Literally ripped from his mother's womb amid the wages of savage battle, Conan was born to an age of barbaric violence, merciless brutality, primitive style, and the crudest of tastes. And the new action-adventure fantasy 'Conan the Barbarian' carries out those very ideals in excruciatingly boring detail. In a matter of minutes, audiences are witness to the cesarean birth of our soon to be gorged with muscles hero. Soon after, the newborn grows into a raging hormonally-unbalanced pre-teen, capable of chopping off the heads of five grown men while carrying a small bird egg in his mouth. And still, the kid carries much love for his dear ole dad Ron Perlman, who would never be mistaken for anything other than a hard-nosed barbarian.
The entire sequence is obviously meant to give viewers a sense of Conan's strong-man toughness — to essentially ensure we don't question just how much of a badass he truly is. Remember, it's not his fault. He was born this way. To a certain degree, it's effective and rather entertaining. Though at the same time, it distances our ability to sympathize with the kid when his father and his village are massacred by ruthless warlord Khalar Zym (Stephen Lang). This is where we begin to notice some issues with the script. And sadly, it only grows progressively worse as the movie moves sluggishly forward, jumping from one dull fight scene to the next.
After being shown how much of a ferocious, strong warrior Conan is, we're suddenly expected to take it back and are reminded he is a child pleading and struggling to save his father. This may seem like a small thing to nitpick. But next we see him on a quest to avenge his childhood with those same sentiments carried over, and we simply don't care, which is the movie's biggest downfall.
The Cimmerian slayer, now played by Jason Momoa of 'Stargate: Atlantis' and 'Game of Thrones,' seems like a mindless, bloodthirsty brute with barely enough personality to maintain our attention for nearly two hours. Even worse, we're never fully engaged with his burning desire for vengeance, let alone most every sequence involving some swashbuckling action — one of them being an early swordfight with his sworn enemy. Momoa is fine in his performance of Conan, looking almost identical to Frank Frazetta's illustrations, but there's little to make us like or cheer the character in his supposedly noble pursuit.
At least, when it came to John Milius's 1982 attempt to adapt the wildly fantastical pulp tales from a script by Oliver Stone, audiences were given time with Schwarzenegger's Conan. He was a sympathetic character first before avenging the genocide of his people. Here, we're expected to just accept the character as good with a sword, made friends with an extremely loyal pirate at some point in his life and not much else. Ultimately, Momoa is wasted as a morose, oafish strongman who travels with more luck than smarts.
While in the middle of yawning during the film's various battles, the quieter moments break the silence with horrible dialogue that tries to satisfy some kind of male supremacy fantasy. Momoa is made to spit out such laughable lines as "Woman. Come here!" and "Keep quiet and do as you're told." And that's just to the beautiful pure-blood Tamara (Rachel Nichols), meant as his eventual love-interest. I admit to laughing when the actor utters such garbage, but it is partly with a tinge of guilt because the filmmakers don't appear to mean it as a joke. The only other female presence of any significance throughout this barrage of über-manliness is Rose McGowan as Khalar Zym's daughter, a disfigured but oddly exotic witch that opens another door about the movie's subtle layers of misogyny.
This latest modernized take on the literary mythology created by Robert E. Howard is a brutish, blood-drenched celebration of masculinity — all brawn and no brains. German director Marcus Nispel, who's made a name for himself as a filmmaker of remakes, makes the entire spectacle rather spectacular to look at. But with dull one-dimensional characters filling the screen, there's little he can provide to polish this turd. This fantasy flick also has no relation to the superior 1982 sword-and-sorcery favorite, but with a movie this bad, we can't help making the comparison. Whereas as Schwarzenegger got away with such lines as "Crush your enemies, see them driven before you, and to hear the lamentation of their women," Momoa embarrasses himself with "I live, I love, I slay, and I am content."
By Crom, we lament the days when movies were good and exciting!
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
Lionsgate Home Entertainment gives Conan fans two buying options on Blu-ray. One is a two-disc package with both 2D and 3D versions of the movie on the same disc and a DVD with a code for a digital copy. The second option, which is being reviewed here, is a standalone release with only the 2D version available on a Region A locked, BD25 inside a blue eco-case with a glossy cardboard slipcover. Once in the player, the disc starts with a series of trailers from the Lionsgate catalog. Afterwards, the standard main menu comes with full-motion clips and music playing in the background.
