I went to see Conan The Barbarian 3D on Wednesday evening (the official opening night here in the UK). I actually saw the 2D version as I really don’t get the fascination with wearing a second pair of glasses over my normal ones for two hours, just to get a headache while watching a film.
There has been a lot said about the film, from Robert E. Howard fans and from other sources, so it was with some trepidation, and quite low expectations that my two pals and I ventured into the cinema.
Now, before I start I would like to state that yes I am an REH fan and I would have liked to see a blue eyed Conan, whether it be achieved by contact lenses or by digital post processing. However, I am not going to loose sleep over it and I quite understand the compromises and alterations that have to be made when translating an eighty year old series of short stories into a modern movie. Add to that the necessary influences coming from the comic incarnation of the character and also the 1982 movie (we don't mention Conan The Destroyer), which personally, I enjoy watching quite regularly.
Firstly I would like to give my overall impressions of the film.
Visually, it looked very good, capturing a gritty fantasy world, although still based in some kind of reality, and so it evoked Howard’s Hyborian Age fairly well. Clearly the style of cinematography owed a lot to films like 300, with the dark, slightly over-exposed look.
As is fashionable with action films at the moment the action kicked off right from the beginning and didn’t let up from then on. I tend to think that this style often means that characters are very much left undeveloped, and this was very much the case here. All of the other characters were left very much as two dimensional archetypes with no real investigation of their personalities or motives, beyond the obvious one, revenge, that was central to the plot. Now OK, this is a Sword and Sorcery movie that is based on a comic book character (it is based on the comic book version of Conan much more than it is based on the the Howard original), so clearly depth of character could easily be seen as unnecessary, and to some extent I can see that most of the characters don’t need much depth, after all the typical evil sorcerer in any Fantasy or Sword and Sorcery story is fairly two dimensional anyway. However, I do feel that they could have opened up Conan’s character a little more, showing his lighter and darker sides, his wit and intelligence as well as the brutal way that he can deal with his enemies. Maybe exploring his career as a thief a little more, or at least hinting at it more than the one reference to Tower of the Elephant! In this respect I do feel that the 1982 movie possibly has the edge here as it certainly explored Conan’s character in more depth, even if he wasn’t as dark a character as I would have liked.
Jason Momoa does a good job of filling the barbarians boots. He is certainly a more fitting Conan than Arnold Schwarzenegger was in the 1982 film (back when that one was released, I remember, I was surprised that at the very least they hadn’t dyed his hair black). Given a chance to develop the character further, I think that Momoa could bring some real depth to the part, and certainly manages to bring a real Frazetta like image to the character. We will have to wait and see if there will be any chance of a further instalment. As for the other actors and actresses. They all played there parts with suitable style and enthusiasm. Stephen Lang was fine as Khalar Zym, maybe not having quite the gravitas of James Earl Jones, but still injecting the role with plenty of evil menace.
As for the actresses, unfortunately there wasn’t much of a role for Rachel Nichols, who ended up as more of a plot point than as an essential character in the film. On the other hand, Rose McGowan almost stole the show at time with her psychotic witch, Marique, and even with her bizarre hairstyle managed to pull off a very sexy, if terrifyingly warped character.
Other than that, Ron Perlman was up to his usual standard in his rather short (not unexpectedly so) appearance as Conan’s father, and Leo Howard was excellent as the the youthful Conan putting some real animal ferocity into the role.
All in all I enjoyed Conan The Barbarian, but as much as I preferred Jason Momoa in the title role, I tend to think that the 1982 film still has the edge, at least for me!
When comparing it to recent films, I would say that I preferred Conan to Clash of the Titans, but I think as far as REH related movies go I probably preferred Solomon Kane. I hope that Conan The Barbarian does well enough to lead to a sequel, as I feel that now that they have the “origins story” out of the way they could possibly draw a little more from Howard in a new film and get more depth into the whole thing. However I fear, that like Solomon Kane this movie will not lead to any proposed sequels coming along. Still you never know, after all, I hear that they are making a sequel to Clash of the Titans…