While I'm no fan of film remakes, the latest Hollywood craze that seems to be replacing massive sequel quantities does have its place every now and again. Some films are much better off recast and re-imagined (with a budget, to boot), though ardent fans won't be able to disassociate their love for the original works. I hate the laziness of it, the way a studio can cash in on an established brand name, the way the stories rarely give enough to justify their existence versus just re-watching the originals, and yet, even I know, despite my hardened stance, that some films really could be better the second time around.
Case in point: Conan. I'll be the first to admit I'm no fan of the original films. Sure, they're star turning history lessons, crucial in the rise of the greatest action movie star in history, but even the presence of Arnold Schwarzenegger near his monstrous physical peak can change the way I see the films as prodding, somewhat boring affairs, with nothing in the way of suspense, and no real fantasy to them, at least not enough for me to get wrapped up in them. So, with word of a remake, the news covering it focussing primarily on the casting of the man to replace a legend (and the horribly daunting task that must have been!), I'll admit I was anxious, a little hesitant, but also a little excited. With modern effects capabilities, fantasy films can really go balls to the wall and create entire worlds full of wonder and beauty. They also can fuel shit like Eragon, but that's beside the point...
Conan the Barbarian gets the 2011 treatment in this new feature film that was met with a mixed reception. Were expectations too high, fueled by nostalgia and steroids? Can a younger berserker of a warrior usurp the beloved, yet decrepit king?
Born of battle, Conan the Cimmerian doesn't know a mother's warm embrace. Raised by his warrior father (the great Ron Perlman), the youth wants nothing more than to be what his father is, and even at a young age shows bravery and cunning far above those years older than him. But when a raiding army wipes out the village on a quest to restore a broken artifact of immense magical power, the child is removed from his environment, left alone in the world with nothing but a thirst for vengeance.
All grown up, Conan (played by Jason Momoa) travels the world, seeing the ugliness found on the continent of Hyboria ever since it has been taken over by the man who slew his father (played by Stephen Lang). A chance encounter with the final element in the evil quest for necromantic powers sets the stones in motion for the brave warrior to finally get the revenge his life has centered around for years, but can one man truly take on an army, including mythical beasts and powerful, dangerous fiends, and tell the tale?
This remake of Conan the Barbarian is an interesting beast, and I do want to emphasize the word beast. This is not a film for the weak hearted, and it may very well be one of the most gory, gruesome, and therefore manliest swords and sorcery film ever made. There is no quarter given here, no cut away, no allusion or reference. Every bloody battle, every foul attack and painful death is captured, no, glorified in this modern iteration of a classic Robert E. Howard character.
Film fans looking for character development, or, dare I say, a sensical plot will need to look elsewhere, as this film features neither once adult Conan appears. The childhood origin is about the most coherent storytelling in the entire movie, as it does give us reason to root for the bravery and brute skill of the character, his never say die attitude blazing a trail through victim after victim. As Momoa appears, suddenly Conan may not even be the main character in a film named after him, as the subplots concerning descendants of ancients long considered gone, as well as the relationship between the baddie brood take over. While the beast meeting the beauty makes for some fun scenes (including some obviously male written "you knew that was coming" domination), Conan really doesn't work opposite his nemesis, meaning the entire battle doesn't matter.
What matters is, frankly I don't mind that I'll sound like a pimple faced teenager by saying this, that the images are hard to forget, that they carry a brute power much resembling the character. Conan 2011, the film, is just like Conan 2011, the character. It's brute. A little stunted mentally, but powerful, daring, forceful. Unrelenting. Massive (the runtime does seem to drag on occasion).
Going in to this remake, I didn't know what to expect. I'm glad to see that I was given a film I wanted to see. Yes, it has its issues, and no, it won't be considered a classic any time soon; the fact that this is a remake all but ensures said fate. Fans of the original won't be able to look past that, for the most part, but those willing to give this action fantasy adventure romp a go will find a bloody, nasty, sometimes silly but usually entertaining quest to spend some time with. It's not a perfect action film, by any means, but it is a very unique depiction, a brutally unflinching take on medieval nature and lore.
