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“I live, I love, I slay, and I am content.” Conan the Barbarian knows how to have fun.

November 24, 2011

She had a knife stashed in there somewhere.

I seem to be on a roll with films this week. I have watched two critically lambasted ‘guilty pleasure’ films that I have enjoyed immensely. Obviously I lack critical faculties, and don’t share even the most average taste because Conan the Barbarian (2011) failed with audiences as well as critics. I saw the original Conan movies on video a few years after they came out. Based on the 30’s pulp novels by Robert Howard, they were early Arnold Schwartzenegger vehicles – Conan the Barbarian was released in 1982 – and highly enjoyable complete with the wacky sets and costumes, mandatory voiceover and gratuitous slave, sorcery and swordfighting action.

The two early Conan’s are full of memorable iconic images, an iconography totally missing from the 2011 version, which is a pity. The crucification scene from the earlier film is a famous example. Also missing in the new version is the fun Crazy factor: the witch sex, the un-PC 80s corn/porno that make the movie a cult classic. By losing the tongue-in-cheek humour and OTT, self-aware, comic-strippy crappiness of the original, this film was doomed to alienate the fanboys, and it did. But that aside, the complete critical and financial failure of this film surprises me. It was released on-circuit in 3D, and I suppose expecting grown-up hordes to go and see a R-rated film at 3D prices was never going to work. Most 3D audiences are kids and teenagers, while this film is bloody in the extreme, and stars a relatively unknown TV actor (Jason Momoa from HBO’s brilliant Game of Thrones). So I actually think its US box office of some 21 million is not too bad, considering. While definitely a run-of-the-mill adventure, I was grateful that this film had two things: Jason Momoa (the women I know, and on IMDB judging from the stats, seemed to enjoy the film) and its adult (and hunk) content. The bare boobs in the 2011 version seemed kind of retro, and definitely harked back to the older versions (breast as pastiche?). Semi-naked wenches may be sexist but I almost miss them in the sanitised, boring noughties! So strangely, this film is low on irony, and God knows it was begging for some. Director Marcus Nispel (previously of the horrid Pathfinder and some horror remakes) preferred a fairly straightforward sword and sorcery adventure, unfortunately low on sorcery (how I missed James Earl Jones and the creepy snake-people in the early version). The special effects are good, better than some of the superhero films we’ve seen this year, and befitting the genre. Parts of the film were strongly visually reminiscent of parts of Lord of the Rings (a mash up of orc-like men and elven ruins) as well as Xena: Warrior Princess (but that’s probably just me!) and Indiana Jones. So I guess it isn’t that original.

The film has some predictable and dodgy takes on exoticism but it was basically inoffensive in every respect: more so that the dire 2010 Prince of Persia that lacked Any kind of chemistry, Romance (in the Errol Flynn sense), real adventure or even interest-value. Yes, ok, it was Disney, but adventure is adventure. It shouldn’t Bore one comatose. Jason Momoa may not be the ‘actor’ Jake Gyllenhaal is (P of P made over 4 times as much money), but he wasn’t bad, was Very easy on the eye (even beautiful) and played the part of a warrior hero to perfection. I mean Arnold was terrible and He went on the have a multi-million $ film career! Rose McGowan was a great villainess too. The heroine/romantic figure was a waste of space, but they almost always are. At least these days they get to knife the odd villain. She did scream a lot, and well.

Its not that Conan was a good movie. It was at most a lot of fun and worth watching on dvd. I certainly wouldn’t have paid 3D bucks to have seen it although seeing it on the big screen would have been great. Its the fact that it was in no way worse than any of the Pirates of the Caribbean movies, yet those films make mega-money and no-one ever suggests that Johnny Depp trots out carbon-copy cariacature-characters one after another. Which just goes to show, its all about child-audiences these days.

One day blood, death and bare breasts will be a thing of the past on the big screen. Sadly. No-fun zone ahead adult film-goers.

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