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