Conan the Barbarian teaser stills & analysis

Wouldn’t be much of a pedantic Howard fan if I didn’t vivisect the new teaser, now would I?

Warning: this post will likely include some spoilers. You have been summarily cautioned: Abandon all hope, ye who enter here…

For those of you who haven’t seen the teaser, go do that. Now. I’ll wait.

Aright, done? Then let us begin.

We start off with a thunderous crash, along with the blast of a very low-pitched brass instrument (sounds like a tuba to me). The screen is pitch-black, save for a ribbon of smoke and sparks of flame: from this issues a ghostly image, accompanied by a man’s scream.

Quite a mystery for our first face: dark makeup, sharp (filed?) teeth, no sight of hair. At a guess, I’d say he’s a Pict, possibly the same Pict we reported on a few months ago.

Another mysterious figure. This chap’s far more demonic looking than our previous screaming head, with cracked skin, dark eyes and sharp teeth. His facial structure is also far more gaunt, almost ghoulish. I’d say this is either one of Remo’s Shadow Scouts, or one of the supernatural beings figuring in the film’s climax. Originally, these beings were Acheronian warriors, but since it’s been suggested that Acheron has been replaced by a “dark god,” it follows that they may be servitors of that deity. We’ve seen these beasties in action in a few behind-the-scenes shots, where one is apparently doing somersaults as Jason Momoa sweeps his legs out with his sword.

Finally, someone familiar: this is the gigantic warrior seen in the Empire magazine article, as the chains, sharp teeth (notice a pattern here?) and dreadlocks prove. As with the previous creature, this gigantic being may or may not be human: as he beats his chest, he makes a leonine roar before the smoky image dissipates. That could just be poetic embellishment, though. Given his sighting at the battle in Conan’s home village, and now his appearance in the trailer, it appears that if this character is indeed the Jailer, then his role has been substantially expanded.

This one is somewhat difficult to analyse due to the heat distortion of the fire, but given the dark makeup, hideous tattoos, weird piercings and grotesque scarification, I’d guess he’s a bad guy. Yes, a stretch, I know(!) As for which bad guy, I believe it to be Remo. Remember the Empire pictures where someone was tied to a rock while Jason Momoa’s Conan looks on? Well, this is something that happens to Remo in the script.

At this point, we hear the sonorous voiceover of a man clearly channeling the spirit of Don laFontaine – perhaps Peter Cullen? – speaking as the following text appears:


Then a brief drum snare, and another image appears:

Our first shot of a female character in the teaser, and she’s almost certainly the same person seen in the controversial leaked stills: bizarre hair, exceedingly high forehead, bare arms. What else we notice is that she bears some tattoos around her skull, some heavy duty eyeshadow, and a sword in her right hand. While the makeup does a good job hiding it, I’m more certain than ever that this is Rose McGowan’s Marique.

That voice again:


(Enter the world?  Seriously?)

This is quite likely a group shot of the ghoulish beastie seen earlier, and definitely the same as the somersaulting ghoul: note the sickle-bladed weapons.

That voice returns:


Of course. Then, we get the big reveal:

Unfortunately, the heat distortion makes it a bit tough to get a good look at Momoa. For the effect the teaser’s going for, however, I think we can see enough. It’s the same pose from the recent Empire article – as a matter of fact, Momoa’s so static that it might very well be a still. Hmm.


Finally, Momoa in action! Well, sure, it’s just a brief swing in very dim light in slow-motion… but it’s Momoa in action. From the very little I see, Momoa’s time off Stargate Atlantis hasn’t left him rusty.

Unfortunately, as we can see in the last frame, that horrible deer-skull sword used in the logo isn’t just an artistic choice, but based on an actual prop used in the film. Admittedly, it isn’t as poorly balanced and designed as it could be, but it’s far too reminiscent of Jody Samson’s Master’s Sword, so prominent in the 1984 film, for my liking.

A new voice, this time a woman’s:


Sounds like Rachel Nichols to me: American accent, anyway.

The smoke makes it hard to tell whether this is meant to be Conan in Gigantic Melancholy or Gigantic Mirth, but it’s clearly our Cimmerian in a more reflective, peaceful mood, holding the skull-sword in his hand.

The female voice continues:


Presumably she means noble as in nobility: it is possible, however, that this and “you are no knight” are intended to reflect Conan’s brusque manner and self-serving ways, as much as statement of fact. Both phrases could be taken in two different ways – or both.

Conan lifting aloft his sword… no comment.

A third voice is heard: deep, gravelly, grizzled, intimidating:


That can be only one man’s voice! Vastly superior to Arnold’s genial Austrian twang.

