You can’t keep a good barbarian down, especially not when he’s looking for a little payback. Thirty years after the Big Oak played him on the big screen for the very first time, Conan gets a new actor to flex those rippling biceps. Jason Momoa isn’t exactly Arnold on the muscle scale, but he’s no Peter Parker weakling, either. See how Momoa does as the titular barbarian when “Conan The Barbarian” slashes its way onto DVD and Blu-ray November 22nd, 2011 from Lionsgate.
Based on the character of Conan as originally created by Robert E. Howard, a boy born on the battlefield grows into a hulking warrior hell-bent on avenging his father’s death. But Conan’s personal vendetta soon escalates into an epic battle of impossible odds, facing the fiercest of rivals and the most horrific of monsters.
The tagline for “Conan The Barbarian” reads: “Born on the battlefield.”
Man, they weren’t kidding. When we first meet him, Conan is peacefully asleep in his momma’s belly when the sharp end of a bad guy’s sword nearly ends him before he even began. He survives, though, and grows up to be played by Leo Howard (who played young Snake Eyes in “G.I. Joe”), son to the chief of their village, Corin (Ron Perlman). Life is idyllic for young Conan, at least until the evil Khalar Zym (played by “Avatar’s” evil Stephan Lang) shows up looking for pieces of an ancient mask that, once united, would grant him super duper powers or some other such evil nonsense. Corin just happens to have the last piece of that mask. In short order, young Conan is fatherless, and pledges revenge on Zym.
Eventually young Conan grows up into Jason Momoa, now the killer of men, destroyer of oppressors, and savior of well-endowed and clothing-challenged women everywhere. But Conan still plots revenge against Zym, and gets his chance when the would-be warlord and his black magic practicing daughter Marique (Rose McGowan) resurface at a monastery in search of the comely Tamara (Rachel Nichols, young Conan actor Leo Howard’s co-star from “G.I. Joe”). Can Conan stop Zym from gaining dominance over the planet? Will Tamara change our hero’s wandering, brutish ways? And just how much creepier can Marique and Zym’s relationship get? Pretty damn creepy, as it turns out. But hey, this is the time of the barbarians and such, so allowances must be made, am I right?
Directed by Marcus Nispel, the go-to guy for rebooting movie franchise nowadays (he’s rebooted the “Texas Chainsaw Massacre” and “Friday the 13th” franchises), “Conan The Barbarian” is a completely new take on the character from the Arnold Schwarzenegger variation, though curiously Nispel and the writers do drop an homage or two to the John Milius movie throughout their film. In terms of violence, “Conan” definitely has that covered, though despite the plentiful blood splatters (people in this movie seem to gush blood even if you just tap them on the head with a pinkie), 2011 “Conan” feels somewhat tame compared to the 1982 version. Despite all the dirt and grime, it’s surprisingly hard to take this Conan all that seriously.
Jason Momoa, most known to fans from “Stargate: Atlantis” (if, that is, you’re into syndicated sci-fi television), plays the titular barbarian with plenty of muscle and charisma. He’s actually very good in the role, and easily holds the screen throughout. Lang is just playing a variation of his “Avatar” character, which is fine, but it’s getting a bit tiresome. And the ladies, Nichols and McGowan, are adequate, though fans of McGowan will probably get the most kick out of her turn as the evil Marique, who slithers across the film brandishing Freddy Krueger-like metal claws. A sequel to “Conan The Barbarian” seems unlikely, as the film has barely cleared half of its production budget in terms of box office at the time of this review. This may very well be the first and last time you see Momoa as Conan, so I suggest making the most out of it.
The DVD/Bu-ray combo back comes with two discs, with Disc 1 containing the movie in Blu-ray and standard DVD format, along with special features, while Disc 2 contains the film in standard DVD format. And of course, if you have a 3D-capable player and TV, you can watch it in 3D in the comforts of your home, too. Just make sure you bring enough glasses for everyone, lest a fight break out.
Special features include two optional full-length audio commentaries, one with director Marcus Nispel, and the other with stars Jason Momoa and Rose McGowan. This is always the ideal way to set up a film’s audio tracks if you ask me. Directors always tend to go into too much of the nitty gritty of filmmaking, while the cast always seems to know they’re there to have fun with the movie, not go into some boring background details about how certain scenes were set up or shot. Basically, if you want to know how they made the film, watch the film with Nispel’s commentary. But if you just want to hear two actors goofing off while watching a movie they spent months making then promoting, watch the one with Momoa and McGowan, who is, not surprisingly, quite the chatty Kathy and completely dominates the track.
There are four separate featurettes for you to dive into, including: “The Conan Legacy” (18 minutes), “Robert E. Howard: The Man Who Would be Conan” (11 minutes), “Battle Royale: Engineering the Action” (10 minutes), and “Staging the Fights” (6 minutes). The first two offers up lots of behind-the-scenes stuff, cast/crew interviews, and background history on author Robert E. Howard and his most famous creation. The latter two featurettes, which focuses more on the film’s abundant fighting, are also very cool, especially all the stunt stuff that goes into making all those action sequences coherent before the cameras even start rolling.