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Friday, 18 July 2014

Conan the Barbarian (2011)


Flash, a-haaaaaa,
Saviour of the universe. 
Flash! A-haaaaaa,
He's saved every one of us. 

Um.

Conan the Barbarian (2011).


 Hey, guys. Remember …


the Eighties and Nineties?

If you don't, here's a rundown: Mullets, Take That, Boyzone, Boyzone knockoffs, those trainers that lit up when you walk, Furbies, Baby Furbies, Power Rangers, Friends, John Major, New Labour, Lara Croft, Boyzone, steady tick down to the baby boomer generation killing the economy, the Troubles in Northern Ireland, and 'epic fantasy films' and TV series that were all more or less exactly the same as each other.

There – there was a formula, guys. A rigidly adhered to formula. Scantily or leather clad muscular man (or woman, in the case of Xena, although her series broke the formula a lot, so maybe it shouldn't be on here) must stop some manner of deformed and all-black-wearing evil warlord and his burly, deformed right hand man and deformed, scantily clad, related to him somehow right hand woman, from collecting all the pieces of some manner of ancient magical artifact that is almost always shattered into pieces and almost always related to resurrecting the dead.

He is accompanied by two people: Some manner of man – rattusian rogue, bumbling scholar – who is small, overweight, old and/or un-masculine enough to not be a threat to the protagonist's masculinity and sexual dominance; and a woman who usually dresses in white (and is notable not scantily clad) who is of a higher or more 'innocent' social standing (often a priestess or princess), will become his love interest, and usually possesses some kind of special or plot relevant power, because in these series the man inevitably is special because of his skills, and the woman is inevitably special because she is some kind of 'key' or other inanimate object. 

Beastmaster, 1982.

Sets consisted entirely of dingy, flame-lit castles of polystyrene, and forests. On a high budget day, maybe a beach would show up as well.

Well, it's had a comeback in recent years. 

Legend of the Seeker, 2008.

So, it was really only natural that eventually a Conan the Barbarian remake would come along. But hey, maybe they'll modernise it into something fun and tongue-in-cheek and kind of awful but actually surprisingly fun and with a surprisingly good spread of female characters, like Legend of the Seeker, right? That'd be okay.

They – they did not do that. For all that it was released in 2011, Conan the Barbarian is more of a generic Eighties-Nineties fantasy action flick than most generic Eighties-Nineties fantasy action flicks were. It's like a parody, except that it's completely serious. Deadly serious. The creators of this film seemed to genuinely think this would be a box office smash without any kind of originality behind it.

Anyway. Conan the Barbarian tells the story of Conan, a young barbarian boy who sees his father, the narrator of Fallout 3, killed before his eyes, along with his entire village, by the evil bandit warlord I Never Caught His Name, who is seeking to recreate an ancient mask that was shattered into pieces and can raise spirits from the underworld. Now grown into a man who likes fast cars and faster women like that one version of the Flash from the Batman Beyond timeline, he sets out to achieve his revenge, and in so doing finds himself as the reluctant protector of a nun.

So, essentially, every Eighties fantasy film ever. 

I don't even want to make a Conan's sword pun, because the
film already tried to make it and failed. 

It even looks like it was made in the Eighties. It was created in 2011, for god's sake. Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, a film whose sweeping beauty and dramatic modernisation and brightening of the traditional fantasy aesthetic had revolutionised cinema, had been out for eight years at this point. This is the same year Thor, which created a believable divine high fantasy realm of crisp, clear colour and sheen, making the most out of modern film-making techniques, came out. A year from then, we would have Life of Pi on our screens.

What, then, could possibly have been the excuse for Conan the Barbarian being set seemingly in the forests and cobbled back together polystyrene castles dingily lit with a few stray flames of its Eighties predecessors? We can do better now. Our ability to make convincing fantasy realms has gone so much further than 'look at this dark tavern'.

(It doesn't help at all that the special effects are lacklustre, sometimes jarringly so.)

So, the set design is bad. What about the character design? Bland. At least the character designs from the Eighties look comical now, these are updated just enough to tip them over into being unremarkable, and not far enough to make them interesting. The villains are all deformed somehow and dressed in black while they lethargically attempt to gnaw on the scenery, the heroes are all conventionally attractive and dressed in washed out blues, reds and whites, with the exception being the period where Conan briefly wears a bright yellow cloak. Probably the most interesting character to look at in the film is Conan himself, because he is never wearing a shirt.

Interesting personalities? Not really. Hyper masculine hero with no personality beyond 'grrr, murder'; prim, innocent, yet snarky woman who briefly gets to try and stab a few people but who by the end of the story has spent twenty minutes tied to a wheel screaming; no less than two rogueish thief characters who are framed as unthreatening or cowardly; moustache-twirling villain; and seductive evil woman.

Now with fifty percent more claw.

Good storyline? Nah, evil mask shattered into pieces, woman whose blood is the key, warlord/cult leader searching for her. Good subplots? No. The only subplot is the romance, which is forced, tired, dull and culminates in an extremely boring sex scene just before the start of the third act.

Good soundtrack? No. Good cinematography? No. Good acting? Well, there probably should be, I know for a fact Jason Momoa can act, but no. Good fight scenes? Eh. They're okay. Really nothing special.

Perpetual washed out filter over everything? Yes!

I like to say something good about everything I review, unless it's written by Andy McNab, but I can't here. There is nothing good about this. There's not even anything interestingly bad about this: It is bland and generic in all the ways bad films have been bland and generic for the past thirty-five years or more, and I actually find it more than a little bit insulting that the film-makers techniques for making me want to go to sleep are so old I wasn't born at the time when they hit their peak. I'm insulted that this film came out over half a century after the books it's based on, and yet the story and gender politics are actually worse than the source material.

Most of all, though, I'm just annoyed that there's nothing I can really say about it. It's boring. I was bored. There's nothing I can really think of to say about that, except that it was a hundred minutes of my life and it felt like twice that time. I have worked jobs before where I've had to sit in an office without internet access or any work for eight hours a day, every day, or where I've had to spend ten hours at night putting sweets on shelves, and I still don't think those were as boring as this film is.

So that's all there is to say. Just – don't watch this. A few times now, I've given recommendations to watch imperfect creations, because even if they're flawed, and those flaws are massive and obvious, they're interesting. This is – this is not that. This is something where I can't pin down a noticeable flaw, a dip in quality in any particular area, because it's all just scraping the bottom of the gutter.

For god's sake, Conan, you're not the Pharoah from Yu-Gi-Oh.

Ugh.

Waste of a bloody review slot.  

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