I went to see the new Conan the Barbarian movie on Sunday. I had been looking forward to seeing Robert E. Howard’s epic hero on the big screen again for months, hoping and praying that Hollywood wouldn’t ruin it. I was not disappointed, although I take it from the reviews that many movie critics were. I’m not surprised. Movie critics never get the point of fantasy or science fiction movies. They use the wrong set of guidelines to judge the movie, and thus they fail to see the real virtues of such films.
I am not going to talk about the plot of the story. If you want to know that stuff, go see the movie. It is, in my humble opinion, worth the $7 it will cost you to get in. I’d go see the ordinary 2D version–the special effects are good, but not so good that you need to see them bursting out of the screen at you. Maybe the tentacles scene would be worth it (grin).
Critics like to see character development. Conan isn’t about character development–the personalities of the main characters are pretty much static. The bad guys stay bad, the tough guys stay tough, the sexy women stay sexy–and that is a good thing in a movie like this. Critics like to see complex story lines. Conan doesn’t do complex stories. Conan stories, for the most part, are simple and direct–like a sword thrust to the gut. But there is a story in this movie–a pretty strong story, even though it has been often told before. A sorcerous threat to the world arises–a hero emerges to defeat it. In a way, the movie has the same plot as the first Schwarzanegger movie back in 1982–bad guy destroys Conan’s family and tribe while Conan is a child. Many years later, Conan gets his vengeance. Same plot–different events and characters equals different story.
Let’s talk about the things that make this picture good–very good in my opinion–i give it 4 stars out of 5. First, there is the acting. Considering how ridiculous the fantasy is compared to the real world, the fact that the actors all really got into their parts, and portrayed all the villainy, lust, terror, courage, love that the characters in the movie were feeling really impressed me. When you watch the movie, you believe it. The acting isn’t wooden or hoaky–it’s real. The less important the actor in the film, the better the acting was. Conan the kid was fantastic. So was Ron Perlman as his father–the blacksmith chieftain of the Cimmerian tribe.
With his village in flames, Conan as a boy is full of fight and determination.
Conan is renowned for his ability as a fighter. Jason Momoa, or his stuntman, does a great job portraying a fighter. Conan is fearless and deadly. The critics complain that the movie is one blood-soaked battle after another. In fact, that is what it is supposed to be. And the battles are great–cinematic, exciting, fast. No two fights are alike. After reading what the critics said about bloody mess, I was kind of disappointed. There wasn’t that much blood. All too often the killing stroke was not shown–they were often left to the imagination of the viewer. I was expecting great gushing fountains of blood such as you get in Japanese Samurai movies, but we never got any fountains of gore–just a stain, or a cut here and there. So, no, the movie isn’t as gore-spattered as the critics might lead one to believe. Use of blood was actually rather tastefully done. But the battles were great.
Conan does now what Conan does best.
Another great thing about the movie was the scenery. Much of Conan was shot on location in Eastern Europe–looks like Romania or the Carpathian Mountains. Beautiful, wild, exciting terrain. It looks like a primal world. Some of it was Hollywood special effects magic–no doubt about it–but the real parts were magnificent in their own right. Again, I think the critics fail to take into consideration the sheer beauty of the movie–the attention to detail, the splendor of the settings. We moviegoers are so jaded. We take the settings for granted in our films–and yet hundreds of people worked hard to make those settings believable and real for us. They deserve some credit for doing great jobs. A movie that looks good is not an accident, and deserves some consideration.
Giant tentacles are the quintessence of movie monsters!
Although sorcery is at the heart of the plot, the movie is a bit light on actual magic. And there weren’t as many monsters as you would find in your average fantasy role-playing session. No elves, dwarves, or orcs. No dragons or trolls. But there were some marvelous sand warriors, and there was a gigantic tentacled horror that no hero could possibly defeat. (I have to admit that the tentacled monstrosity didn’t make much sense, but it sure was fun to watch.) Conan lives in a world of men. Men are enough.
And the movie also had what all Conan movies need–beautiful women. I like beautiful women for their own sake–I love them in my fantasy escapist fare. I was not unhappy with the women in the Conan movie–from the bare-breasted wenches in the beginning to the kinky evil witch to the beautiful fighting heroine–they were all great.
This witch girl has grown into one of the nastiest villainesses ever, but all she really wants is her father's love.
Marique offers herself to her father--this is kinky and could have gotten pornographic very easily. It didn't.
Lastly, there is a veiled element of eroticism in this and all Conan movies. The handsome half-naked hero is attractive to both men and women–there is a homoerotic element to the movie that most people simply refuse to see. The picture above clearly shows a kind of perverted love interest. The beautiful women that appear all through the film are there for those of us who are straight, and also for women who like women. Every sexual taste is subtly acknowledged and catered to in Conan the Barbarian. You won’t see critics deigning to mention or even talk about that, but at least half of the fantasy element is these movies is the sexual fantasy part. Sex and Death are always connected. Conan the Barbarian carries the sexual parts of the fantasy very well. It is erotic without ever becoming pornographic. I say it was well done.
Those are the things I really liked about Conan the Barbarian. Let me talk about the weaknesses just a little bit. First, the story was not that original–basically the same story that they used for Arnold’s first movie–the names and places and events were different, but the plot and result were the same. I half expected Conan to confront the villain at some point and say, “Hello, my name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die!” Well, he would have said Conan, not Inigo Montoya, but you know what I mean. Second, the movie has the usual Hollywood ending–the villain’s fortress collapses and more or less explodes around the heroes at the end. There was no need for that. Third, they played fast and loose with the geography of the Hyborian world. Only a dyed-in-the-wool Conan purist fan like me would notice such things. Those things are quibbles. The movie isn’t about revenge, or fortresses, or geography. It is about being Conan the Barbarian in a barbaric world.
The movie contains one line that is pure Robert E. Howard–kudos to the script-writers for getting it in there. Tamara asks Conan if he believes the gods have a purpose for everthing. He answers “I know not and I care not. I live, I love, I slay, and I am content.” As moviegoers we get to watch him live, love, and slay, and we should be content with that. I am.
Tell me how you liked the Conan movie or didn’t in your comments.