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Conan the Barbarian(2011)
A quest that begins as a personal vendetta for the fierce Cimmerian warrior soon turns into an epic battle against hulking rivals, horrific monsters, and impossible odds, as Conan realizes he is the only hope of saving the great nations of Hyboria from an encroaching reign of supernatural evil.
For more about Conan the Barbarian and the Conan the Barbarian Blu-ray release, see Conan the Barbarian Blu-ray Review published by Jeffrey Kauffman on November 15, 2011 where this Blu-ray release scored 3.5 out of 5.
Starring: Jason Momoa, Ron Perlman, Rose McGowan, Rachel Nichols, Stephen Lang, Bob Sapp
Director: Marcus Nispel
» See full cast & crew
Conan the Barbarian Blu-ray Review
How can something released in 3D be this flat?
Reviewed by Jeffrey Kauffman, November 15, 2011
Note: The 3D Blu-ray of this film will be reviewed by my colleague Ken Brown.
Note 2: Please be aware that only the 3D Combo Pack (which includes the 2D and 3D versions of the film on one Blu-ray) contains the special features listed below as well as the 7.1 audio mix. The standalone 2D release does not include special features, and offers only a 5.1 audio mix.
Say what you will about Ah-nold (and Lord knows just about everything has been said about him, especially after the revelations of his affair and "love child" surfaced some time ago), as an actor he seemed to be in on the joke about how completely incompetent he was. This is not to slight Schwarzenegger's accomplishments, for within the rather narrow confines of his acting abilities, he always did remarkably well. But no one is ever going to accuse the Governator of being another Laurence Olivier, or frankly even another Edmund Purdom, and part of Arnold's charm was that he never really seemed to take himself all that seriously, even in ostensibly dramatic roles. That sense of self-deprecation helped to make his Conan the Barbarian outings at the very least pulpy fun, even if they weren't particularly well crafted or even that faithful to the Robert E. Howard Weird Tales stories. The 2011 reboot of the Conant the Barbarian franchise sought to reinvigorate the character by getting him back to his roots, and while this effort is laudable, at least in terms of getting back to the original concept of an author, it's hobbled by the one thing that never seemed to enter the fray in any Arnold outing, namely this is a film that takes itself deadly seriously. Something as inherently goofy as Conan the Barbarian needs to have some sort of element of fun about it to make it come alive, and while this is a sumptuous production with everything money can buy, at least in terms of special effects and production design, it's lacking a simple visceral element that is necessary for any film to really connect with an audience: it's just not very enjoyable.
This new Conan the Barbarian takes the idea of origin story fairly literally, as the film opens (after the seemingly necessary prologue setting up the idea of a magically empowered mask which grants its wearer unspeakably evil power) with Conan's birth, to a mother on her last legs after a ferocious battle which has left her bloodied and mortally wounded. Conan's father Corin (Ron Perlman) cuts the baby from the mother's womb, depositing the bloodied little boy into her arms and giving her a chance to name him before she takes her last breath. That blood soaked opening gives the viewer a good idea of the hemoglobin infused mayhem that's in store for them.
This is fairly rote, by the numbers hero mythologizing, with a couple of nice and notable exceptions. We of course skip ahead to Conan's adolescence, when he proves himself in an unexpected battle, setting up his warrior character. What gives this sequence a little flash and flair is the fact that the young Conan (played by Leo Howard) is simultaneously taking part in a coming of age ritual where all the young boys must keep an egg intact in their mouths as they run an obstacle course, with the major obstacles being all the other boys, who are pummeling each other to make sure no egg remains unscathed. It's a small plot point, to be sure, but it's inventive and it's one of the few moments where Conan the Barbarian is able to rise above clichés that any action-adventure lover (not to mention and sword and sorcery fantasy lover) has seen a thousand, maybe a million, times.
Conan's ascension into manhood is catapulted along in short order when a marauding warlord named Khalar Zym (Stephen Lang) shows up, looking for the last piece of the magically infused mask, which of course he wants to reassemble and don to achieve unspeakably evil power. And of course there's no big mystery about who is hiding the last piece—Corin, Conan's father. That leads to a showdown which leaves Conan an orphan and Zym on the verge of—you guessed it—unspeakably evil power.
Flash forward a couple of decades and Conan is a hulking young man (Jason Momoa) intent on exacting revenge for his father's nasty death. He's best buddies with another sword wielding pirate, Artus (Nonzo Anozie), with whom he frees a slave colony, ultimately meeting up with an itinerant lock picker named Ela-Shan (Said Taghmaoui). Is there any question at this point there will be locks to be picked? Of course there will. Conan recognizes one of the bad guys after Ela-Shan is one of Zym's henchman, whom Conan had separated from his nose when Conan was a little boy. Conan comes up with the brilliant plan to "surrender" to this noseless fool in order to infiltrate the camp where he hopes to discover Zym, vanquishing him.
In the meantime Zym and his rather odd daughter Marique (Rose McGowan) are on the hunt for a "pure blood," a descendant whose lifeforce will enable Zym to empower the mask and resurrect Zym's dead wife in some sort of superhuman form, finally consummating Zym's quest for unspeakably evil power. Zym and Marique's hunt has led them to a monastery, whose leader exhorts a young woman named Tamara (Rachel Nichols) to get the hell out of Dodge (or wherever this monastery is) and return to her birthplace. Can you guess who the "true blood" is? Of course you can.
