Jarv’s Birthday Series: Conan the Barbarian (2011) and the post mortem on the whole damned mess.
That’s it, I’ve done it! I have reached the end of this epic quest through the films released as close to my date of birth as possible. For 2011, I’m doing Marcus Nispel’s remake of Conan the Barbarian and to be honest, I was seriously worried about this one given the directors absolutely awful track record. This raises the question, though, what do we really want from a Sword and Sorcery Barbarian hero film? Personally, I think that all we hope for is lots and lots of stabbery and when there’s no stabbery to be seen, then we want every corner of the screen packed with Boob. Is that too much to ask? Well, historically, it has been- look at the abortions that are Conan the Destroyer and Red Sonja, for example.
Before I kick off the review properly, I’m going to state the following things at the top just so I don’t need to go into it again. Firstly, I love the Conan films, and this genre in general. I can pretty much always find something to laugh about when they’re on song. Secondly, and this is just to pre-empt the usual complaint about Conan films: this is not Robert E. Howard’s Conan. Jason Momoa, who plays the eponymous stabbery merchant, is simply too, well, big. Thirdly, it will be compared to Arnold’s original. Finally, I’m not doing the review- I’m handing over to someone more appropriate.
Hello, This is Jarv’s pet rock speaking. I bet you thought we went out of fashion in the 90’s when people realised that it was a scam. However, because Jarv is a secret hipster douchebag, he’s kept me and refers to me ironically and whatnot, but he says that you wouldn’t understand that. I do like it when people make films especially for me, it doesn’t happen very often. It almost seems as if writers and directors overrate my intelligence and don’t simplify films enough. Having said that, though, that nice Mr. Bay is still making films with Giant Robots hitting each other, so there’s always going to be something out there for me. Now, on to Conan, which is right up my garden path.
OK- we all know the score for this film. Jarv informs me that this is based on something called short stories. Are there pictures to go with them, because reading too much makes my minerals hurt. Anyhow, someone called Robert E. Howard wrote lots of them about a very large and angry man called Conan. Conan is a Cimmerian, a large and angry species of Barbarian from, I presume, the North of Hyboria (which is, I believe, the shopping centre near Swindon). Whilst a lad he’s being taught by his father (Ron Perlman with a splendid beard) in the ways of Barbarianism (how hard can this be, I’m a rock and I understand that all you do is insert the pointy end of your ludicrously oversized sword in people). One day, his entire village is butchered by Khalar Zym (Stephen Lang) who is searching for a piece of the mask of whatnot (Antheon? Artheon? Oh, fuck it, something like that). Khalar Zym is basically just trying to bring his wife back from the dead, I’m not really sure why, but he needs the mask and the “pure blood” to do it. He’s also got a magic daughter called Marique (Rose McGowan from Charmed) who has very sharp pointy metal fingernails. I don’t really understand why, but I think she got the idea from Freddie Kruegar. She also has a massive, massive forehead. Even bigger than Mena Suvari’s. Anyhoo, Conan goes away and learns to be a pirate and whatnot, frees some slaves, grabs some boobs, and then sets out to take revenge. He also rescues Tamara (Rachel Nichols), who is the pure blood. Before she gets captured again. He also sees lots of boob, I like boob, and inserts pointy things in people regularly. I like films that do this.
I don’t ask for a lot in films, really. However, Jarv tells me that I have to talk about a few things to be a proper blogger and whatnot. I’m not sure what that is, but it sounds a bit dirty. The first thing he says I have to talk about is something called acting. I like to think I know lots about films, and I’ve seen all of Overlord Bay’s movies and I’ve never encountered this yet. In Conan, however, I also didn’t encounter it either. Some very big Samoan dude called Jason Momoa plays the Barbarian. He grunts a lot, and stabs lots and lots of people. He’s funny. I like him. Rachel Nichols plays Tamara, and she gets her tits out, so I like her too. She’s also very good at stabbing people. I also like Rose McGowan, Jarv says that she chews scenery quite well, apparently, but I don’t understand this because scenery isn’t edible. Stephen Lang is a bit of let down as the villain. He’s a bit of a drip and doesn’t even have a decent moustache to twirl.
