Movie Reviews: Conan the Barbarian

Ok, I’m going to cut right to the chase.

This movie, on so many levels, is dog vomit.

Might it be enjoyable dog vomit (and what a horrible concept that is to consider)? Perhaps but when both my brother and I, whose bars of acceptance regarding movies is set rather low (I am a big fan of The Long Kiss Goodnight after all), leave the theater shaking our heads and saying “Landboat” to each other in disbelief then the movie was bad. As bad as Boondock Saints II: All Saints Day (in different ways), which was only a smidge better than Max Payne.

The pacing was bad. The editing was bad. The effects weren’t quite over-the-top enough to be good in that way that The Scorpion King is good-bad. The plot. Oh god the plot. I hope, for the writer’s sake, that the plot holes in this movie were from the horrid editing and not from the writing, otherwise the writer should be shot out to sea via trebuchet. The details of the story set me to scratching my head through most of the movie and asking the question, “Why?”

I know I just instituted it but I’m going to throw out my spoiler policy for this review. If I spoil the movie for you and you don’t go see it, I will have done you a favor of saving you at least $10. If you care that much about this movie, stop reading.

Conan the Barbarian opens with a voice-over history of the story voiced by Morgan Freeman, which, really, is the most disappointing part of this whole thing. It’s like seeing Ben Kingsley attached to Bloodrayne. Maybe they were hoping they’d get some of that Shawshank Redemption magic to rub off on this. However, you know what they say about polishing turds…

Anyway, Morgan Freeman as God tells the story about how a bunch of necromancers created a Cthulhu-butt mask (the Mask of Acheron) that required the pure blood of Acheronian women to power it and supposedly conveyed great mystic magical power to whoever wore the Lovecraftian fetish-wear. This all went swimmingly as the Acheron emperor gobbled up land and people until he found the mask’s one weakness: barbarians. Apparently barbarians are proof to squid-god sex magic and they did what barbarians do and murdered the original wearer of the mask, destroyed the empire of Acheron, took the mask, and shattered it, each tribe taking a piece of the mask to keep them separate so it, with all its ultimate fail powers, could never be rebuilt. However, considering what happened to the only two people to wear the mask, they should’ve kept it around and sent it to any would-be tyrants to bring about their swift and screaming demise.

The first thirty minutes of the movie after that showed some promise. Conan is born in the middle of a battle via c-section and grows up to be a frightening child bad-ass, dispatching four savages more than twice his size while initially unarmed and keeping a robin’s egg in his mouth from cracking (long story). Wandering back to the village, he presents their heads to his father the chieftain and wins the right to be a warrior.

Because, really, when a nine year-old, covered in blood, wanders up to you with four brutally severed heads, doesn’t even look like he’s breathing hard, and asks you for something, are you really going to tell him no?

Conan then swings a dagger around at nothing and watches his father make some swords while his father babbles about the strength of steel and how steel has to be flexible or it’ll shatter, throwing in some lessons such as:

Hairy Ron Pearlman Chief – “Conan, what is most important when tempering a sword? Fire or ice?”
Conan – “Fire.”
Skeptical side-eyes look from Hirsute McChieftanpants
Conan – “Ice?”
More side-eyes skeptical looks from Bear-man Dad-type. He picks up the sword they’re working on, swings it against an anvil and watches it shatter
Crazy Hobo Barbarian Chief – “Fire AND ice.”
Conan – “Oh…”
Inexplicable shot of a sword being lowered into a basin of water with ice floating in it as flames flare along the left side of the screen

Anyway, the movie progresses. Evil Wanna-be King Khalar Zym swings through Conan’s village doing what James Earl Jones did better and wipes out Conan’s people, collects the last of the mask fragments and fixes his pretty ugly and non-barbarian-safe dead starfish. Conan grows up to become a thief, raider, and free-er of nubile slave women, all the while searching for the men who destroyed his village. Interestingly enough, for being a would-be god and evil overlord of the entire known world, the person who slaughtered Conan’s family and people, and a ruler with his own kingdom, Conan can’t meet a single person in twenty years who knows Khalar Zym’s name. You’d think that if some guy had gone around conquering many, many barbarian tribes, a point Zym (who I had more fun imagining as this Zim) very clearly points out, collecting pieces of a fell mask of sucktastic powers, people would have heard about it. But, alas, Zym’s PR department needs to be put to the sword and so Conan spends two decades stealing, killing and sexing up women all the while completely failing in his quest for vengeance.

While Conan was searching for the stealthiest world-conqueror ever, Zym was looking for the last pure-blood Acheronean (sp?) woman to sacrifice and awaken the power of the squid-butt mask. Despite there being a thousand years between Acheron’s fall and the time the movie takes place in, apparently there’s just one girl left with pure Acheron blood. How they kept said blood pure for a thousand years is unsaid but the only way I could think of would leave the young woman a blue-skinned, god-forsaken mutant with siblings for parents. However, this was perhaps not the case as the sacrifice-to-be is a beautiful woman by the name of Tamara.

Long story short, they find out about Tamara, Conan keeps Tamara away from Zym until after he’s had a chance to sex her up (well, she pursues him to sex her up), she gets captured and, of course, Conan rescues her, killing Zym and his incestuously creeptastic daughter Marique (who looks like the female love-child of John Travolta’s Battlefield Earth character and a Predator). He then drops her off at some city and she watches longingly as he rides away. The end.

