The tale of Conan the Cimmerian and his adventures across the continent of Hyboria on a quest to avenge the murder of his father and the slaughter of his village.
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 standalone package with only the 2D version of the movie available. The second option comes with both 2D and 3D versions on the same disc and a DVD with a code for a digital copy, which is being reviewed here.
The two discs — one a Region A locked, BD50, the other a DVD-9 — are housed inside a blue eco-case with a glossy cardboard slipcover. At startup, viewers watch a series of skippable trailers from the Lionsgate catalog. Afterwards, the standard main menu comes with full-motion clips and music playing in the background. Viewers are given the option to watch in 2D or 3D when pressing "Play."
Unlike its 2D equivalent, the 3D version of 'Conan the Barbarian' is a lackluster presentation that's just as dull as the movie itself. With hardly any memorable or impressive scenes demonstrating the technology, the 1080p/MVC encode (2.40:1) is not altogether bad, holding up fairly well for the most part. Compared to its standard counterpart, the picture quality remains rather excellent and glossy, but it's all for naught when there's little reason or benefit to watch with a pair of tinted glasses.
The video displays plenty of razor-sharp clarity and definition in the faces of actors, the production design and the outfits of characters. Close-ups are especially remarkable to look at with natural, lifelike texture in the complexions. The amber-warm color palette maintains much of its sumptuous and energetic appeal, though maybe not quite as dazzling. Part of this could be from an underwhelming contrast balance since the image noticeably appears much darker and gloomier. Black levels are much deeper and intense, but they also leave behind a bit of crush in some scenes. In fact, shadows details are often difficult to make out during poorly-lit interiors. This could likely be related to the process of converting the film without adjusting contrast and brightness correctly, not necessarily a fault in the encode.
Being the product of the 3D post-conversion trend, the transfer shows very little to almost no crosstalk whatsoever, which could be a good thing. However, depth feels artificial and scarcely convincing. It's an odd thing where dimensionality is very much visible, but it also feels somewhat flat and bland. During fight sequences, there's really no sense of characters moving within a three-dimensional space or objects in the background seeming distant from those in the foreground. Everyone and everything simply looks like cheap cutouts trying to simulate 3D. Given the choice, the 2D presentation is really the way to go when watching 'Conan' because this version is pretty disappointing.
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 3D Blu-ray edition of the new 'Conan the Barbarian,' fans are offered all the same supplemental material found on the DVD release, which is also included in the keepcase. The package also comes with a 2D version of the movie.
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 3D Blu-ray arrives in almost similar fashion with a dull, unimpressive video but reference audio. The overall package does included the movie's 2D version, a DVD and a digital copy, but remains a rental at best, except for those few who actually enjoyed the flick.
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.