Conan the Barbarian (Two-Disc Combo: Blu-ray 3D / Blu-ray / DVD) (2011)

Actors: Jason Momoa, Ron Perlman
Director: Marcus Nispel
Format: Color, DTS Surround Sound, Subtitled, Widescreen
Language: English
Subtitles: English, Spanish
Region: Region A/1
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
Number of discs: 3
Rated: R (Restricted)
Studio: Lionsgate
DVD Release Date: November 22, 2011
Run Time: 113 minutes





When my editor at the Sci-Fi Movie Page asked me to review the Conan the Barbarian Blu-ray, I initially thought he was talking about the Schwarzenegger film. (That version came out on Blu-ray back in August.) Only when it arrived did I realize my error . . . and cursed myself for not reading the email more closely!

That I could make such a mistake at all speaks to how utterly forgettable the 2011 version is. Bad, yes, but not even the memorable kind of bad that warrants a giggle-inducing MST3K-style screening.

Conan the Barbarian claims to adhere more closely to Robert E. Howard’s initial vision, as Jason Momoa steps into the furry boots and starts cracking the skulls of prehistoric miscreants everywhere. But while it understands the trappings of Howard’s savage universe, it can’t find the soul to drive them forward. Instead, it presents a hollow pantomime of swashbuckling swords and sorcery: all bellowing and bloodshed without a single thought as to what it all means.

Momoa seems game and he certainly possesses the physique to carry off Conan.

Born in the midst of a pitched battle, he grows up fierce and proud under tutelage of his papa (Ron Perlman), until the bad guy du jour (Stephen Lang) slaughters his entire family in search of a fabled mystical mask. Conan proceeds to glower his way around the fantasy world until earning a shot at payback, picking up an innocent soothsayer/love interest (Rachel Nichols) in the process.

The weariness of the set-up is borne out by the feckless, by-the-book direction, which can’t invest a single scene with any originality or energy. Lang dusts off his Avatar routine for another paycheck while Rose McGowan launches into full-bore superfreak mode as his carnivorous daughter. Neither of them rise above the basics needed to do the job.

Momoa clearly relishes the part, but his character lacks direction or focus, content with being an earthy rogue rather than the force of nature that Schwarzenegger embodied. He lacks his predecessor’s on-screen charisma as well. Say what you like about Arnold: his portrayal of Conan made him the biggest star in the world. Momoa tries, but he just doesn’t have the presence he needs.

It may not be fair to compare the new barbarian with the older one, but the 2011 version offers so little identity of its own, that you find yourself sliding into it by default. The 1982 film veered into uncomfortable racism at times, but it also struggled with big ideas, such that its overt campiness still left the viewer with things to ponder. It also featured a truly liberated heroine, a first-rate villain and a world view that matched the ferocity of Howard’s writing.

The new Conan, in comparison, simply slathers a lot of violence and bare breasts onto what would otherwise be a Syfy original movie. Momoa faces a depressingly routine gaggle of threats, flexes his muscles appropriately, and saves the day courtesy of one of the most feckless final swordfights ever to grace the screen. Contrast their dull, labored slashing with the finale of the first film . . . where James Earl Jones never drew so much as a kitchen knife but still came within a hair’s breadth of bringing Conan to his knees.

Again, that may not be fair, but if you didn’t want it, you shouldn’t have put that name on the cover. Conan the Barbarian means well, but even without its predecessor standing over it, it leaves a whole lot to be desired. It’s only been a few months since its release, but already it has vanished: eclipsed by its superior and left to blow away on the ash heap of cinematic history. That’s no way for a hero of this caliber to go; more’s the pity that the filmmakers never realized it.

THE DISCS: For such a crappy movie, the disc actually provides a fair number of worthwhile materials. The best is a short featurette about Howard himself, covering his life in rural Texas and the circumstances that led to his tragic suicide. It also contains a more mundane feature on the making of the movie and running commentary from the filmmakers. The Blu-ray set contains a 3D version of the film – playable only on a 3D television with the special glasses – as well as DVD and digital versions.

WORTH IT? Not by any stretch of the imagination. The set itself is fairly reliable, but the movie fails on every conceivable level, and doesn’t even make for reliable guilty-pleasure viewing.

RECOMMENDATION: Stick with Arnold; you’ll be a lot happier. (As a side note, anyone interested in Howard should look for a wonderful biopic called The Whole Wide World starring Vincent D’Onofrio and Renee Zellweger.)

- Rob Vaux



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