I will now provide you a short list of things in this movie that made no sense:
1. Conan’s father’s inexplicable gynecological knowledge that allows him to perform an emergency c-section on his mortally wounded wife, one-handed, with a dagger, without looking, and without stabbing his newborn son.
2. How ancient necromancers made a Cthulhu-fetish mask out of normal human bones. Seriously, it looked like they skinned an octopus’ lower half (and kept the anus, if octopi have anuses) and turned it into a mask. That’s supposed to be human bone? Really?
3. Slaver-seeking boulders. Conan’s men free some slaves by dropping a bunch of boulders onto a slave camp and, MIRACULOUSLY, no slaves are crushed beneath hundreds of pounds of rolling, rocky death.
4. Conan is made of sex-inducing muscles so that even though he and his men just dropped a couple tons of rocks onto some slavers and stabbed the rest who weren’t squished, the women who were hanging out in cages getting oggled at and whipped totally want to jump his bones RIGHT THEN AND THERE.
5. The landboat or, as my friend Amy put it, the MOBILE OPPRESSION PALACE (which is such a better name). I kid you not this is a boat, complete with masts, rigging, prow, and crows nest, only on land, on the backs of elephants, led by slaves. WHY?! Why is there a landboat? The landboat doesn’t even do anything except accept trebuchet shot and crash through an archway Zym’s soldiers were easily able to ride under. There’s no point! And there’s one scene where the boat is on the ground and the elephants are milling about at night. How the hell do they get it off and on the elephants? Gah!
6. Ruins. Ruins everywhere. Wherever there needs to be a scene there’s ruins. Ruins with chains to hit horses with. Ruins with stacks and stacks of leaky oil amphorae to be lit on fire. Easily destroyed ruins to use for unknown reasons for human sacrifice. Hyborea is nothing but one big ruin.
7. Conan, Tamara, and his friend the captain are sailing on completely open water in one scene, not a spec of dirt in sight, and in the very next they’re right near land to make it more plausable when they are attacked by two dinghies worth of bad guys. Because a boat teleporting miles over becalmed waters to be near land is SO much more believable than the bad guys rowing through the open sea without being spotted and catching up to a three-masted ship. Riiiiight.
8. How Conan leaves the boat on a rocky, wind-swept, craggy cliff to be chased down by Tamara for the sex. And the sex takes place in an unexplainable stone house beneath a cliff. Who would build a house there? How did Conan know about the house? How are there piles and piles of fresh hay for them to bang on in what essentially looks like the Grand Canyon? Why, after the sex, is Tamara then walking through a forest that looks suspiciously like the Moon of Endor to be captured by Zym’s soldiers who magically knew right where to get her?
9. A thief has the keys to Zym’s city and knows all the secret entrances. He doesn’t pick the locks, oh no, he has a ring of keys to every lock in the sewer. AND YET HE DOESN’T KNOW ABOUT THE TENTACLE SEWER SARLACC.
10. Speaking of which, the whole scene with the Dweller in the Depths. When the Sarlacc in Return of the Jedi has a higher kill count than you, then you know you need to go back to creepy monster school.
11. The part where Conan climbs up to the very highest tower of Zym’s city only to watch a procession of cultists, led by Zym, taking Tamara out of the city to the geologically unsound Skull Rock. Because, let’s face it, it makes total sense to leave your city with its high walls and richly appointed palace with its army of guards to take a bunch of wimpy cultists to a cave that a sneeze could collapse that has no spiritual/mystical significance.
12. The whole scene where they reawaken the mask. First of all, the mask has an anus that drinks Tamara’s blood. Secondly, why are you going to take your one, precious resource that it took you twenty years to find (aka Tamara) and chain her to a circular frame which you will then suspend over a chasm hundreds of feet deep with lava at the bottom? Especially when you then want to use her body to house the spirit of your beloved, long dead creepster wife? I know that it might not be my thing, but I was being brought back from the dead after two decades of rotting in the ground, I wouldn’t want to be put in mortal peril immediately upon returning to life.
13. The mask. The mask, really, is the final straw. I mean, when the voice of God (aka Morgan Freeman) talks it up, he makes it sound like the mask is some artifact of unimaginable power, allowing whoever wears it to conquer nations and subjugate entire races of men. What we get is half a Face Hugger/Head Crab that has the ability to create ill-timed earthquakes below caverns with more cracks in them than a plumbers convention as well as the power to not quite bring people back from the dead. I mean, seriously, if that was the extent of the power of the mask I can’t really see what the fuss was about, especially when this mask packs more oomph.

You know, in writing this review I think I’ve figured it out. The writers and executive producers must’ve gotten together, drank their weight in Steel Reserve, and started their note taking session with, “You know what would really be cool…?” So much of this movie feels like the only reason for the landboat or the Dweller scene was because someone thought it would be cool. Unfortunately, it was simply nonsensical at best and idiotically puerile.

Do yourself a favor. You want Conan the Barbarian? Go watch Arnold kill a giant snake and listen to James Earl Jones complain about it.

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