I’ve also apparently got to talk about the writing. It’s funny. When Conan gags Tamara to make her shut up and calls her “woman” I laughed. He’s not very chivalrous. Also, Zym’s plan seems to me to be very complicated- he’s been attempting to resurrect his wife for 20 years because she has magic powers and whatnot that he needs to become a god, but Miss-teeq is already all magical and can make sand dudes come from nowhere to try to stab Conan. So I don’t understand why he needs his dead wife to come back. Jarv points out to me that it’s inconsistent as well. Some old important sounding dude called Morgan Freeman does the narration at the beginning. Jarv tells me that this is a good thing. Anyhow, he says about how one will be born from battle (He’s talking about Conan) and he is prophesisised to be the one that unites the tribes and fixes the mask. Yet he isn’t. Zym is. However, I’m a rock and don’t care about things like that. Just stabbery. And Boob.
I’m going to sum up now, because this is getting a bit tired and I’m nearly ready to be put back in my box for a nap, but there is lots and lots of stabbery and boob here. Therefore, I really like this film. It’s very good.
Murph (Jarv’s Pet Rock).
You get the idea. This is a fucking dumb film.
Nevertheless, it is entertaining. Surprisingly so. Obviously, Arnie’s original is head and shoulders the best Barbarian film out there, but this isn’t a bad effort at all. Nispel clearly understood the mistakes that the Destroyer and Red Sonja made, so there are oodles of stabbery, and when he isn’t showing people being mangled there’s loads of nudity as well. Momoa actually compares really well to Arnie, to be fair. He’s not as big and doesn’t have the same presence, but he’s vastly smarter, handles a sword well and looks far more comfortable on horseback than everyone’s favourite politician. A very nice touch, and one that I was genuinely surprised at, is that Tamara isn’t just a screaming victim for the duration of the film. Obviously, she does need to be rescued at one point, but before that she gets down and dirty with the violence just as eagerly as Conan does. This came as a complete surprise to me, as I was expecting something more along the lines of the heroine in The Destroyer.
Clearly, it’s massively flawed, the most obvious flaw being that it is cretinous. However, if you can put that aside, and I can, then it’s good fun. There are two other obvious flaws to the film: the first is that it is also clearly an origin movie, and given how much money it has lost there is not going to be a sequel, and the second is that it strives incredibly hard to be “epic”. The narration from Freeman at the beginning is purely to add gravitas to proceedings, and the score is a big, swirling orchestral number that also attempts to craft a sense of grand scale to proceedings. This doesn’t work, and Nispel compounds the problem by searching several times for that “epic” shot, but not one of them is successful.
Overall, this is a genuinely fun time. If you can ignore the problems. I don’t recommend it for a full price cinema viewing, but on the couch with some beer and a pizza, it’ll be a riot. Conan the Barbarian is much, much better than it has any right to be, but even so, it is far too stupid to be properly considered a success. I truly enjoyed it, but that’s because of the sheer amount of carnage wrought by the film. There’s blood thrown around by the bucket load, and Momoa genuinely leaves no body part unsliced. And there’s boob.
At the end of the day, this is all I really want from this type of film, so I give Conan the Barbarian 2 and a Half King Hit Camels out of 4. Well done, and a pleasant way to finish the series.
Below I’m taking the chance to look back at the ride that was My Birthday Series. For those that need this concept explaining, roughly April time last year Droid hatched the half-baked idea to review a film released as close to his Birthday as possible. This intrigued me, and when I started to look at some of the films out there it was a healthy mix of films that I hadn’t seen, liked, or had been intending to revisit at some point anyway. The rules of the list mean that you are certain to hit a few stinkers regardless of how careful you are, but on the whole, I was happy with the way the list turned out. So, enjoy as I’ve put a whole twenty minutes of thought into it.
