Well Cromrades, you knew it was coming, and it is: I have seen Conan the Barbarian, and I have thoughts on it. Many, many thoughts.
This was always going to be a very difficult review to write. I have so much invested in the character of Conan, the work of his creator Robert E. Howard, and any future adaptations that hinge on this film. The reception and gross of this film is vital to the productions of Kull of Atlantis, Dark Agnes, Bran Mak Morn, Vultures, Pigeons from Hell, and who knows how many other Howard creations are in the pipeline. If the film does well, then we might finally get what Howard fans want most in a Robert E. Howard adaptation: Robert E. Howard.
While I’m always aware that I’m a big fan at heart, and it isn’t as if my word can make or break a production. But I am aware that what I say matters, and that I make a difference – the extent of that difference not immediately clear or quantifiable, but definitely present. I’m keenly aware of my responsibility for my words to be said with the utmost care.
As such, I’m going to write both a review and a critique: the review is the general, broad opinion of the film based on my reaction, with no real delving into plot, character or story details. The critique will deal with much more in-depth analysis, which would naturally mean every other aspect of the film. Those wanting to wait until they’ve seen the film to make a judgement would be advised only to read the review, and wait until after viewing for the critique.
As of this moment, I’m still putting the finishing touches on my review, so as a taster, here’s the capsule:
Conan the Barbarian (2011) is better than I was expecting in some respects, and worse than I was anticipating in others. On pure cinematic merits, it is not as successful as the 1982 film or Solomon Kane, but it is not quite as heinous as Conan the Destroyer or Kull the Conqueror either. In terms of adapting Robert E. Howard’s creation, it’s only marginally more faithful than any of its predecessors, just in different respects. Jason Momoa, with the right director, script and story, could be a fine interpretation of Howard’s Conan: there are brief, wonderful moments in the film where I momentarily forgot what film I was watching, and he’s definitely closer to REH than Arnold’s ever was. The basic story is still pathetic, some of the effects are simply atrocious, and there’s no thematic core, philosophy or subtlety to speak of – on the other hand, the natural scenery of Bulgaria is a joy to behold, some of the effects are surprisingly solid, and there’s a pervasive sense of enthusiasm from the cast that can be woefully lacking in these sorts of films. In short, some parts better, some parts worse, but overall, much as how I expected it to end up.
UPDATE: Now for the review itself. Click on, if you dare…