Tuesday, 23 August 2011



Why remake Conan The Barbarian? If you want to make a Dark Ages sword-and-sorcery rippling torso flick, go ahead. But making it Conan explicitly invites comparison with the original version, whereas doing the exact same movie and calling it Zetok The Indestructible or Korax The Swordmaster merely involves assessing it on its own terms. Invent your own Hyborian folk hero. Alternatively, remake Ator The Invincible instead because there's a good chance that you might do a better job. Even if you're Marcus Nispel: redirector of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Frankenstein, Pathfinder, Friday The 13th - none of them the faintest shadow of a patch on their originals. Has this man ever had a single original idea? Admittedly his TCM is a passable dumbo slasher movie - not a fraction of Hooper's film, but if he didn't want unfavourable comparison he should have called it something else.

Conan The Barbarian is still the story of Conan's quest for revenge against the Dark Lord who wiped out his Cimmerian village and family when he was a boy: how he grows into the roistering but simple warrior originally destined to be a king: to "wear the jewelled crown of Aquilonia upon a troubled brow". We don't see much of that process, we don't get the Wheel Of Pain or the Tree of Woe - we cut from him being an angry kid to him being a barbarian adult. Khalar Zym (who thinks up these names?) is the Dark Lord seeking the nine parts of a sacred mask that when filled with the pureblood of one of the descendants of the Nine Families of Asheroth will give the wearer supernatural powers to resurrect his sorcerer wife and take over the world. The pureblood is Tamara (Rachel Nicholls) who Conan ends up protecting so he can avenge himself on Khalar Zym and his mad witch daughter (Rose McGowan).

As far as muscular Dark Ages flicks go, Nispel's film is absolute tosh, not particularly well done, but excessively violent and bloody, and it's tolerable enough as popcorn silliness. But as a Conan The Barbarian film it's a pretty empty exercise. That's because they don't have Arnold Schwarzenegger, they have Jason Momoa who isn't as good. They don't have the mighty James Earl Jones as the villain, but Stephen Lang (who I didn't recognise and thought it was Michael Ironside). They don't have Oliver Stone writing or John Milius directing - it's scripted and rescripted and re-rescripted by the usual committees, and they've got a director with a background in six-minute rock videos and not in two-hour film. Nor indeed do they have the late Basil Poledouris' astonishing music score - though in fairness Tyler Bates' soundtrack is more musical and less thump-shriek-drone than his usual efforts.

Nispel's film is badly-written (after having established that Tamara must be protected at all costs, they let her wander off through the woods alone simply so she can be captured) and CGI'd up the wazoo. And crucially it's no fun - there are zero laughs - although there's plenty of blood (albeit some of it CGI, which is cheating) and savage violence: heads smashed against rocks, hands lopped off, slashed tendons. There's even a level of toplessness and nudity which you don't tend to get in multiplex fodder these days. I saw it in 2D rather than the post-conversion 3D, which costs extra and is entirely unnecessary and may even make things worse as the film is so rapidly edited in the numerous fight and chase scenes that seeing it in plain 2D is dizzying. The original is on DVD and is still fantastic - hell, even Conan The Destroyer is more enjoyable and that's a long way from being a good movie.


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