Before I begin, here’s the list in full with ratings next to it:
- 1978 – The Driver (3 out of 4)
- 1979 – Life of Brian (4 out of 4)
- 1980 –Xanadu (Orangutan of Doom)
- 1981 – An American Werewolf in London (4 out of 4)
- 1982 – Class of 1984 (3 out of 4)
- 1983 – Fire and Ice (1 out of 4)
- 1984 – Cal (1/2 out of 4)
- 1985 – Teen Wolf (3 out of 4)
- 1986 –Reform School Girls (2.5 out of 4)
- 1987 – Dirty Dancing (Orangutan of Doom)
- 1988 – Married to the Mob (1 out of 4)
- 1989 – Millennium (1 out of 4)
- 1990 – Darkman (3 out of 4)
- 1991 – Harley Davidson and the Marlboro Man (2 out of 4)
- 1992 – Christopher Columbus: The Discovery (Orangutan of Doom)
- 1993 – Hard Target (3 out of 4)
- 1994 – Natural Born Killers (1 out of 4)
- 1995 – Desperado (3 out of 4)
- 1996 – Freeway (2.5 out of 4)
- 1997 – Mimic (2.5 out of 4)
- 1998 – Blade (3.5 out of 4)
- 1999 – Teaching Mrs. Tingle (1 out of 4)
- 2000 – Bring it On (1 out of 4)
- 2001 – Heartbreakers (0.5 out of 4)
- 2002 – Sim0ne (2 out of 4)
- 2003 – My Boss’s Daughter (Orangutan of Doom)
- 2004 – Exorcist: The beginning (1 out of 4)
- 2005 – The Cave (0.5 out of 4)
- 2006 – Invincible (3 out of 4)
- 2007 – War (1 out of 4)
- 2008 – Death Race (0.5 out of 4)
- 2009 – Der Baader Meinhof Komplex (3.5 out of 4)
- 2010 – Piranha 3D (3 out of 4)
- 2011 – Conan the Barbarian (2.5 out of 4)
The films on my list had an average rating of approximately 1.9 out of 4, which isn’t too bad really all things considered. There were two films that managed a maximum and two that came very close, scoring a huge 3.5 out of 4. Against this, though, there were some absolute dogs, and 7 films managed to fail to make it up to the giddy heights of 1 Chang.
Awards and Recommendations:
I was really spoiled for choice here. Of the list, the best films that I was lucky enough to see again were Life of Brian, An American Werewolf in London, Blade, and Der Baader-Meinhof Komplex all of which scored 3.5 or above. After much consideration, I think the best film that I saw was the highly regarded, bona-fides classic Monty Python’s Life of Brian.
Monty Python’s Life of Brian is one of the all time great films. This was, I have to say, a toss-up between this and John Landis’ seminal An American Werewolf in London, but in the end it came down to that I’ve rewatched Life of Brian hundreds of times and still find something brilliant to appreciate in it. A true masterpiece.
Of this list, if you haven’t seen them, I do highly recommend the following in no particular order:
Der Baader Meinhof Komplex, An American Werewolf in London, Hard Target, Teenwolf and Blade. All excellent and highly enjoyable films.
Best Performance: Male.
A tough one this. For a list as strong as this one, there aren’t actually that many showy roles for actors in it. The following are all roles that I considered, but then discarded for various reasons: Bruce Dern in The Driver, Lance Henriksen in Hard Target, Moritz Bleibtrau in Baader-Meinhof, Wesley Snipes, Kris Kristofferson and Stephen Dorff in Blade, and Keifer Sutherland in Freeway. In the end, I considered David Naughton in American Werewolf in London. While not as showy as the other roles, his turn as David is one of many high-points in a true classic, and I also strongly thought about giving it for Greg Kinnear’s turn as Coach Dick Vermeil in Invincible. A pleasant surprise in a genuinely nice film. However, in the end, there’s only really one performance that made me sit up in surprise: Ryan O’Neal in The Driver. His utter lack of acting ability is perfectly used here, and he turns in a career best performance.
I think this might be the only film that you could possibly call O’Neal “cool” in. Astonishing.
Best Performance: Female.
This was also really tough, for different reasons. There are some genuine heavyweight actresses on display here, such as Helen Mirren (twice), Jenny Agutter, Michelle Pfeiffer, Reece Witherspoon and so forth. However, there are three contenders here. I toyed with giving it to either Martina Gedeck or Johanna Wokalek for their stupendous performances in the magnificent Baader-Meinhof Komplex, but in the end there was one winner for me. In a substandard film, this performance earned it half a chang and so full credit to Mercedes Ruehl in that bunch of arse Married to the Mob.
An easy one this one. In the end it came to a straight shoot-out between Life of Brian, which is magnificent, Freeway or Blade. Freeway took little Red Riding Hood and twisted it beyond recognition and Blade is endlessly quotable and turned a d-list funny book character into a bankable franchise, but there really is no standing against Python here. Clever, meaningful, satirical, downright hilarious and endlessly quoted, Life of Brian is a script that has stood the test of time and still makes me laugh now.
This is a tough one. I’m not really sure what to go for here. The Driver was sparse and tight, Class of 1984, Hard Target and Desperado were big and bold and made things go bang with aplomb. Reform School Girls was a pitch perfect parody, and Der Baader-Meinhof Komplex is also worth noting. However, at the end of the day, John Landis has had a sterling career as a director, but American Werewolf in London must be the pinnacle. Featuring visual gags galore and the finest transformation scene ever filmed, An American Werewolf in London is a fine example of a director at the top of his game, being tight, scary and an overall blast.
