Final Analysis of the Conan the Barbarian Trailer

This post won’t feature any new information or pictures from the trailer, however, I hope to put the imagery we see in the trailer into context. The post will be split into three sections:

– Arranging the trailer shots into categories based on possible scene & location, as well as possible chronological order
– Commenting on things that change throughout the trailer, i.e. a character’s weapons and armour
– A review of the film from a Howardian, Conan and cinematic perspective

This will be a huge post with scores of images, probably the biggest of all the analyses, so be warned.

So What Does It All Mean?

Using the synopsis, casting sheet and other material as a guide, I’m going to attempt to arrange the scenes and shots in the trailer by where I believe they take place, where possible. In addition, I’ll compare it with other officially-released photos and behind-the-scenes photos for context.

Cimmeria

Early in the script, after his birth on the battlefield, young Conan encounters four Pictish warriors. It doesn’t go well for them…

Generally speaking, I’m of the opinion that any shots with a blueish tinge are set in Cimmeria, echoing the same sort of filter Nispel used in Pathfinder to represent Vinland: the presence of snow, woods and overcast clouds would seem to support this.

The young boy quickly proves himself an innate if impulsive warrior. The young warrior is inquisitive about the outside world, and while his father tries to shield him, in time the world comes to their doorstep.

Cimmerian Village

Some of the Cimmerian shots have villages and structures nearby, which suggests to me that they are set during or prior to Khalar Zym’s conquest. Obviously, we can gather that Khalar’s attack on the Cimmerian village claims Corin’s life, and that Conan somehow manages to escape, the memory of this bloodshed burned into his mind.

KHALAR SINGH(sic) A powerful warlord, arrives with his band of mercenaries… a massive battle ensues. Khalar Singh(sic) winning the day through the use of black magic.

The Greek-Influenced Monastery

Hopefully Sean Hood has given the “Greek-Influenced Monastery” a bit more depth, or at least given it a name.

In a hidden oasis in the desert, Khalar finds TAMARA, the last of an ancient royal line, the one person he’s been searching for the past twenty years. Tamara, unknowing of her own identity, is told to flee by her mentor, FASSIR, even as Khalar’s forces enslave or massacre the oasis’ people. Tamara escapes, and a furious Khalar sends his men scouring the countryside for her.

The Desert

At the time Conan and Tamara first meet, they don’t get along: Conan plans to exploit her for his own ends to get to Khalar, and Tamara obviously isn’t enjoying being used this way. This is set in a desert/scrub-like environment that isn’t named.

But her path crosses Conan’s first, and instead of setting her free he decides to use her as bait to draw Khalar out from behind his protective shield of warriors. But the plan fails and Conan and Tamara must work together to escape, an escape which first reveals a great power building inside the frightened girl.

The Hornet

In the original script, Conan and Tamara have sex out in the wild, but the photographs look like they’re indoors: all in all, I just place the love scene here based on a gut feeling. I also note one of the early shots of Conan fighting is clearly in front of sail rigging, suggesting the ship battle of the script is retained.

Conan ends up on a pirate ship that Tamara’s people have commissioned to take her far from Khalar’s grasp…

The Citadel

I’m still very unsure exactly what this place is: initially I considered Acheron, but I’m starting to have doubts about that after closer analysis of the other set, where Acheron would appear to be underground (as in the script). Khor Khala is a possibility, though it doesn’t match the other settlement’s architecture seen elsewhere. A bit of a mystery to me. At a guess, I’d say that this could be the stronghold of Khor Khala itself, and that the scenes in the “city” section take place in the settlement outside the castle itself. Analysis of the terrain of the two places may reveal more clues.

Conan team of Khalar’s plan: to revive the ancient and evil empire of Acheron by sacrificing the only living heir to its throne, Tamara. Simura explains that Khalar desires the power, which now grows inside Tamara, a power, if unleashed, would once again bring all mankind under Acheron’s bloody and brutal reign. The truth of her destiny has been hidden from Tamara, for her own good…

(Note: obviously, this has been altered to the Mask of Acheron, and Tamara is still of clear importance to unclocking its power, and Khalar’s motivations are more complex than just world domination to include the resurrection of his beloved wife, as revealed in the Dark Horse comic tie-in)

The Forest Chase

At one point, there is a high-octane chase through a forest, with Conan chasing a slave coach: we’ve seen snippets of this in the trailer and in early promotional material and set photos.

