Note: Sorry for the late posting of Mike’s column this week! I was stuck on the East coast due to hurricane Irene. The storm completely missed us, but the back up of air travel was a huge mess! – Craig
Finally saw CONAN THE BARBARIAN. For the record, I am a major fan of the Frank Frazetta version–so much so that I bought as many of the paperback books solely for the covers. (I’ve never read any of them; so I’m completely unfamiliar with Robert E. Howard’s original version, sorry to say). I was and am a big fan of the John Buscema version published by Marvel a few decades ago. I read some but I was more a fan of the art. Apologies to his legion of fans, but I never cared at all for the Barry Smith version; he always looked too pretty and slight for my tastes. Plus, Barry was so young at the time, there were still issues of accuracy and style that were being worked out and evolving at the time. (I doubt even he thinks it’s his best work.) Other than Frazetta and Buscema, I preferred the Joe Jusko and Ernie Chan versions.
I saw the Arnold Schwarzenegger film back in the early ‘80s, but with a girlfriend at a drive-in theater (kids, ask your parents what those were; parents, don’t tell your kids what you did there). I saw some of it later, but all I remember is bits and pieces. (The main image is that where he’s pushing a circular contraption as a kid and gradually dissolves over time into an adult Arnold. As if pushing something in the same direction for years makes you into a bodybuilder.) I also remember Arnie’s trademark accent (which wasn’t too out of place given the historical and geographic backdrop) and the film overall being rather slow.
(An amusing aside: In an interview, female co-star Sandahl Bergman said she had trouble shooting Arnold’s first film love scene. Where most actors feel awkward and self-conscious, the Governator was really into it; he became truly aroused and almost took it to “completion”! Luckily Bergman didn’t play a maid.)
As with prior reviews, I’ll break it into bullets. First, the positives:
Well Cast – Jason Mamoa looked great, fantastic expressions, great fight scenes. (You’ll have to ask a sword expert like artist Rafael Kayayan whether or not they’re realistic; I’m just going by aesthetics). Ron Perleman as Conan’s Dad (“Mr. Barbarian?”), Leo Howard as the 12-year-old Conan and Rose McGowan were perfect choices and put in fine performances.
Visually Stunning – Beautiful, nice cinematography. Matte paintings did look fake but were so beautifully composed and painted, I didn’t mind.
Story – had some interesting “tie-togethers”. Plot arrangements and wrap-ups. Extra points for some cleverly and creatively brutal killings and maimings.
Costumes – Looked amazing; again, I’m no expert on the period, but they sure looked purty and cool where needed.
Slave girls & Wenches – A few heaping helpings of slave girls and wenches, along with hunky barbarians for those of all tastes.
Nice special effects – Especially the “sand warriors” toward the end.
Morgan Freeman narration – always a plus, with or without penguins.
Slow – Definitely slow in parts. Could have benefitted from some editing or plot compression.
Too much exposition – Show it, don’t say it.
Nasty birth scene – The bloody birth scene in the beginning was not graphic but still pretty nasty…tho the (CG?) baby was well done. So was the “nasal torture” scene. (You’ll know what I mean!)
One of the dirtiest movies I’ve ever seen – Not because of sexual content (which was actually pretty tasteful considering the subject matter)–just because everyone was covered in grime. True for the period, of course, but I kinda wanted to shower afterwards.
Believability – As is always the case, a few laws of physics (and physiques) were bent and broken to accommodate the script and//or visuals.
2D/3D – Saw it in 2D; not really enough that I could see to make 3D worthwhile…as usual, save your dough. [note from Craig: 3D is RARELY worth paying extra for!]
Low attendance – We saw it on a Sunday evening at 7:40 and there were only four other people in the theater!
Biggest issue was language – Too many contractions and modern word-slurring (“I’m gonna get ‘im”) which contradicted with the majority of well-spoken period-type dialog. Next, there was an important mention of bloodhounds. According to Wikipedia, bloodhounds didn’t exist until about 1000 A.D.–thousands of years after Conan’s Hyborian Age. But that’s minor.
The major gaffe, one with affected the entire film, was the pronunciation of the main character’s name!
His mother named him CONAN. His best friend called him CONAN. But everyone else called him “Conin”. As in the talk-show host.
Even Mamoa pronounced it wrong. (Other characters, like Perelman, used both pronunciations.) By Crom! Where was the dialog coach? Where was the director? Sure, he’s German, but I’ve heard interviews and his English is just fine; well enough to get the damn name right.
I don’t know how R.E.H. originally meant it to be pronounced (though I doubt he used both). All I know is CONAN sounds cool, barbaric and appropriate. “Conin” sounds pale, skinny and ginger-pompadour-haired. None of those are barbaric.
The majority of the film’s English-native audience knows this. At the very least, be consistent! (Did anyone in STAR WARS say “Darth Vadder”? Did anyone in STAR TREK say “Mr. Spoke”?) When dealing with franchise characters, the name is paramount and must be pronounced consistently. (The only exception is some of the TARZAN films or shows where he’s erroneously called “Tarzin”. But there’s been a plethora more films and incarnations of that character over the last 100 years; besides, that goof should be something to learn from.)
This may be a minor issue to many of you but to someone with trained ears it’s as grating as “fingernils on a chalkbeard”. Just imagine The Shadoo, The Phantoom, Batmin, Supermin, Nancy Draw, Sherlick Holmes or Harry Pottaire. What would you say then?
Other than that, I still recommend the film–if you see a matinee. Or wait for video. But give it a look. If you’ve seen it, feel free to give me your take below.
P.S.: One thing everyone pronounces correctly is “commission.” And if you’d like a cool one of Conan (pronounced any way you like), Red Sonja, or any other character, just ask Craig here! I’ve done a few over the years and love to tackle the character (with a pencil and brush rather than a sword)!