Conan the Barbarian (2011)
3 out of 5 stars
I looked forward to this movie last summer, especially since I’d been watching Jason Momoa for years in Stargate: Atlantis and I’d recently read many of the original Conan stories penned by Robert E. Howard (see my reviews of The Coming of Conan the Cimmerian, The Best of Robert E. Howard: Crimson Shadows, and The Best of Robert E. Howard: Grim Lands). Howard wrote primal, visceral characters, but also had a deft hand with humor.
I grew disappointed with the critical reviews after the release of the movie last summer, so rather than take a chance on wasting my money at the movie theater, I opted to wait for the BluRay release. After returning The Adjustment Bureau to Netflix on Monday, Conan the Barbarian came next, arriving on Wednesday. Due to a prior engagement Wednesday evening, my first opportunity to watch the BluRay came Thursday evening.
I can’t help but compare this to the previous Conan film from my teenage years in the 80s. Even though I know, intellectually, that the other film did NOT adhere closely to Howard’s original creation, it still holds a special place in my memory and my heart. The most obvious short falling for me, oddly, was the musical score. I can still hear, in my head, many of the motifs written by Basil Poledouris (who I just learned was born in Kansas City). Also, Sandahl Bergman as Valeria, remains one of my all-time favorite female warrior/barbarian film characters, and she also happens to be another Kansas City native.
So I had quite a bit of baggage to carry with me while watching the new Conan the Barbarian last night. I had avoided this gauntlet long enough and now I was determined to forge ahead and damn the consequences.
Terry and I started the film early, because I didn’t know exactly how long it was and I needed to do a couple of after-hours tasks for my employer before falling asleep. While I frequently checked the progress meter on the BluRay player’s display menu, the movie really didn’t drag or bog down too much. I was disappointed in most of Momoa’s performance (I’ve seen him give better performances on the small screen in Stargate: Atlantis). In fact most of the acting seemed ‘off’ for the actors I recognized. I heard and saw many references to people and places mentioned in Howard’s many Conan stories, but I just don’t believe they quite captured the heart of Conan or the world of his Hyborian Age.
While it wasn’t great, Conan the Barbarian wasn’t nearly as bad as I feared it would be.
My next movie adventure happens on the really big screen at my local theater this weekend. John Carter opens today. And I already regret reading one review this morning that reminds me of my feelings and observations on watching Conan the Barbarian. I will keep my fingers crossed. Edgar Rice Burroughs, a contemporary of Robert E. Howard, deserves the best adaptation of his iconic character John Carter as we’ve given Conan.