Conan tries parting ways with Tamara, intent on his own revenge but she asks him for help getting into Khalar’s forces to rescue her people.

The City

There are two possibilities for this set: either it’s the marketplace in the city surrounding Khor Khala, or an entirely new place. I’m sticking to the former, for now. This would appear to be the place where Conan has his arse handed to him by Khalar Zym: note that Tamara appears to be supporting Conan as they run from the explosion, and that their attire appears to match the “dive into the sea” spot.

The Jail/Beast’s Lair

Conan meets up with Ela-Shan in a tavern (which we’ll undoubtedly see if they do a red band trailer) looking for a way into Khor Khala. The only way in is through the bottom: Conan and Tamara sneak through the sewers. Conan is noted in the script to pick up some armour on the way, which explains where he gets his muscled cuirass. Unfortunately, not only do they have to contend with the Jailer, but another denizen of the pits…

… Once inside the fortress… Tamara finds many of her people, including Fassir, still alive… Conan falls into Khalar`s trap, forced to battle the demon he summoned.

The Ruins

The climax of the film is set in – I assume – the ruins of Acheron. Khalar plans to use Tamara to unlock the power of the mask, but of course, we can expect Conan plans to interfere in those plans.

Conan survives, then forces Fassir’s acolyte to lead him to Acheron, where Tamara is to be sacrificed. The ghosts of the ancient ruins of Aeheron come alive as the last of the royal line, Tamara, is led up to the sacrificial altar.

Theories and Observations

The Deer-Skull Sword

That sword, which you’ll no doubt notice is shared by the film’s logo, seems to switch hands an awful lot in the film. First of all, we see Marique brandishing it as she marches into the Monastery:

Then we see Khalar Zym with it:

Finally, our Cimmerian:

How to account for this? First we have to identify the sword’s owner. The first chronological sighting would be Marique, but this sword is surely far too large and unwieldy for a character described as having a “cobra-like fighting style.” Conan is seen wielding this sword in a lot of promotional material, suggesting it is related to him in some way – so how did Marique get it. I’ve noted before that this sword bears a marked resemblance to the Master’s sword from the 1982 film, which we see being forged in the opening credits. That sword was also taken by its owner’s slayer as a war trophy.

Are we going to see a repeat of that in this film: is the deer-skulled sword Corin’s sword, taken by Khalar Zym and given to lil’ Marique as a prize, and thus later regained by Corin’s son, Conan? Therefore, is this another reference to the 1982 film?

The Mask of Acheron

The Mask of Acheron is a brand new addition to the script, and seems to replace the original script’s plan, which was essentially swiped from the only Conan novel The Hour of the Dragon. Its existence was hinted a long time ago when a mysterious tentacled symbol appeared on standards, flags, shields and equipment related to Khalar Zym and his army, but it wouldn’t be until the Dark Horse tie-in Conan the Barbarian: The Mask of Acheron was announced that the true nature of the icon was revealed.

The exact nature of the Mask of Acheron’s powers is unknown, but a few things can be discovered from analysing the trailer.

The first chronological sighting of the mask is in Cimmeria: this might mean Khalar’s motivation for attacking Cimmeria is now entirely different. Originally, Khalar was seeking “one woman from each bloodline” in a search for one of the Lost Queens of Acheron (ugh.) The Cimmerians refused, of course, and got eaten by werewolves. Now, not only are the werewolves apparently gone, but we find the Mask of Acheron in the Cimmerian village. Could this mean that the Mask of Acheron was in Cimmeria, a spoil of war from when the Cimmerians battled the Kings of Acheron? That would explain why Khalar would try to get to Cimmeria (though not, of course, how he survived).

In this shot, we see another strange aspect of the mask: it’s alive. Or, at least, it moves: the tentacles writhe in Khalar’s hand like a displaced octopus.

