When it comes to films with gore-infested action and gratuitous nudity, there definitely are cinema-goers eager to form a queue. And of both, Conan the Barbarian (2011) has plenty: You will witness limbs being chopped off; men gutted alive; women clawed in the face by large metallic finger nails; scantily clad vixens gracing scenes at random; running horses smashed on the nostrils with heavy chains; villains getting their noses sliced off and then tortured by having fingers thrust inside.
But while many do enjoy a good bloody boisterous frolic, this 3D swords and sorcery movie, based on the character created by Robert E Howard in 1932, is simply not it. The biggest issue is how the film is directed. Marcus Nispel, a man with over a thousand commercials, music videos and remakes of slasher films such as The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (2003) and Friday the 13th (2009) to his credit, seems completely inept at characterisation or choreographing swordplay.
While his repertoire does suggest that he is better at special effects and violence — aside from an interesting scene involving magical sand monsters — Conan the Barbarian, fails at both miserably. The worst of it are the 3D effects, which feel completely artificial, with some scenes looking like pages from popup books.
The narrative isn’t particularly strong either. Set in the Hyborian Age, the film begins with the birth of Conan on the battlefield, after his mortally wounded mother asks his father Corin (Ron Perlman), the leader of the Cimmerian barbarians, to perform what I can only imagine to be a C-section, so that she can see her son before taking her final breath.
Later, when Conan has grown up to be a powerful and brave warrior, his tribe is attacked by Khalar Zym (Stephen Lang), a warlord looking to reunite pieces of a powerful magical mask, a piece of which Corin possesses. Khalar Zym, who plans to use this mask to raise his dead sorceress wife, leaves everyone in the tribe for dead, except for – you guessed it, Conan.
The rest of the tale takes place twenty years later, when grown up Conan (Jason Momoa), seeks revenge for the annihilation of his village, while Khalar Zym, with the aid of his creepy sorceress daughter Marique (Rose McGowan), seeks out a pureblood monk, Tamara (Rachel Nichols), to complete his evil ritual.
While most of the actors were adequately chosen, the casting of Jason Momoa as Conan feels like a giant misstep. With his pretty face, smooth, gleaming chest, tanned skin, shampooed hair, and silky smooth voice, Momoa seems more like a surfer from Hawaii, than a vicious barbarian. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who played the role in the 1982 movie, wasn’t some award-winning version of Conan either. But, with his barely decipherable accent, hard features, and unkempt look, at the very least, he looked the part. Compared to Arnie, Jason Momoa makes for a very metrosexual Conan. And compared to cinematic iterations of Conan from the past, this 2011 film is a real bloody waste.
Published in The Express Tribune, Sunday Magazine, September 18th, 2011.
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