Conan the Barbarian: A Critique

I’ve offered my general opinion of the film, but due to the nature of film reviews, I decided to stay away from delving into the details of the story and characters. I’m not overly concerned with spoilers myself, but I recognize others are, so I respected their choices, and made the review as spoiler-free as I could manage.

This, however, is a different animal altogether. If you want to go into the film completely unspoiled, I suggest you wait until after viewing to read this. This critique is going to go through the entire film, analysing every bit and piece I consider worthy of discussion, observation and, when it comes down to it, praise and criticism. Sometimes I’ll be delving into real nitpicking territory – things like pronunciations, spellings, city names, things like that – but hey, that’s what I do. You have been warned, serious esoterica Hyboriana ahead. As such, it’s very long, close to 20,000 words, but keep in mind that even given its length, this is me condensing. If anyone questions why I’m wasting my time dissecting a “dumb action movie” when all you want is “swords, sex and sorcery,” then I’m afraid you and I are just very different people.

In my review, I was carefully attempting to keep a balance of respectfulness and optimism, because of this. But here, I think it’s fairer for me to be frank and blunt. I figure the filmmakers don’t want me to be insincere and fawn over a film I hate, they want to know what I really think (and if they do want an insincere fawn, then they’re not getting it), because as long as I’m constructive, I hope that this might serve as an example to what the film did right and wrong, what would be great in future adaptations, and what wouldn’t be.

From my point of view, of course.

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Another Conan review from a Howard fan

As seems to be the case in most fandoms, there can be disagreement. Even today, there is disagreement about the 1982 film: some like it for its own cinematic merits, others think it’s a colossally pretentious bore, and still others think it’s just bad.  So I had it in mind that other Howard fans might have entirely different opinions on the film. Well, a dissenting review of the upcoming Conan film by Robert E. Howard superfan and scholar Dennis McHaney has been posted on his site, and while he and I agree on some things, he has a far more positive reaction.

One of my Robert E. Howard Forum Cromrades, Amsterdamaged, brought up this excellent point (as mentioned by my fellow REHupan Jeffrey Shanks, who also offered his preliminary thoughts on the film):

When you consider the fact that over 20 years the major studios unequivocably sided with the Arnold fans and failed to even consider greenlighting a film without Arnold attached, it’s amazing that this film was ever made. Even if, at the end of the day, the general consensus is that this film is a critical failure, don’t underestimate the significance of this event. If it’s even a modest box office success (and I think it’s going to be more than modest; the momentum seems to be building and I predict it will close out the weekend at #1), it will have broken the stranglehold that Arnold has had over the character for nearly 30 years. Audiences will get used to the idea that Conan is a character, not just a vehicle for Arnold, and so will studios, and that will pave the way for (hopefully) more faithful adaptations in the future.

I must agree, it’s a great point, and it’s a point central to Dennis’ review. There aren’t any spoilers, so you can click without worrying.

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Conan the Barbarian: The Conan Movie Blog Review

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…

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News Roundup: New Young Conan still, interviews, and REH news

Gearing up for the big day!

The Conan 3D Facebook page has a new picture of Leo Howard’s young Conan running amid fire and chaos in his home village:

For more, you will know it by the click of the link.

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Conan US Premiere coverage & early reviews

So, the premiere has passed. I’ll leave it to the likes of Examiner to analyse the upholstery of the attending ladies (“Elsa Pataky wore a pleated chiffon cream colored dress with black detailing at the neck, which matched her black pumps” while “Rachel Nichols’s cream sequined dress with the side cutouts was a winner as well”), but I’ll provide a few pics and snippets I found of interest. According to various reports, castmembers Jason Momoa, Rachel Nichols, Rose McGowan, Ron Perlman, Leo Howard, Bob Sapp and Milton Welsh were in attendance, as well as director Marcus Nispel. I’m afraid I don’t know who Elsa Pataky or Tom Arnold are, but they were there, as was Patrick Muldoon (who will always be Zander from Starship Troopers to me) and I’ll assume their presence at the premiere was indeed vital and entirely necessary.

For the earliest reviews punctuated with pictures, videos and interviews…

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Conan the Barbarian Hollywood Premiere, T-Minus: 2 hours

One of the benefits of being an Albannach* means I can be a sort of time-traveller: many parts of the world, especially America, are a few hours behind, so I can almost speak from the future. For instance, right now it’s 2AM (late night for me), but in Los Angeles, it’s 6PM – and thus, Conan the Barbarian has its Hollywood premiere on US soil in two hours’ time, with Jason Momoa arriving at the LA Airport some three hours ago.