In these later shots, we see that Khalar’s wearing a different helmet from the one seen previously, one that looks a lot like the mask… with the same texture… and design… Given the fact that the mask is seen moving its tentacles, I think it’s pretty possible that Khalar is wearing the mask itself. I have a feeling this is set in the film’s climax. Now, whether Khalar has unlocked the power of the mask, or Conan has thwarted his attempts, remains to be seen: we can see, however, that Conan’s bringing it to masked Khalar all the same.

Zym’s Battleship

Remember those leaked images, particularly the one with a female lying on a divan that I thought could be Marique (and I still think is)? Well, note the elephant tusks, wooden interior and generally “African” elements:

I believe that the above shot is the interior of Khalar Zym’s battleship. The question is, are they at sea, or are those poor slaves hauling Khalar and Marique along at the same time?

Conan’s Armour

Conan appears to go through a few sets of costume:

– No armour, save some leather bracers on his arms

– manica (worn only in the forest chase scenes)

– the muscled cuirass & pauldrons (worn only in the Beast’s Lair)

It’ll be interesting to see the circumstances where Conan procures this armour.

The Sacrifice of Tamara

If you’ll indulge me, I’d like to suggest a speculative reconstruction of a scene in the film using parts from the trailer, at least how I see it:

Tamara is tied to the stone wheel, being prepared for the dark sorceries to come.

Zym prepares to make the invocations…

… As Tamara looks on, fearful but defiant.

Then, Conan breaks onto the scene, and tries to save Tamara, alternately untying her and hacking at foes. Tamara’s almost escaped from her bondage, and starts getting herself free. Unfortunately…

During the chaos, the stone wheel falls into the depths.

Conan looks down, fearing that Tamara didn’t free herself in time to leap free of the stone wheel…

But don’t worry, she’s alright! Luckily, she managed to grab hold of a hanging chain. Now help her up, you brainless barbarian.

The scene might not pan out quite like that, but it just seems right to me. Perhaps I’m way off, who knows.

Censored For Your Protection

One of the biggest concerns among the uninitiated is that the upcoming film will be PG-13. Despite the producers, director, scriptwriter and stars re-iterating that this was going for a hard R, the new trailer doesn’t show that much gore or sex.

Or does it? Take a look again: you’ll notice that a few shots look strangely dark and desaturated, and that everyone seems to be sprayed with some sort of muck. Based on the consistency and staining, I believe that this is actually blood which has been desaturated for the purposes of the trailer. This is often seen in censored television edits, where scenes of extreme gore are rendered in black and white, and is undoubtedly so that the trailer could be shown in front of films with lower certificates (such as Thor):

That last shot in particular shows that Conan’s right shoulder is streaming with blood, and the above four are just the ones that seem obvious to me: there’s no telling how much red has been deadened for the trailer. Given that the very sanguine Apocalypto was cited as an inspiration for the film, I wouldn’t be surprised if the film has a comparable level of bloodletting.

Eyes of the Barbarian

One thing that’s not immediately noticeable in the trailer unless you’re looking for it is Conan’s eyes. I’ve written a whole spiel on why I think blue eyes are utterly vital to the visual distinctiveness and personality of Conan, but others may disagree on just how important it really is. Our own Gatekeeper has produced some digital mockups of Conan with blue eyes:

I just fiddled with a couple more of the full face shots in the trailer, where blues eyes could (I say could, because it’s sometimes hard to judge how lit the eyes really are, so all I do is blind guesswork, that’s why some of the edits will look a bit “off” to someone… especially in the first two images I went a bit too far with the blue) be visible, to see what effect they have on the impression Momoa makes.

To me personally, all those blue eyes do, is make him even more beautiful (not handsome), because they soften his face. In addition he doesn’t even have that dark eyes, as you can see by those high-res comparisons. He has normal, green eyes.

With all due respect to our esteemed Gatekeeper, I’m actually of the opposite opinion: I feel the brighter irises harden his face, make his eyes more prominent, starkly contrast with his dark face, and are more evocative of the timber wolf. Icy, piercing blue eyes contrasted against warm, sensual brown eyes makes the essential difference for me, for when you give Momoa blue eyes, he ceases being “Jason Momoa as Conan,” and finally becomes Conan. To me, at least: perhaps others feel the same as Gatekeeper.

