Directed by Marcus Nispel
Distributed by Lionsgate Home Entertainment
Many decades ago Robert E. Howard created a character named Conan the Barbarian (aka Conan the Cimmerian). Since he first picked up his sword way back in 1932, the world has seen dozens of iterations of this fabled hero, whether it be in print, in comics, or in the movies with Arnold Schwarzenegger laying claim to the titular role. Unfortunately Arnie’s best days are long gone, and at his age he should not be seen anywhere rocking sandals and a loin cloth. It makes sense for a new actor to take the reins of this iconic badass. Enter Jason Momoa of “Game of Thrones” fame. Honestly? He’s a pretty good choice. There’s just one thing standing in his way: director Marcus Nispel.
Nispel has made a career out of reimagining huge properties, using lens flares and of course wearing his power color, orange. He’s met with varying degrees of success over the years, and his latest tango just manages to climb over the acceptable side of the fence.
In case you’re unfamiliar with Conan’s tale, in a nutshell tragedy befalls his village during his childhood, and everything he cares about is stripped from him — from friends to family. Of course he grows up angry and revenge-hungry, and in essence that’s really the only plot there is or needs to be.
With Conan the Barbarian Nispel does a few things right. Momoa’s casting is pretty much spot on, and the actor does his best to bring Conan to life for a new generation. He’s smart, witty, and completely violent. Speaking of violence, Nispel also realized that this type of material is not meant to be PG-13. This is a vicious tale about a vicious man. The amount of beheadings and blood geysers presented here is more than fitting. Coming from someone who still has a bad taste left in his mouth after the silliness of Conan the Destroyer, I couldn’t be happier about the nasty tone of this flick. The third thing Nispel gets right is the look of the film. The locations really do a lot to draw the viewer into the world and act as characters in and of themselves. So where did it all go awry?
As is always the case with Nispel’s work, the director is way too concerned with style over substance. Yes, things look good, but the experience is akin to trying to find a beating heart within a mannequin. The flick, while at times fun and bloody, just has no soul. As a result we’re left with an entertaining but forgettable popcorn flick. If that’s your thing, you may just love it. See it and judge for yourself.
Yes, if you’re wondering whether the Blu-ray looks and sounds better than its DVD cousin. Visually it just doesn’t get any better than this. Colors pop, blacks are refined and inky, and the level of detail presented on the screen in 1080p is near astounding. Couple that with a stellar DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 mix, and we have a cosmetic and aural winner.
In terms of supplemental materials things kick off with two commentary tracks, one with Nispel and the other with Jason Momoa and Rose McGowan. Of the two the actors are far more engaging than Nispel, who spends the majority of his time taking long pauses between the action. From there we get four standard featurettes, including a biographical one about R.E. Howard, and everything ends up clocking in at around a little less than an hour. Not great but perfectly serviceable.
Conan the Barbarian brings absolutely nothing new or memorable to the table. It almost serves as a reminder about how cool the character of Conan is. If only he had more to do here. Still, despite its shortcomings it’s far better than Conan the Destroyer, but you purists out there will be better off sticking to the books.
3 out of 5
3 1/2 out of 5