Sunday, August 28, 2011

Conan the Barbarian - 2011

Alright, the review you've all been (Not) waiting for.

I'm going to preface and say that I did not go into the film with a goal of being objective. I went in with pre-existing bias. I had read the Novelization, written by Michael Stackpole some weeks ago. I very much enjoyed it, it had the right feel of a Conan story. Sure there were still some bits that I didn't care for, but on the whole it was a good attempt. The author prefaced the novel by saying that, what he tried to write was the novel which the movie was adapted from, rather than the other way round. I think now that I've seen the film, he definitively accomplished that goal.

The Movie itself felt like a slapdash attempt to adapt something. Certain scenes from the film were re-created perfect, but some of the best scenes in the book were no where to be seen. The film felt truncated, sloppily edited, as if large chunks had been excised from it in order to string endless action-set pieces together. It edited for people with no attention span, and then directed by a director who seems to be incapable of directing a good movie. Uwe Boll revels in his (in)ability, and ignores criticism.. but I actually enjoyed In the Name of the King. At least as much as I enjoyed this new Conan film, which is not to say I didn't enjoy them at all.

Conan certainly could have been better if a lot of things were done differently. The one thing they got right though was Jason Momoa as Conan. Unlike when I watch the 1982 film, and I just see a brawny barbarian on screen.. while watching this I felt I saw Conan on screen. Sure there are a few posing homages to the original film, but those are gone from the screen nearly as soon as they pop up. Sure his eyes should have been blue and his hair could have been darker, but he looks so much like Conan it's totally believable.

The Script on the other hand was, in a word, dire. It's the perfect example of two many chefs ruining the soup. The problem is, the first two chefs used all the cooking time and ingredients to make a crappy pot of soup, and then were replaced at the last minute by a chef who's unenviable task it was to try and make the soup edible. He made these changes, and then was promptly told that the original soup was superior and it was mainly what was served to the unsuspecting audience. It was tepid and flavourless, and essentially was pretty weak sauce. Whats worse however, is that it completely squandered the talent of the actors.

The film itself suffered from other problems, it had way to many producers, who if the reports around the internet are anything to go by were constantly undermining one another in an attempt to push their version of the film. Essentially whatever the focus groups wanted, the producers wanted. What we got was a film that should in all likely hood have been a PG13 film billed as a "Hard 'R'". It wasn't. If Conan was an 'R' then plenty of other films are unfit for human consumption.

The whole project was a tremendously poorly executed venture. Almost everything beyond the initial casting of Jason Momoa and Stephen Lang was done poorly. They mandated the re-use of pre-existing set pieces to save money, yet still gave the project 100Million dollar budget. Considering that's roughly what the first season of Game of Thrones cost, I expect a lot more bang for the buck.

All of that said, I feel that the movie shows that with some improvements a serious attempt at adapting an actual REH story is possible. Jason Momoa is capable of playing the Barbarian Warrior. The only thing that seems to be missing are audiences willing to go and see the film.

My personal feelings regarding that, runs towards the idea that they didn't do enough to differentiate the movie from the 1982 one. They didn't resolutely contend with the enduring legacy left by the other films. There biggest misstep was naming the film "Conan the Barbarian". They should have left it alone, simply Conan. They should have abandoned the storyline of Conan's village being attacked, Abandoned his father being killed, Abandoned the entire revenge angle. Simply put they should have scrapped everything about the movie that would lead people to assume it was a re-make. It wouldn't have eradicated that belief, but it might have helped. They should have scrapped some of the ludicrous effects pieces and used the money to promote the film. Most importantly they should never have converted it to 3D. That alone would have freed up considerable funds to aggressively promote it. All of these are things they should have done, but didn't.

At this point though it's all relatively academic, the film is a fairly well known dud. It's likely it will damage a lot of peoples careers for a long time. The actors probably worst of all. At this point I think the studio needs to quickly edited an extended Cut of the film, They should add an animated map ala-Indiana Jones to help fix the continuity and flow of the film, they should add anything else they have to put back in it that will help it make more sense, any more naked breasts they can put in it in order to get a "Not Rated" label. Then release this new one on DVD. Don't wait 6 months to put it out, instead they should try to have it out by Halloween, anything they can do to try and re-coup their budget.

Then what they should do is, abandon Hollywood, and court overseas investors who are less enthralled to the focus groups and ratings agencies. Personally I'd like to see them make a Television series, try and sell it to Cinemax or Starz or Showtime to compete with Game of Thrones.

In the end I didn't hate the film, I was just disappointed in it. I'll buy it when it comes out on DVD, Especially if they provide me with a longer more fleshed out cut. There are hints in the script and in the novelization and in the film itself that there are, at least in theory, more scenes waiting to be shown to us.


Cromsblood said...

I agree about the borderline R rating. Seems to me that it would have taken very little to turn this into a PG-13, and open the door for much greater success at the box office.

Anonymous said...

Hey, you know, that is what Conan needs - a serious treatment by a director with some interest in antedeluvian civilization. The core of Conan is the barbarian, and that is where the movies and films tend to give us very little.

I didn't mind the actor they chose, but I didn't think he was right for it. He's fine in this movie, I just think Conan should be a lot bigger and more...Conan.