Literary and Artistic Allusions

We’ve already seen the near-direct extract of one of the most famous lines from “The Frost-Giant’s Daughter,” but there might be another, non-Howard reference in the trailer. As noticed by Mario, Khalar Zym may be making a classic poetry reference:

“Behold, and despair, your new master!”
– Khalar Zym

“My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair!”
– excerpt from “Ozymandias,” Percy Bysshe Shelley

Obviously a very loose reference, but I wouldn’t be surprised if this was a little Sean Hood sneak-in.

Never (Fully) Trust A Trailer

Several things need to be kept in mind when viewing any trailer, not just this one. For one, the music: the trailer’s score is not representative or indicative of the film’s actual score. Sean Hood has made this clear, and indeed, it has been pointed out to me that this music has been heard elsewhere:

Another thing to point out is the editing of the trailer may give an inaccurate reading of the tone, editing and speed of the film. While one can get a decent idea of the cinematography, acting and other visual elements, shots which last for minutes could be cut down to mere fractions of a second; likewise, shots that are short could be stretched out for the purposes of the trailer. There are many spectacular scenes in the trailer that you’d miss if you didn’t slow down and pause, and some of them are quite important in conveying basic information to the viewer.

What’s most problematic about such editing is that those less informed about the film’s plot and direction could get the wrong idea. The most common of these that I’ve noticed are that:

– Conan is some sort of selfless freedom fighter battling against an evil tyrant because “no man should live in chains”
– Tamara is your typical pulp cheesecake princess who only exists to scream and pout and cringe while all the action happens
– The film will be PG-13 due to the lack of blood, nudity and other adult material on display
– The editing consists entirely of fast cuts
– There’s a massive overuse of stock sound effects, such as the infamous Howie Scream

The first three can be refuted by reading previous articles in this series, as well as previous reports. The fourth can’t truly be dealt with until the film itself comes out, but again, one must remember the mantra that a trailer may not be entirely indicative of a film. Similarly, the use of stock sounds may again be the trailer’s sin, and not the film’s: the fact that the Howie Scream turns up in the final few seconds of the trailer, in a piece of footage that will not appear in the film, would seem to support this.

Ultimately, the trailer for Conan the Barbarian was exactly what I expected it to be, with all the good and bad that entails. It is far superior to the teaser trailer, which had an interesting concept in using smoke & images, but ultimately didn’t work, and left most viewers singularly underwhelmed: from what I’ve seen on various forums, sites and discussion groups, reaction to this trailer has been far more favourable, and more than a few sceptics have changed their minds about the film. From that point of view, the trailer is a definite success.

There are elements of the trailer I felt failed the film: there was not enough emphasis on the star, for instance, and for a character whose size and stature is so tied to his popular conception, the trailer didn’t do a great job of showing how massive Jason Momoa actually is. I’ve seen commentators lament how “small” Conan is, even that he’s the smallest guy in the film: considering Jason Momoa is 6’5″ and well over 200lbs, it seems ridiculous that the trailer never truly capitalized on his stature. I also feel the choice of music was a mistake, not just because it doesn’t appeal to me or remind me of any sort of Conan or fantasy franchise, but because it gives the impression that this is what the film’s score will be like. Considering it’s following on from Basil Poledouris and the cinemagoing public is probably still smarting from Kull the Conqueror, I don’t know who thought it was a good idea. The same goes for the Howie Scream and constant “audible sharpness” effects which end up making the film feel cheap and flashy.

Still, the trailer did showcase some things that appealed to the casual audience. There was lots of swordplay and explosions for the action fan, and Khalar’s Double Bladed Parallel Scimitar reeks of “cool” for the demographic that likes that stuff. We have the promising possibility of naked Rachel Nichols for the gentlemen, and naked Jason Momoa for the ladies, both of whom seem to be largely unclad for much of the film. Stephen Lang’s Khalar looked like he was having a great time, and his scenery-munching evil may please the snark crowd. And it has a Robert E. Howard quotation for the Howard fans.

All in all, I guess time will tell to see how successful the trailer is in the end.

(I’m planning on writing a much more subjective review of the trailer in future, but for now, that’s your lot!)