It’s no surprise that Conan the Barbarian (2011) is a dull and lifeless picture. Director Marcus Nispel is known for taking popular films and remaking them with little spirit. He’s a gun for hire and his latest reboot is full of bloody violence, a digestible story and paper thin characters. Conan only works because of leading star Jason Momoa, who gives it his all despite the poor efforts by the rest of the cast and lack of direction by Nispel. It’s not an over-the-top violent romp of a film that can be enjoyed with popcorn and it’s not a good quality film with a gripping tale to be told. Conan the Barbarian (2011) is a pointless reboot that breaks no barriers and offers nothing new.
Conan (Jason Momoa) is born on the battlefield, covered in blood and guts. His mother is killed upon his birth and his father (played by Ron Perlman) is murdered years later while Conan is a young child, training for battle. The evil Khalar Zym (Stephen Lang) is thirsty for a power that can only be obtained once an ancient mask is pieced together and a pure blood is sacrificed. Along his journey to power he slaughters Conan’s village, leaving only Conan to live.
Zym and his hideous daughter Marique (Rose McGowan) are on the final stages of completing the ritual, which will give Zym more power to rule the lands and awaken his dead wife, who was hunted down and killed because of her evil sorcery. In his search for Zym Conan runs into the pure blood named Tamara (Rachel Nichols) and decides that he can use her to get to Zym.
Insert buckets of blood, lots of dirt and grime and some serious laughable dialogue and you have Conan. The biggest problem the film faces from start to finish is Marcus Nispel. He does absolutely nothing with the film to make it something special or unique. He has no visual style and no interesting storytelling methods to help ease the pain. He’s the worst kind of director for a film like Conan. He simply sits behind the camera and films whatever he sees, without interrupting and adding his own stamp. Conan looks, sounds and feels like a generic barbarian tale, not a reboot of a “classic” 80’s film. The original is no Oscar winner, but it’s extremely cheesy and fun at times.
What this new Conan needs to do is establish a tone. The film needs to either be serious, which requires solid acting from everyone and a story with proper pacing or the film could be completely campy, full of gore and killing, with little dialogue. I was hoping for the second, but we ended up getting something in the middle. There are several sequences that hint at simply having a good time while Conan dismembers dozens of nameless soldiers, but then it sinks into the mud trying to establish a story worth telling.
Part of the reason why that doesn’t work is the acting. Stephen Lang simply spits out drool and slime as Zym. He’s only bad because Nispel constantly inserts scenes of him killing innocent people. He’s the worst kind of villain, one that doesn’t matter.
His daughter is played by Rose McGowan, who provides one of the worst performances of the year. Her character is ugly, annoying and majorly pointless. From the laughable opening scene with her as a child to the ending, you never find a reason for her characters existence.
Ron Perlman seems to be the only one who understands how Conan could work. He sports one hell of a beard and a calm and quiet set of dialogue that accompanies his battle hungry personality. The way he spits out such nice lines while ripping someone’s arm off his hilarious and fun. Too bad he’s barely in the film.
Jason Momoa tries his hardest to breathe life into the character of Conan, but not one other person cares to help him out. He can’t carry a film if there is no director on board to help anchor the performance. For what it’s worth he does a great job and makes the character shine in an otherwise forgettable film.
The other good thing about Conan is the blood and chaos. Most of the killing is done the practical route, with blood spurting from chest cavities and body parts flying off left and right, but occasionally the film has some spotty CGI that completely runs everything before it. When I watch Conan I want to watch a huge warrior destroy hundreds of people in all sorts of ways. I don’t want a corny story with small moments of CGI inserted blood. I want balls to the wall killing provided by a massive killing machine.
The post converted 3D is one of the worst jobs done since Clash of the Titans (2010). Nispel’s constant shaky camera during scenes involving fast movement or running causes the 3D effect to quickly make you sick and distraught. There is no reason the film needed to be in 3D besides the inflated ticket price.
Still, the brief moments of fun in Conan make the film a one-and-done experience. I found myself laughing through most of the film, especially when Perlman was on the screen or when Conan was getting out of some extreme situations. The pacing is far too slow for too much fun to be had and the poor camerawork and lack of direction makes the film feel awfully flat and lifeless. Momoa deserves a better film to work in and we deserve a better film to watch.
Lionsgate continues their hot streak of new release transfers by giving Conan a near perfect 1080p video transfer. The film is set in a very dirty and grimy world and most of that detail comes through without any problems. Colors are often bright and rich with details like dirt, blood and sweat coming across in stunning fashion. Some of the CGI is more noticeably bad in high definition, but you can’t really get around that sort of thing. The exotic locations help make Conan a sight to see on Blu-Ray.
Conan comes blasting its way onto Blu-Ray with a 7.1 DTS-HD audio track that represents the chaos and destruction just perfectly. The film is full of action heavy battle scenes and that is where this audio track shines. The front channels will get across the little bits of dialogue and grunting while the side and rear channels ease you into the battle with swords clanking, explosions and blood squirts. You’ll have no problem feeling like you’re a part of the battle! This particular track is very efficiently mixed, always keeping active and loud.
Conan the Barbarian (2011) comes to Blu-Ray with a very cut and dry batch of special features. An audio track with the director is dull and flat like the film itself, while Momoa and McGowan offer a better track that’s worth a listen because of their chemistry. Other than that it’s your usual set of trailers, behind the scenes footage and making of discussions that offer a better look into the production. All features are provided in HD. Check the full list out below.
- 2D and 3D versions of the film.
- Audio Commentary with Director Marcus Nispel
- Audio Commentary with Jason Momoa and Rose McGowan
- The Conan Legacy (HD)
- Robert E. Howard: The Man Who Would Be Conan (HD)
- Battle Royale: Engineering the Action (HD)
- Staging the Fights (HD)
- Theatrical Trailer (HD)
- DVD Copy
- Digital Copy
Even after all of the hateful discussion of the film I’d say Conan is still worth a rental for most. Where film buffs will disregard this modern reboot because of its horrible acting and dry directing most will consider it a typical Hollywood blockbuster. If you’re looking for action then Conan will please you on a very basic level without a problem, but if you’re looking for anything more than a surface level rehash you’ll walk away disappointed. Overall, Conan has very little redeemable qualities. Momoa, Perlman and good old fashioned violence are the only positive marks Conan receives. The rest is bad and I mean really bad.
People looking to check out the film at home will be happy to know that the video transfer is strikingly good and the audio is loud and very active. Those two pluses will help ease the blow for sure. The special features aren’t all that engaging, but the film does come with 2D and 3D versions on Blu-Ray and a DVD and digital copy to take elsewhere, if you choose to re-watch the film on another medium. I’d still suggest renting it with caution, because there are plenty of other good quality films out there.
The Blu-Ray has a striking video transfer that's extremely detailed and an even better 7.1 audio track that is loud and active.