What is best in life? To crush your enemies. To see them driven before you. And to hear the lamentations of their women…
Okay, so maybe those wouldn’t be your first thoughts in response to such a question, but those lines helped propel a much younger Arnold Schwarzenegger to fame in 1982′s Conan the Barbarian. Despite the governator’s halting delivery of his lines, limited acting skills, the film’s cheesy humour and Harryhausen-style special effects Conan succeeded well enough to rate a sequel, Conan the Destroyer.
Nearly thirty years later Robert E. Howard’s most famous pulp fiction creation returns to the big screen this Friday. I don’t know whether to be excited or anxious for this movie. There have been several trailers released and each of them demonstrates to me a movie which has done an admirable job of capturing the sights, sounds and feel of Howard’s Hyborian age. John Milius did an adequate enough job of it with his version, and certainly in comic books several artists (Barry Windsor-Smith, John Buscema, Ernie Chan, Alfredo Alcala, Richard Corben, Cary Nord) have drawn remarkable versions of the famous barbarian’s adventures for popular runs published by both Marvel and Dark Horse Comics. Of course, the most famous Conan artist was Frank Frazetta whose painted covers for the Lancer paperback collections set the standard for fantasy art.
Everyone’s a critic!
While it’s encouraging to see that one reviewer compares the new film’s look to Frazetta’s Conan art, unfortunately it seems there are more reviews (several, in fact) panning the film.
“Fight, talk, fight, talk, fight, talk, then an enormous throwdown followed by a denouement that dangles the possibility of a sequel (dear God, no) — that’s the basic structure here.”
- Christy Lemire AP Movie Critic
Really? What problem could there be with this basic structure? Too much talking? Dammit, this is Conan the Barbarian! Not Conan the Interior Decorator or Conan the Florist. If you wanted less fighting, less bloody violence and less nudity then maybe you’re at the wrong film. Yes, I know, critics don’t have any choice in what they review, but give it some context. Read the stories or the comics at least and write with an understanding of the genre.
“…you can spend all you want on 3D, locations and topless extras, but Conan isn’t Conan without the lyrical words that capture the barbarian and his barbaric age.”
- Movies with Roger Moore
Okay, so maybe some of the critics are going to the source material and attempting to demonstrate a working knowledge of what makes Conan so popular.
“First Impression: Conan the Barbarian – If original had epic pretensions, this is the shameless grindhouse version.”
So what’s wrong with grindhouse? It’s a legitimate style of film-making, just like film noir, cinema vérité or dogme. Still, it’s just an opinion, right?
Of course there is other baggage attached to this film apart from the critics’ opinions. Director Marcus Nispel is also responsibile for directing remakes of The Texas Chain-Saw Massacre and Friday the 13th. That’s good from the point of view of being able to pour on tension and violence, but did those films really need to be remade? Does Conan?
Re-done or Re-worked?
Well, technically this film isn’t a remake, it’s a reboot, much in the same way as was done with Christopher Nolan’s Batman. The elements of Conan’s origin and his motivation in seeking vengance are similar, but otherwise, Jason Momoa’s Conan gets there via a different path from Schwarzengger’s Conan. Also, if you ask any of the countless fans who still follow the character nearly 70 years after he was first created their response is one of anticipation to see their hero in action again. I know I do.
As I said, I’ve been looking forward to this newest version of Conan based on the trailers I’ve seen. Then I began reading the reviews. However, when I first saw Conan the Barbarian at a Drive-In theatre in ’82, I seem to recall that it wasn’t getting a lot of love from critics back then. It was no work of cinematic mastery. Despite that, I enjoyed the movie and have both it and its sequel in my DVD collection.
Who knows? Maybe this time the critics could be right and I might not like this Conan the Barbarian. There’s only one way to find out. I know what Conan himself would do. What is best in life? To crush your critics. To see them driven before you. To hear the lamentations of…
…well, you get the picture.