Again, quite a tough one this. There were several films on this list that I had either not heard of at all, such as The Driver and Reform School Girls, or had heard of and had little to no hope for, such as Harley Davidson and the Marlboro Man. Not to mention that my expectations for Conan the Barbarian were rock bottom and the film absolutely thrashed them. In the end, the one film that I thoroughly expected to bore me witless, but turned out to be a very pleasant way to spend a rainy Sunday afternoon was Invincible. I’d actually written this off as being shite before I watched it.
The Shit List:
Well, this is much easier to do than the positive list, as there’s a fair amount of crap here for me to fillet.
Also a contender for worst film ever made, there’s one clear winner here. While Dirty Dancing was hateful, Christopher Columbus was dismal and boring, My Boss’s Daughter an abject disaster and the likes of Heartbreakers reducing me to tears of rage and hatred, there was only one film that I had THREE fucking attempts at getting through. A film so bad that it marks an embarrassing footnote on the end of a legend’s career and killed a promising career stone dead. Musicals have never been so awful. My worst film is: Xanadu.
Complete and utter shit on every level. Agony to sit through and humiliating for all concerned.
Worst Performance: Male.
There are a fair few candidates here as well. Firstly, Ashton Kutcher continued his mission to be the most pointless human being on the planet in My Boss’s Daughter, Statham forgot to turn his brain on in War, Rourke did not give a shit in Harley Davidson, Michael Beck killed his career in Xanadu, Modine embarrassed himself as the worst FBI agent in history in Married to the Mob and Hauser did a very impressive tree impersonation in The Cave, there was one performance that puts all of these to shame. However, before that, because I haven’t forgotten: in second place, step right up Robert Downey Junior for his excruciating and pitiful turn as the shock jock in Natural Born Killers. Having heard him butcher the Aussie accent so badly, I can’t say I blame Mickey for shooting him in the head. He deserved it.
However, worst performance of the lot, in a film that desperately needed some charisma in the lead was massive, massive dickhead Georges Corraface in Christopher Columbus. Not just bad in the film, but genuinely one of the worst performances of all time. Congratulations, fuckhead.
Worst Performance: Female.
Again, a wide range to go for. Sigourney Weaver failed as a sex symbol with a Russian accent in Heartbreakers, Dunst was annoying as all fuck in Bring It On, Olivia Newton-John was, well, Olivia Newton-John in Xanadu, Christ knows what Cheryl Ladd was playing at in Millennium, Katie Holmes performed to her usual level in Teaching Mrs. Tingle, and not to mention the legendarily awful turn from Jennifer Grey in Dirty Dancing. However, there were two performances that stood out as being truly wretched. The first was, naturally, Tara Reid in My Boss’s Daughter continuing her career of being terrible in terrible films. However, she doesn’t win the award, because it wasn’t really her fault. The outright winner of this one, in a truly awful film, is Marisa Coughlin in Teaching Mrs Tingle. A variety of reasons for this, her one-woman Exorcist tribute leaping to mind, but what earns her the gong is that the character is meant to be “acting” at several points, and is meant to be talented. Coughlin absolutely butchers this and her overall turn is truly atrocious.
Two many to pick from, frankly. However, head and shoulders below the rest were My Boss’s Daughter, Dirty Dancing, Xanadu and The Cave. All appallingly written cobblers and all can fuck off. However, for me, nothing is worse than Bring it On. Horrible, embarrassing, awful dialogue that grates on the ears and deals in little more than stereotypes from the 1950’s. Borderline offensive, hackneyed crap and, well, I fucking hate this script.
I’ll come clean about this one. The reason I put in Best Direction was so I can include this category. The worst direction in any film in this series is Oliver Stone for Natural Born Killers. It’s a bad film anyway, but the reason this is clear loser is that the overly elaborate direction made it physically painful to endure. What little story there was was swamped under stupid techniques, daft camera angles and idiotic moves like animation. Horrible.
Overall, there wasn’t much in the way of shocks here for me. The only real disappointments were Cal and Fire and Ice which had winning pedigrees and turned out to be a load of onanistic bollocks. However, one film really was a kick in the bollocks.
Natural Born Killers was a film I loved back at the time, and looking at it now? Why? What a load of utter shit, and I wish I hadn’t rewatched it.
Well, that’s this farrago complete. I will be returning with a couple of bonus reviews, such as the correct 2009 film after the minor cock-up with Baader-Meinhof.
It’s been fun, and I look forward to everyone else finishing their journeys for comparison.
Until next time,