In a few hours, we may be hearing the first “free” reviews of Conan the Barbarian beyond those ones previously reported on Conan Movie Blog, in that (as far as I know) they won’t be bound by anonymity or legal ramifications. If anyone’s attending the premiere, or if anyone finds a review in the coming hours, don’t hesitate to link or comment in the comments section: pictures, photos, hints, reviews, quotes, anything. The more reviews there are available, the more comfortable I’ll be in being honest and fair in my review on Monday.

*Scotsman for non-Gaels.

News roundup: Jason Momoa, Tyler Bates, Rose McGowan, and glorious Conan poster

In this Associated Press interview, Jason (quite rightly) addresses the Arnold question by bringing up Sean Connery and Daniel Craig both being awesome James Bonds, and Jack Nicholson & Heath Ledger being fantastic Jokers, which is exactly the sort of thing people should keep in mind:

After the break we have more interviews, including a tantalizing glimpse of the best poster for this film I’ve seen yet. But the only way forward is through the gates of the silver click…

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Alina Puscau, Conan US premiere, more interviews, and Marcus Nispel & Fredrik Malmberg on Conan

First, a new image of Alina Puscau in the costume she wears in the film:

Alina has been featured in the Pepe Jeans and Victoria Secret campaigns as well as in magazines like Harper’s Bazaar and Allure. In 2009 she was featured on the cover of Playboy magazine in a shoot by Hollywood director Brett Ratner. Alina is signed with Elite Model Management.

On August 11th Alina will make her acting debut in the upcoming summer blockbuster Conan the barbarian in which she plays one of the slaves who rebels against oppression.

For more news, click onwards.

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So you’re going to see Conan the Barbarian

There is still quite a bit of confusion about the upcoming Conan the Barbarian film. Some think it’s a remake of the 1982 film; others think it’s a sequel or re-imagining of it; still others have wildly different expectations and myriad misunderstandings of the character, his creation, and the film itself.

Well, I figured it’s time to put everything of importance into a short as possible, easy-to-read, plain English document for those who don’t know Conan. Think of this as a primer for anyone not closely versed in Conan, the Hyborian Age, or Robert E. Howard, whose only experience of Conan may be a late night talk-show host or a plucky little detective anime.

But they can’t remake Conan the Barbarian! Arnold was Conan! Milius was a Genius! This is an outrage!

A great man once said “Everybody has opinions: I have them, you have them. And we are all told from the moment we open our eyes, that everyone is entitled to his or her opinion. Well, that’s horsepuckey, of course. We are not entitled to our opinions; we are entitled to our informed opinions. Without research, without background, without understanding, it’s nothing.

With that in mind, let me be perfectly blunt: if your only experience of Conan is previous adaptations, then you are not entitled to an opinion on the 2011 film’s fidelity to the Conan character. You can judge it on its own cinematic merits, as a moviegoing experience, or whatever. But without research, without background, without understanding, your opinion is nothing. If something in the 2011 film is different from something in the 1982 film, that does not make it unfaithful to the Conan character. Full stop. End of. Fin.

I’m not saying you have to read all of Robert E. Howard’s stories before going to see the film (though that would be awesome), I’m just saying you really should know that Conan existed for 50 years before 1982. I have spent too much time trying to explain to people that Conan existed for 20 years before Arnold Schwarzenegger was even born to have much patience left, and in this age of the internet, there is no excuse for ignorance. And this particular sort of ignorance is annoying, because it is so easily remedied with a simple, 5-second Google or Wikipedia search.

With that out of the way, onward.

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New footage on The Tonight Show

Being a dweller in the proud nation of Alba, I’d been precluded from viewing the latest edition of The Tonight Show, and thus stewed at my American fellows for being able to see the new footage of the upcoming Conan seen on the show. However, NBC has deigned to allow access on their own site, where we can see it:

Not as long as “When Blood is Spilled,” but we see more main characters, including adult Conan and more.

EDIT: I’ve been getting reports that the clip cuts off before the footage, so I tried looking again and… it cuts off before the footage. Now I’m very annoyed. NBC, you made a liar out of me! I’d be very grateful if someone could direct me to a version of the video not under the draconian region-specific software that makes things such a preposterous pain for people who don’t live in the United States.

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