Conan the Barbarian isn’t a terrible movie by any stretch but it is one plagued with numerous lifeless action scenes, thinly written characters and at best average performances from the cast. As far as the Blu-ray is concerned, the audio and video transfers are both solid and while we don’t get anything of substance from the featurettes, the commentaries at least provide some insights.
Genre(s): Fantasy, Action
Lions Gate | R – 112 min. – $29.99 | November 22, 2011
Directed by: Marcus Nispel
Writer(s): Thomas Dean Donnelly & Joshua Oppenheimer and Sean Hood (written by)
Cast: Jason Momoa, Rachel Nichols, Stephen Lang, Rose McGowan, Ron Perlman
Theatrical Release Date: August 19, 2011
Features: 2 Feature Commentaries, Featurettes, DVD Copy, Digital Copy
Number of Discs: 2
Audio: English (DTS-HD MA 7.1)
Video: 1080p/Widescreen 2.40
Subtitles: English SDH, English, Spanish
Codec: MPEG-4 AVC
THE MOVIE – 2.25/5
The remake train is still in full force as Hollywood continues to run out of ideas, just updating “older” films with a familiar brand that will get butts in the seat, quality be damned. The latest is Conan the Barbarian, a medieval action adventure with emphasis on action than anything else, with any character moments taking a back seat.
Conan the Barbarian stars Jason Momoa, best known for his TV roles on a variety of shows including “Baywatch” and “Stargate: Atlantis”, as Conan, a man whose first taste as a baby was that of his mother’s blood after she was mortally wounded during battle. His father Corin (RON PERLMAN), leader of the tribe, cut his son out of the womb to save his life. Several years later, Conan shows himself to be a potentially great and blood-thirsty warrior. When the village is attacked by Khalar Zym (STEPHEN LANG), everyone including his father is murdered leaving Conan to be the sole survivor. Zym and his crew have been hunting down a mystical mask – its God-like powers established during a ho-hum prologue – one piece of which was hidden not so well in the village. With that piece in hand, he’s a step closer to grabbing ultimate power and to bring back his beloved wife.
We then fast forward 20 years where we find Conan trekking through the lands as a pirate, slaying enemies left and right with friend Artus (NONSO ANOZIE), as he seeks revenge upon Zym but the villain remains elusive. The reason he’s so elusive is he’s still needs one last piece to implement his ultimate goal which involves getting the pure blood of a descendent of the some other tribe. The only one left is Tamara (RACHEL NICHOLS) who is being hunted by Zym’s men when, thanks to some detective work by Conan (I’ll spare you the details), manages to rescue her, but his actions are hardly for heroics alone as he needs her to get to Zym.
Meanwhile, Zym and his sorceress daughter, Marique (ROSE MCGOWEN), use her powers to find the pure blood. Through air message (via one of Zym’s minions catapulted by Conan), they are offered the pure blood by Conan in exchange for gold. Of course, it’s all a rouse and a fight ensues between Conan, Zym and some mystical sand people, conjured by Marique, who apparently were left over from The Mummy movies.
Anyway, after the fight basically ends in a draw – meaning it was completely pointless –, Zym and his crew manage to capture Tamara where Zym’s process of total domination is near. Conan manages to sneak into the castle she’s being held, after battling a few mindless minions and creatures lost along the way to the set of Pirates of the Caribbean, makes it to the top level to square off and avenge the death of his father. You can see the ending from there.
Ok, despite my usual sarcastic tone, I didn’t think Conan the Barbarian was a bad movie, just one in need of guidance and some quieter, more character-driven scenes rather than taking the audience from one action piece to the next and expect anyone to actually care about the outcome. For his part, Jason Momoa was alright as Conan with the right physique and while he’s certainly a monster step above Schwarzenegger’s take (just to understand everything he was saying), he and the character have the personality of mud.
Ditto goes for Rachel Nichols as the damsel in distress, although she does get a moment in the climax where she’s transforming into Zym’s long dead, and evil, wife (oh, another thing stolen from The Mummy) and pleads with Conan to let her go. It was a good scene even if we did know what would happen.
As for Stephen Lang, obviously his one-note villainous turn in Avatar got him this gig playing another clichéd villain with little or no substance beyond the selfish nature by ruling the world, though what little was there for the part, he manages to bring some weight albeit it’s limited. And then I have to mention Rose McGowan as his daughter. Well, she’s under a lot of make-up that’s for sure, but it’s a very forgettable performance and character as she has even less depth than Lang.
Conan the Barbarian was directed by Marcus Nispel who you might remember, or like to forget, helmed the remake of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, the action-thriller/box office bomb Pathfinder and yet another remake, this time of Friday the 13th, though I admit I kind of enjoyed that one… In any case, this movie is just as lifeless as TCM and Pathfinder where we go from one action scene to another with no emotional connection to the plot or the characters. This might work fine for a slasher movie but it doesn’t fly for a fantasy action-adventure like Conan.
SPECIAL FEATURES – 2.25/5
This release comes with the 3D version on the same disc as the 2D movie. The Blu-ray comes housed standard case with a glossy slip cover.
Feature Commentaries – There are surprisingly two tracks included on the disc. First up is director Marcus Nispel who gives the more traditional commentary providing some behind-the-scenes info and working with the actors. The second features stars Jason Mamoa and Rose McGowan who provide more of their on-set experiences between working with the horses (Mamoa hated his), stories about the wardrobe and even getting into alternate scenes that were not included and which are not on this Blu-ray release leading me to suspect we will be seeing a “Director’s or Extended Cut” at some point in the future.
The Conan Legacy (18:01; HD) explores the history behind “Conan” from the Marvel comic book to the Schwarzenegger film adaptation. We get interviews with the cast (including Jason Mamoa), crew (writer, producers, etc) and those with historical knowledge of the subject.
Robert E. Howard: The Man Who Would Be Conan (11:24; HD) – After getting a history lesson on Conan, now we get to learn about the man who created the character and his biography.
Battle Royal: Engineering the Action (9:55; HD) takes a look at the numerous action and fight sequences from the choreography to the filming itself. Again, we get comments from those involved as they prepare for the fights.
Staging the Fights (5:47; HD) is a collection of pre-visualizations/rehearsal footage as references for the filmmakers while shooting.
Theatrical Trailer (2:16; HD)
Previews – Warrior, The Expendables, Set Up
The release comes with a DVD Copy and a Digital Copy download code (compatible only with iTunes).
VIDEO – 4.5/5
Conan the Barbarian is presented in its original 2.40 widescreen aspect ratio. The 1080p high-def transfer looks great even if this is a darkly lit movie even during daylight scenes. The detail level is quite good and I saw no signs of pixilation or artifacting even during the pitch black shots.
AUDIO – 4.75/5
Lions Gate continues to impress with their lossless audio and this is no exception. The disc includes a robust 7.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track that even when the action scenes aren’t quite up to snuff, you get the full blast from your home theater. The depth with the action is impressive and provide as good of a home theater experience as possible. Dialogue levels are also crisp, clear and even throughout. The only drawback is while the track is great, it’s not the best I’ve come across, but it’s damn close.
OVERALL – 3.0/5
Overall, Conan the Barbarian isn’t a terrible movie by any stretch but it is one plagued with numerous lifeless action scenes, thinly written characters and at best average performances from the cast. The costume design is OK although nothing we haven’t seen on “Xena” and the like while the visual effects are at least half decent. As far as the Blu-ray is concerned, the audio and video transfers are both solid and while we don’t get anything of substance from the featurettes, the commentaries at least provide some insights.
Brian Oliver, The Movieman
Check out some more screen caps by going to page 2.