Conan tears up the screen with this splendid 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 encode, full of vivid, gory excitement and tons of blood-soaked eye candy. Presented in a 2.40:1 aspect ratio, the freshly-minted transfer is simply one huge, glossy fireworks display; meaning, it all looks excellent with precise, clearly defined lines in the foliage, the desert sands, and the varied architectural ruins, but much of this beauty in the picture quality doesn't last since the camera can't seem to stop moving long enough for viewers to absorb anything.
Still, the video comes with razor-sharp clarity in most every scene, particularly in bright daylight exteriors where clothing and hair is distinct. Facial complexions, especially in close-ups, are revealing with lifelike texture and natural skin tones. Whether we're looking at one of Khalar Zym's disfigured soldiers or Rose McGowan's Marique's contorted beauty, make-up effects are remarkable and hold up well under the scrutiny of high definition. But there are a few scenes were things go a bit blurry, and we lose some of the picture's richness though it doesn't happen often.
The rest of the presentation shows spot-on contrast with only a slight wavering during some optical/green-screen effects. Yet, it's nicely-balanced for a majority of the time, allowing for lots of visible information throughout. Colors are quite sumptuous and highly energetic with much of the emphasis in the palette placed on the secondary, warmer hues. Primaries are also richly saturated and dazzling in several places, especially when we get large splatters of blood flying across the screen. Black levels are intensely inky and profound for a good chunk of the movie's runtime, providing a strong depth of field. But there are almost just as many sequences with dingy, flat shadows which make minor details in the interiors a tad difficult to make out. Nevertheless, this new take of the Conan adventures looks superb in high-def and is sure to please fans.
For any action-fantasy flick released on Blu-ray, one reasonably expects it to blow audiences away with its sound quality. And in this area, 'Conan' definitely doesn't disappoint, it sounds freaking awesome! Volatile and completely barbaric, the DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack is one big ball of explosive energy, filling the entire room with the piercingly loud rallying cries of battle. The rears are nearly always active with either Tyler Bates's musical score or light atmospherics, creating an immersive 360-degree soundfield for most of the movie's runtime. During sudden, fiery outbursts of combat, the system is pushed to its limits with an almost endless barrage of screaming, arrows flying high in the air and swords swinging in every direction.
In the front soundstage, the lossless mix delivers an overwhelming action-packed wall of sound with panning and movement that's flawless and convincing. Imaging is simply extraordinary, generating an expansive and spacious sense of space that quite literally covers the entire front wall. From side to side and from ceiling to floor, listeners are greeted with non-stop activity during the several sequences of fighting and violent encounters. During these same moments, dynamic range remains crystal-clear and sharply detailed, exhibiting terrific differentiation and clarity in the upper to very high frequencies. We can hear every clash and clang of metal upon metal while fires and yells rage on in the background. The low-end is equally astonishing with an authoritative and deeply resonating force that spreads throughout the room and rattles the walls.
The only area of complaint is also a minor, negligible nitpick — something many may not even care for when the rest of the high-rez track is so good. There are a few times when dialogue is a bit difficult to understand. It could be related to actors mostly grumbling their lines, but in a couple of action sequences, the issue is somewhat problematic. Again, this is a very minor distraction only worth noting without it being a complete drawback because on the whole, 'Conan the Barbarian' makes a terrific, reference level debut on Blu-ray.
For the 2D Blu-ray edition of the new 'Conan the Barbarian,' the few fans out there are honored with a standalone release.
Like the movie's titular character summing up his existence as living, loving, slaying, and being content, Marcus Nispel's latest action-adventure extravaganza can be summed up as brutish, violent, uneventful, and totally dull. This new interpretation of the sword-and-sorcery fantasy epic from Robert E. Howard meanders about in a sluggish, oaf-like manner with little attempt to sympathize the Cimmerian hero. Although the production looks cool, the fact that we don't care for Conan means we don't care for his quest either, which also means there's no reason to watch the movie. The Blu-ray, however, arrives in spectacular fashion with splendid video and reference audio, but the overall package is a standalone release. It looks great on the outside, but completely hollow in the inside.
Portions of this review also appear in our coverage of Dunkirk on Blu-ray. This post features unique Vital Disc Stats, Video, and Final Thoughts sections.