. Conan, of course, is having none of that.

Conan the Barbarian is the latest movie starring the Cimmerian warrior created by Robert E Howard in 1932. The swords ‘n sorcery character is perhaps best known in mainstream culture through the pair of Arnold Schwarzenegger films made in the early 1980s. Though those films are a little ropey, they still offer some camp entertainment value.

Conan ... the gods must be lazy (click image to enlarge)

The same can’t be said for Conan the Barbarian, which is a yawn from beginning to end. Under its slick special effects and art direction, Conan is near-incoherent, and for a film with so much violence, surprisingly bloodless. For the all the money that was obviously thrown at this production, there clearly wasn’t budget for a scriptwriter that understood plot and dialogue.

There are few moments of wonder or suspense in a film that lurches drunkenly between its brutal action scenes. There are some odd breaks in continuity that make the film feel choppy, though it’s unclear whether this is the fault of the editor or the scriptwriter.

The comparison that seems unavoidable is with HBO’s dark fantasy TV series Game of Thrones, which also features Momoa as a nomadic barbarian. Game of Thrones has high stakes and memorable antiheroes, but Conan trades in sloppy contrivances and dull stock characters.

Where every limp lopped, tongue ripped out and head severed makes you wince in Game of Thrones, none of the violence in Conan seems to matter. After all, you don’t really care about the characters, and if you did you never really feel like they are in any danger.

The acting is also barely adequate. Many Conan fans were outraged when Baywatch himbo Momoa was chosen to swing the barbarian’s sword, though he has since scored some geek points with his role as the Genghis Khan-like Khal Drogo in Game of Thrones.

Though Momoa was a good fit with a role that asked that he grunted only a few words of English, he is not quite up the task of carrying an entire film on his shoulders, as ripped and muscled as they are. His Conan is a preening, photogenic pretty boy who projects little of the strength of will, ruthlessness of action and quickness of mind that define Howard’s character.

Conan the Barbarian trailer (via YouTube):

Stephen Lang as warlord Khalar Zym and sexpot Rose McGowan as his sorceress daughter hiss malevolently and utter darkly, but they’re about as imposing as the villains in a Janice Honeyman pantomime. Rachel Nichols is insipidly virginal as the nun that Conan takes under his protection.

The best scenes in the film go to Perlman — the gristly, stone-faced Hellboy actor — who works wonders with the pseudo-poetic dialogue he has to work with. There is a dangerous presence and a steely intelligence in Perlman as Corin that is missing from Momoa’s performance.

Conan’s special effects are decent, with some nifty fight scenes and tasteful use of CGI to evoke the film’s fantasy world. Sadly, the visuals are marred by a poor and unnecessary 3D conversion. When will filmmakers learn that fast, blurry action scenes and night-time sequences don’t go well with 3D? Since you’ll struggle to find a 2D print in a cinema, you may want to wait for the DVD release instead.  — Lance Harris, TechCentral

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