It needn't be said in a paint by numbers exercise like this that Conan will meet Tamara, the two will have a bickering relationship that will ultimately lead to intimacy, and that the two will help to vanquish Zym and Marique. But as the old adage states, getting there is half the fun, and that's truly where Conan the Barbarian misses the boat. This is an unbelievably handsome film with some impressive moments along the way, but which is just kind of bland and formulaic, never able to break out of its standard issue bounds to deliver anything unexpected.
There are some nice little supporting performances here, including an unaccustomedly understated Ron Perlman as Conan's father, a wonderfully hyperbolic Stephen Lang as the chief baddie, and especially Rose McGowan as a sort of proto-Goth evil daughter, made up to look like Queen Amidala on heroin. Momoa certainly has the physical presence as Conan, and he's no worse than Ah-nold ever was, but that's not a very high bar. There's a surprising lack of chemistry between Momoa and Nichols, despite their fairly explicit sex scene about two-thirds of the way through the film. The real chemistry here, as unseemly as it may be, is between Lang and McGowan, both of whom are in fine scenery chewing mode and make the most of their perhaps incestuous relationship.
Conan the Barbarian has an incredible visual sweep and those who aren't demanding about story or character may in fact end up liking large swaths of the film, for it's certainly brisk and filled with lots of kick-ass (and neck-slitting) action. It's formulaic and predictable, actually kind of depressingly so, but it's visually sumptuous, with some nice CGI, fantastic production design and evocative costumes and make-up. This is certainly a case of style over substance, if it's realized there's next to no substance to begin with, therefore it's pretty easy for style to come out on top. This kind of cut and paste filmmaking may have finally reached its saturation point, for Conan the Barbarian tanked big time during its theatrical exhibition. It may have taken us the several millennia since Conan's ancient times, but audiences may finally be wising up to the fact that there's more available than simply settling for the bare minimum of structure on which to hang a series of set pieces and shiny special effects.
Conan the Barbarian Blu-ray, Video Quality
Conan the Barbarian may not have a lot to offer in terms of plot, character or fun, but from a purely visual standpoint, it's an amazing looking film, and one which arrives on Blu-ray with an AVC encoded 1080p transfer in 2.40:1 looking fantastic. While some of the film is bathed in the same sort of quasi-sepia tone that made 300 so distinctive looking (and something which my hunch is Conan the Barbarian sought to emulate), and some of the rest of the film is filtered to the slate blue-gray end of things, overall colors pop really well, and of course the crimson reds of the copious blood look fantastically robust and well saturated. Fine detail is excellent throughout this enterprise, and best of all, none of the usual artifacting suspects are in view, despite a lot of close cross-hatched patterns in everything from costumes to some of the sets which can devolve into aliasing or shimmer on less pristine looking Blu-rays. CGI elements are blended seamlessly into the live action elements and the green screen elements are also very well woven into the visual texture of the film.
Conan the Barbarian Blu-ray, Audio Quality
Conan the Barbarian's lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 mix finally provides this film some of the pure fun it's missing in other ways, starting right off the bat with the Lionsgate logo, which has chunky mechanical noises and a few squeaks and creaks populating the surrounds, seemingly more so than usual. That's just the tip of the sonic iceberg, for once the film starts, there's a virtual nonstop array of fantastic effects zinging through the soundfield. The opening battle scene has widely splayed sounds as the battle dies down, and there's some wonderful attention to detail with even the smaller effects, like the slight breeze that rustles through the scene. Action scenes are awash in discrete channelization with lots of bright and precise metal sounds as sword meets sword. Some of the quasi-martial arts hand to hand sequences also feature some extremely well placed punches and thumps. Probably the most impressive sequence is the climactic one which has Tamara tethered to a giant sacrificial disc which ends up plummeting toward a chasm filled with lava (doesn't that always happen?). When the disc falls, it clatters to earth with absolutely awesome LFE, with some added punch first on the left channel and then on the right as it settles into place. That same approach happens as Conan and Zym fall to either side of the disc as their epic battle continues. Fidelity is incredible on this track, with some surprisingly supple dynamic range. Dialogue is clear and extremely well prioritized in the mix, which can get quite busy in the action sequences.
Conan the Barbarian Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
Conan the Barbarian Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
It's probably a cheap shot to say that despite Conan the Barbarian's putative calling card of being in 3D it ended up being such a flat, one dimensional film. The problem with this Conan is whether or not you've watched the Ah-nold version, you've seen this film before. This takes about every well-worn cliché and mixes them together in a none too satisfying stew that is bloody, gruesome and uninvolving. All of that said, the film is absolutely sumptuous to watch, and there's little doubt that director Nispel, despite having made a career out of critically panned remakes, has an incredible eye. It's hard to outright recommend a movie this uninspired and rote, but if you're interested in eye candy with some decent special effects and a boisterous soundtrack, this might make for a decent evening's rental.
Conan the Barbarian: Other Editions
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Conan the Barbarian Blu-ray, News and Updates
• Conan the Barbarian (2011) Blu-ray - October 10, 2011
In November, Lionsgate Home Entertainment will release this past summer's Conan the Barbarian reboot on Blu-ray. Jason Momoa (Game of Thrones) replaces Arnold Schwarzenegger as the Cimmerian hero, whose quest to avenge his father's death puts him at odds with ...
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