Another Conan review from a Howard fan

As seems to be the case in most fandoms, there can be disagreement. Even today, there is disagreement about the 1982 film: some like it for its own cinematic merits, others think it’s a colossally pretentious bore, and still others think it’s just bad.  So I had it in mind that other Howard fans might have entirely different opinions on the film. Well, a dissenting review of the upcoming Conan film by Robert E. Howard superfan and scholar Dennis McHaney has been posted on his site, and while he and I agree on some things, he has a far more positive reaction.

One of my Robert E. Howard Forum Cromrades, Amsterdamaged, brought up this excellent point (as mentioned by my fellow REHupan Jeffrey Shanks, who also offered his preliminary thoughts on the film):

When you consider the fact that over 20 years the major studios unequivocably sided with the Arnold fans and failed to even consider greenlighting a film without Arnold attached, it’s amazing that this film was ever made. Even if, at the end of the day, the general consensus is that this film is a critical failure, don’t underestimate the significance of this event. If it’s even a modest box office success (and I think it’s going to be more than modest; the momentum seems to be building and I predict it will close out the weekend at #1), it will have broken the stranglehold that Arnold has had over the character for nearly 30 years. Audiences will get used to the idea that Conan is a character, not just a vehicle for Arnold, and so will studios, and that will pave the way for (hopefully) more faithful adaptations in the future.

I must agree, it’s a great point, and it’s a point central to Dennis’ review. There aren’t any spoilers, so you can click without worrying.

For the first time in the film history of Conan, an actor has come along who actually studied Robert E. Howard’s Conan for  guidance, and that comes across in one of the most exuberant portrayals of a fictional character that we have seen in quite some time.  Jason Momoa has nailed Conan, with a performance that is energetic, enthusiastic, and inspired.

No, the story is not taken directly from the pages of Robert E. Howard, though there are subtle spoken and visual references to Conan’s literary history.

After watching this film, it is apparent that the producers set out with at least three goals:

1. Reintroduce the character to a new generation of film goers.
2. Get it right this time!
3.  Make an exciting and entertaining action film that would make the audiences crave more!

They have succeeded splendidly on all points, and then some.  The most important thing about this film is that they chose the right man to get the job done.  Momoa is a demanding, charismatic presence, and you would almost believe he was born to play Conan.  His physical performance in the movie is flawless.  His sword work is precise and deadly, his speed and co-ordination are not lumbering and slow like his predecessors,  and for the first time in the history of the character, Conan is portrayed by someone that can actually act!

The plot is minimalistic, but sufficient for a film that was designed to tell a non-stop action packed adventure.  In fact, the film moves along at such an accelerated pace that many people in the audience couldn’t believe 102 minutes had gone by when the credits started to roll.

In addition to Momoa, the rest the cast all deliver the goods.  Ron Perlman is always a joy to watch.  Rose McGowen still made me want to drool in spite of the hideous makeup.  Rachel Nichols, as Conan’s love interest, is a natural beauty who can also fight like a Cimmerian wildcat.  Stephen Lang  again proves that he is one of the best bad guys in Hollywood.

The film opens up with a voice over by Morgan Freeman.  It never hurts to start a film with such a class act.

I’m not going to reveal any details of the story, or the very rare and minor budget limitations that aren’t really that apparent (or important).  The film succeeds to entertain if the viewer wants to be entertained.  If you go to the movie wanting to dislike it, why are you wasting your time?

I’d have to give Conan the Barbarian both my thumbs up.

There are bound to be comparisons to other Howard based films, and that is sad.  The original Conan movie, of which this is not a remake, was so far off base on every level that it was laughable.  It has even been parodied (Master Pancake Theater’s Conan the Barbarian and Conan the Musical) and with good reason.  John Milius had some sort of ridiculous vision of what Conan should be, and he tried to throw in everything but the kitchen sink.  Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Conan is a lumbering dumb ass, whose swordplay is slow and posing.  While he’s showing off, swinging that big ole eighty pound sword around in circles, any real swordsman could kill him five times.  And the acting?  What acting?  The follow-ups to the 1982 film, Conan the Destroyer and the almost Conan, Red Sonja, are in a class of pure garbage all by themselves.

The 1982 film inspired dozens of imitations.  Many of those were light years better than Destroyer or Sonja.

The film is also, for silly reasons, being compared to Solomon Kane.  Why?  Director Bassett stated that he wanted to introduce the character in his own way, then if the public bought it, he’d toss in some actual Robert E. Howard the next time around.  The producers of the new Conan made basically the same statement, but what they did that Michael Bassett apparently couldn’t do was to give us a decent film.  Solomon Kane plods along, like a bus making too many stops to get to a destination, and every single little detail must be explained in excruciating detail.  No wonder no distributor in the United States was interested in the film.  It is a bore.  Cut 30 minutes out of its overlong running time, and it might have sold over here.  James Purefoy comes across well as Solomon Kane, he just wasn’t given great material to work with.

Those who are actually silly enough to worry about the new Conan picture probably shouldn’t go to it.  Expect a fun two hour romp, and you’ll love this picture.  The action is fast, the women are beautiful, and the violence and gore are top notch.  If you love blood and guts film, you’ll love Conan the Barbarian 3D.  It is pure ear and eye candy for the demented, and a joy ride to everyone else.

On the one hand, I feel strangely pleased that at least one Howard fan enjoyed the film, which leads me to think that many of my issues were indeed just personal ones. On the other, I can’t help but feel a little nonplussed that I could have such a very different opinion – for one thing, I found Solomon Kane superior to this film by quite a margin – but hey, fandom. Strange indeed. Dennis adds that he’ll be posting a report of the early screening at the Alamo Drafthouse (which Jason Momoa attended), so keep an eye on his blog: I’ll cross-post it here.

In any case, the critique is coming up, and I’ll try and organize a roundup of all the best reviews of the film. Watch this space!