Conan the Barbarian: The film

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsConan the BarbarianConan the Barbarian (the film)

The latest Hollywood adaption of Robert E. Howard’s legendary hero seems to be taking an especially tough beating. Speaking as a life-long CONAN and Robert E. Howard fan, by Crom, I don’t hate. I saw the film on a Sunday afternoon – and yes, I got suckered into paying for 3-D. I’ll be the first to admit my disappointment, but it’s nowhere near as bad as the rants imply. In fact, there is much in Conan the Barbarian that can be commended.

I was skeptical, especially after first seeing some of the Fabio-ish pictures of Mr. Momoa as Conan, but when I saw the trailers that showed a few elements straight from Two-gun Bob’s creation, I grew hopeful. At the movie when I heard “Know ye o’ Prince, between the years when the oceans drank Atlantis and the gleaming cities…” spoken by the iconic voice of Morgan Freeman with the map of Hyboria – a map I know almost as well as one of Earth – jumping out of the big screen, I became as giddy as a 13-year-old girl at Justin Bieber concert. Then, almost immediately, my former doubts came back as the Howard’s famous intro was changed to fit the plot of the movie. This in and of itself would have been fine, except that it meant many clichés would follow.

Still, there is a lot for Howard fans to love about Conan the Barbarian. It starts off depicting the legendary battlefield birth of Conan, which Howard himself had only referenced. However, Conan-geeks have long wanted the actual tale told. Though never stated specifically, I’m sure the savages that young Conan has a run-in with are the Cimmerian’s ancestral enemy, the Picts.  The movie skips over Conan’s early adventures, but tales are told of his time as a thief in Zamora and the events from The Tower of the Elephant. The visuals are outstanding! The amazing settings brought Howard’s Hyboria to life. And Jason Mamoa did an excellent job as Conan, despite that he might be a little too good-looking for a barbarian. He had Conan’s brooding stare down pat and instead of the sporting fur like Schwarzenegger’s rendition, Mamao’s clothing matched what Howard described.

There’s been a lot said of the violence being too graphic, too many bare-breasted women, and the sex scene too explicit. Duh, this is Conan. Fightin’, drinkin’, and f.., well… that’s what he does. It’s why Conan is so awesome!

The movie’s story itself is where the problem lies. In defense of Conan the Barbarian, the original tales were just pulp after all, not War and Peace. And Howard’s CONAN tales were individual adventures. Conan basically gained wealth by way of his exceptional martial skills, spent it all on wine, women, and song. Thus he would have to get more money, starting the cycle all over again. (Ahh, what a life!) Understandably, a more complex plot was necessary to carry a full-length feature film, so the “avenge my father ” theme was added.

However, with all the talented writers available to big budget productions, surely someone could have created something original. Instead, they went with the standard plot used for almost every sword & sorcery B-flick ever made: evil sorcerer finds ancient relic of power, massacring villages in the process, prince and/or son survives to seek revenge, with the aid of sexy chick he rescues, warrior kills said sorcerer ending his evil reign and saving the world. Also like many low-budget films, some elements just didn’t work, including the pointless screams of rage, structures collapsing for no apparent reason, and the power of the much sought after crown — which is really a mask — never proves to be “all that.”

In summary: 4 stars for respect to Howard’s tales and vision, 5 stars for actors, setting and visuals, 4.5 stars for action (and hot babes), 1.5  stars for story, average; 3 stars. Not a bad way to spend a couple hours, though both Robert E. Howard and Conan deserved better.

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GREG HERSOM’S (on FanLit's staff January 2008 -- September 2012) addiction began with his first Superboy comic at age four. He moved on to the hard-stuff in his early teens after acquiring all of Burroughs’s Tarzan books and the controversial L. Sprague de Camp & Carter edited Conan series. His favorite all time author is Robert E. Howard. Greg also admits that he’s a sucker for a well-illustrated cover — the likes of a Frazetta or a Royo. Greg live with his wife, son, and daughter in a small house owned by a dog and two cats in a Charlotte, NC suburb. He retired from FanLit in Septermber 2012 after 4.5 years of faithful service but he still sends us a review every once in a while.

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  1. I think this is a fair review of the film and I actually enjoyed the film imensely- I didn’t see it in 3D and I’m thinking of going this weekend and seeing it in 3D – I love these types of fantasy adventure movies and I really liked this one.

  2. Hey, if you can mention the hot babes, then hopefully it’s OK to say that I may go out and see this…just for Jason Momoa. ;)

  3. Cornelia- too be honest I didn’t think the 3D was worth the extra price for this one. I’d just as soon saw it in 2D.

  4. Kelly!! I can’t believe you just reduced Momoa’s performance down to a mere sex object…Not only has he portrayed, Conan, a character well known for his political correctness, but he also played Khal Drago in HBO’s Game of Throne series. Another character known for his diplomacy in dealing with aggressors and having great sensitivity toward females. ;) LOL

  5. Oh, I am well aware of him as that paragon of sensitivity, Khal Drogo. ;) Such as when he goes on that tirade about avenging the attempt on Dany’s life…er…I mean…um…when he has that support group meeting with his fellow khals about how best to fulfill his wife’s needs. (Needs for a throne, that is.)

  6. What?? Drogo is Conan?? I’m there!!!!!

  7. Not you too, Kat? You ladies have one-track minds. LOL ;)

    Don’t you even care that the movie has a played-out, done-to-death plot? :)

  8. “Don’t you even care that the movie has a played-out, done-to-death plot? ”

    Of course we care! And for Mr. Momoa’s sake, we will try to look beyond it.

  9. LOL- touche’ Marion

  10. I’ll just put my earbuds in and listen to a good audiobook while I watch.

  11. No matter how big a sexist pig I try to be, you girls turn the tables on me. ;)

  12. So, in 3D, do his pects project halfway into the theater?

  13. Kat- No but all the tavern-wenches’, slave-girls, witch’s and priestess’ boobs seemed to. Ah-haha ;)

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