Here’s the second and final episode of my earth shattering commentary related to the new Conan film. Last time I talked about the novelization of the movie. Now it’s all about the movie itself which, as of this writing, I’ve only seen the 2D version. I’m not a fan of 3D, but I will likely see the movie again and will definitely go to check it out in that much-hyped format.
Leading up to its release, I was nervous. I had some hope that it would be fine, but more doubts than any great expectations. As it drew nearer, my excitement increased with each day. As the reviews, most of which are negative, started rolling in, I didn’t really worry. I pretty much expected that. I just hoped I would like it.
Frankly, it’s kind of a mess. As I said in the review of the book, they are trying to do too much here. Conan doesn’t need to get in the middle of some epic quest. A tight, short little story works just fine. It held up okay in the book, but in the movie it gets a little convoluted. I followed it alright because I’d read the book, but other people may get lost, I don’t know. The villains are certainly dastardly — Rose McGowan‘s over-the-top performance as Marique was a lot of fun — but the movie fails to deliver the intricacy of their relationships. Conan’s companions are a little one-dimensional. One big change from the book is that Conan’s ally/love interest, Tamara (played by Rachel Nichols) is a warrior monk from a monastery populated by other warrior monks that is magically hidden in the desert. In the movie the monastery is in the mountains and the monks aren’t warriors at all. I didn’t really understand that change, and makes the Tamara character less believable, or even interesting. Someone apparently thought the change was a good idea. That someone was wrong.
I’m also not a fan of the entire opening section with Conan as a youth. The book handles it better, but the movie can make one’s eyes roll. An early scene has him take on four Pictish scouts and destroy them. In the book they are starving and weak, far from home, but in the book they dance around with silly guttural voices and are strong and healthy. It’s hard to buy a 10yo taking them down the way he does. But it’s Hollywood, right? It’s not like he was a hobbit single-handedly bringing down the greatest source of evil in the history of the world, for crissakes.
Quibbles aside, I had a good time with it. The violence level is pretty high, but it’s all CGI so it doesn’t look all that real. I’d said all along that, worst case, we get a movie about a dude destroying people with a sword, and that’s what we get. I can deal with that. There are even parts that actually feel like a Conan story, and that’s quite a bonus.
How is Jason Mamoa in the title role? Pretty awesome. He’s a big guy — 6’5″ in fact — and lean in his musculature where Schwarzenegger was bulky. He looks the part. I think with different direction he would be even better. He has the commanding presence that Conan needs, and I really liked that. He looks like a dude that could deliver a hell of an ass-whoopin’, and he does plenty of it. Knowing he is in the HBO version of George RR Martin’s Game of Thrones makes me all the more eager to see it.
Another critical element I was concerned about was the musical score. The soundtrack to the original Conan film, composed by Basil Poledouris, is probably my favorite ever. I was worried this thing would be all about the awful modern rubbish that passes for heavy metal these days. Thankfully it is not. Tyler Bates did the composing, and while it isn’t near the level of the Poledouris work, it didn’t ruin the movie. I’m listening to it as I type, and I’m fine with it.
The difference between the original movie and the new one can be seen in the contrast of the music. The original is rich, deep, and dark. If I could plan the sequel, which I hope happens, I’d make the setting more like the original. It is grittier and grim, which is how Conan’s Hyboria should be. I’d drop Mamoa in the middle of that, get some solid writers, and let him kick some ass.
I’ll see it again. People on the fence may want to stay away. People who love stuff like 300 or the Spartacus TV series will go nuts for it. The movie isn’t what I’d hoped for, but it’s a lot better than I’d feared.