Rachel Nichols as Tamara, ladies and gentlemen! She’s wearing the same hairstyle and what looks to be the same headgear from the leaked stills. Unfortunately, this really looks like a still to me: Nichols’ face pans impassively to the right, with absolutely no sign of movement. Really sticks out in comparison to the moving images.


And anyone who’s read “Queen of the Black Coast” will be able to complete that phrase. Anyone who hasn’t, well, here’s the original:

“I have known many gods. He who denies them is as blind as he who trusts them too deeply. I seek not beyond death. It may be the blackness averred by the Nemedian skeptics, or Crom’s realm of ice and cloud, or the snowy plains and vaulted halls of the Nordheimer’s Valhalla. I know not, nor do I care. Let me live deep while I live; let me know the rich juices of red meat and stinging wine on my palate, the hot embrace of white arms, the mad exultation of battle when the blue blades flame and crimson, and I am content. Let teachers and priests and philosophers brood over questions of reality and illusion. I know this: if life is illusion, then I am no less an illusion, and being thus, the illusion is real to me. I live, I burn with life, I love, I slay, and am content.”

– “Queen of the Black Coast,” The Coming of Conan the Cimmerian, p131

Man, as jaded as I am, it’s a tremendous feeling to hear Howard’s dialogue in an official trailer for a film coming out. A shame it isn’t in an adaptation of “Queen of the Black Coast,” but for what it is, it’s a lovely feeling.

As we see Conan’s lips moving, we hear the words:


This is the only piece of dialogue accompanied by moving lips in the teaser, and while it’s a bit wan for my liking, it’s alright. Plus the aforementioned giddiness at hearing Howard quotations on the big screen softened it for me. What does bother me is that the dialogue is slightly out of synch with the video, which is really unfortunate. Either my computer’s at fault, it was a rendering problem at Yahoo’s end, or at the teaser producer’s: if anyone else has this problem, please note in the comments.

To close out the trailer, one final shot of Momoa slashing at the audience, followed by the titles:

So what does it all mean?

If there’s a theme to be discerned in the teaser, the ghostly spirits appear to be composed of Conan’s foes in the film. Not quite as ambiguous as the pile-o’-skulls poster, but to those unsuspecting audiences in the cinemas, all they see are some angry screaming faces. There’s nothing earth-shatteringly new here: we’ve seen everything in the leaked stills, behind-the-scenes shots and even official stills. Still, it’s good to see what-could-be-Remo, a better look at Marique, and most of all, seeing a bit of Momoa’s action and his voice.

Special mention needs to be made of that quotation. I’ve spoken before on how I have reservations about incorporating Howardian dialogue into the film, since taking quotes out of their original context not only alters their flow and meaning, but runs the risk of poisoning the well for future adaptations. It would already be difficult to sell “Red Nails,” “Queen of the Black Coast” and “A Witch Shall Be Born” considering the uninitiated would think that they’re mucking about with elements from the 1982 film, when it was actually the reverse. But when this is a new continuity, how is one going to get around the sense of repetition? If Lionsgate are serious about making this a big franchise, then they need to be careful which bits they take from which stories.

That said, there’s enough room for a little repetition. If this “I care not, I live, I love, I slay, and I am content” is all there is, then perhaps it could be a sort of mantra Conan repeats every so often. If, however, the film contains the entirety of the famous “Queen of the Black Coast” monologue, then that would be outrageous.

As for whether the trailer did it’s job… well, I’m not the best person to answer that. This teaser is for those who haven’t been following the film since its announcement, not necessarily folks like me with a somewhat perplexing desire to learn all they can about the film despite immense trepidation. That said, for what it’s worth, I found the teaser pretty underwhelming. Almost profoundly so. Perhaps I’m just spoiled by incredible teasers like those for Alien 3, Godzilla, Independence Day, Jurassic Park, Star Wars Episode One: The Phantom Menace, The Dark Knight, Terminator 2, Star Trek, or even games like The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, but this trailer didn’t get my heart racing and pulse pounding so much as a tepid indifference.

However, it’s important to remember some things regarding film teasers, and trailers in general: it might not be 100% indicative of the film’s content. Trailers are frequently outsourced to production companies not linked to the film itself. As a result, the music, art style and dialogue might not reflect the film itself. Indeed, of the teasers I listed above, not all of them turned out to be great films.

For instance, remember that awesome Inception trailer, with the deep horn blasts that became an internet meme in itself? You’d think that since Han Zimmer composed Inception’s soundtrack, that he was the composer for the trailer music too. Except… he wasn’t. The music for the Inception trailer was composed by Zach Hemsey specifically for the trailer. Thus, the somewhat chaotic music (am I mad, or did I hear droning guitars in the background?) and bland art style of this trailer might not represent the actual film’s. No doubt this trailer will be making the rounds, among those who don’t check up on the status of the film too often: only then will we decide if it really succeeded or failed.