Conan the Barbarian was not filmed in 3D; rather, after production it began the conversion process, in a manner similar to other summer blockbuster titles like Thor or Captain America: The First Avenger. This presentation is captured on Blu-ray 3D in full 1080p high definition using the MVC encoding tool in the 2.40:1 aspect ratio. Some fans aren't big on this particular ratio for 3D films, but with the lush (probably artificial or excessively enhanced) landscapes and fierce action sequences, the ability to see more picture on the sides, I'd not have this any other way.
Now, not all 3D conversions are created equal. Some shine, some soar, some flounder and die miserable deaths. Some even do both sides of the spectrum. Conan is not a perfect 3D movie. I won't harp on the issue, but overall depth is lacking, never all that immersive. It doesn't put you in the movie like many other 3D films (particularly those natively filmed in 3D) can do.
That said, I did enjoy this disc for what it does right, rather than the limitations put on it due to the filming methods. The opening map sequence has some pretty neat 3D effects, even if the fire effect that transitions it is absolutely awful. Crosstalk is never a major issue to this disc, perhaps because of the somewhat limited parallax. My display is not shy about displaying ghosting, in any way shape or form, but Conan 2011 does a good job of keeping it very limited. Even torches, a ghosting mainstay on even native 3D films, don't have any kind of issue, nor do embers floating in the air.
Now, the use of 3D is interesting here. A lot of it is discrete, just random small effects, like a hand hovering in front of a face, that little space actually shows through and looks very well done. Blood sprays are absolutely fantastically rendered into numerous layers, while the second act horse and carriage sequence (the film's big chase) actually lends itself to some very impressive, fun 3D features. Dark shots maintain clarity, including dark hair on dark backgrounds. That's really worth noting!
There are some issues with this disc, though many of them are assuredly linked to the conversion process. In darker sequences, skin tones (which are very accurate throughout the film) feel overly digital and unrealistic. There's some jaggies and sharp, crooked edges from time to time. Some 3D effects fail. For example, a cut out character that unnaturally floats in his/her environment, an issue found in converted titles. That pops up on a few occasions. Even funnier, Perlman's beard sometimes hovers away from his face, like it's trying to get the hell away!!!! Some of the artificial environments have their lack of reality really pointed out by the 3D just pronouncing it in all the wrong ways.
The audio for Conan, presented in a lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 track, is demo material. Seriously. Great separation, superb echoes, great, appropriate use of rear speakers, motion effects that work wonders, perfect dynamics, excellent clarity, even massive power, it's all on display here. Even better still, with the brute force of the film, the audio doesn't get exaggerated and blow out other elements like other films do. Everything stays proportional. This film gets loud, quiet, peaceful, chaotic, and not once will you need to adjust your volume levels to hear it comfortably. Conan the Barbarian on Blu-ray is audio excellence!
This Blu-ray 3D release has the 2D and 3D versions of the film on the same disc. The 2D menu will prompt viewers what mode they want to watch the film in when pressing the play button.
DVD/Digital Copy combo disc
Audio Commentary with Marcus Nispel
Audio Commentary with Jason Momoa and Rose McGowan
The Conan Legacy
Robert E. Howard: The Man Who Would be Conan
Battle Royal: Engineering the Action
Staging the Fights
Not everyone will be as gung-ho on Conan the Barbarian 2011 as I am. But I'm also in the majority who find the original films overrated due to their star. While no one can ever replace Arnie, Momoa does a good job as a brooding, hulking figure who doesn't have to speak all that much, and lets his actions do the talking for him, as his body language is quite excellently loud and brutal. This film is low on brains, but high on muscles. The Blu-ray 3D release features solid 3D, especially for a conversion, along with demo worthy audio, making it an excellent pickup for the price point it's been given.