Conan the Barbarian

Conan, destroyed by 3-D

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By Ty Burr
Globe Staff / August 19, 2011

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Why a new “Conan the Barbarian’’? Because the old Conan, the former Governator, has been brought low by age and politics and his own penchant for wenching? Because you can do so much more with special effects these days? Because it has been too, too long since we’ve heard, as Arnold so delicately put it, “der lamentation of der vimmen’’?

The people lamenting this time out will probably be moviegoers who’ve paid inflated ticket prices for a 3-D version that turns a pointless but watchable sword-and-sorcery B-flick into an unwatchable bowl of sludge. Verily, 3-D on the cheap - done in post-production with computers rather than shot using actual 3-D camera equipment - has become a pox upon the multiplex, and “Conan’’ is the worst offender since “Clash of the Titans’’ and “The Last Airbender’’ afflicted thy eye and mine. It is time for the oppressed to rise up and revolt, I say! Give me 2-D or give me a refund.

As for the movie itself, it’s tolerable. “Conan the Barbarian’’ stars the Hawaiian-born slab of beef Jason Momoa, who’s a better actor than the young Schwarzenegger but a lesser movie presence (he cuts a more commanding figure on HBO’s “Game of Thrones’’). In fact, the star is arguably outshined by Leo Howard, the feral 13-year-old actor who plays the young Conan in the opening scenes.

But Momoa’s likably brutish, and director Marcus Nispel has fun with the political incorrectness of this property. The screenplay lacks the sub-Nietzschean goofiness of John Milius’s script for the 1982 movie, which is both good and bad - that full-blooded love of pulp is missed. Still, the new film’s ripe with spurting blood and clanking swords, and aside from one lopped-off nose, none of it seems to hurt.

The best scenes come early, when young Conan is trained by his barbarian father (Ron Perlman), who’s then dispatched by the evil Khalar Zym (Stephen Lang). Lang’s acting has been getting wiggier by the movie and Perlman has been out there for years; the one scene the two share together is a testimony to the pleasures of Extreme Acting.

After that, the grown Conan travels the land, Inigo Montoya-style, looking for Zym and his band of merrie cutthroats. The villain wants to take over the world by means of a spooky mask and the blood of an innocent, and in this he’s abetted by his sorceress daughter, played by Rose McGowan with hair, makeup, and costumes that suggest Lady Gaga on an off night.

All Conan has on his side is a few pirates, a sidekick thief (Said Taghmaoui) with an impenetrable French accent, and that pure-blooded innocent, whom Rachel Nichols plays with the enthusiasm of a bored office receptionist. I never thought I’d miss the first film’s magnificently wooden Sandahl Bergman so much; next to her, Nichols is particle board.

This “Conan’’ plods along, regularly erupting in action scenes that make scant visual sense in two dimensions and none at all in 3-D. The few that stick out involve supernatural beasties; there’s one ferocious battle against warriors made of sand that combines athletic parkour and digital effects to surprisingly exciting ends.

Other than that, it’s tame stuff, and there’s little sense of the larger mythical stage the hero strides across. The original “Conan’’ stories, written in the early 1930s by Robert E. Howard, remain inspired pulp reading, as do the Marvel comics versions of the 1970s, especially “The Savage Sword of Conan,’’ with John Buscema’s stark black-and-white drawings. Even the Schwarzenegger version had a crackpot long-range vision. This Conan is just a barbarian for hire.

Ty Burr can be reached at and followed on Twitter: @tyburr.


Directed by: Marcus Nispel

Written by: Thomas Dean

Donnelly, Joshua Oppenheimer, Sean Hood, based on

characters created

by Robert E. Howard

Starring: Jason Momoa,

Stephen Lang, Rachel Nichols, Rose McGowan, Ron Perlman

At: Boston Common,

Fenway, suburbs

Running time: 102 minutes

Rated: R (strong bloody

violence, some sexuality

and nudity)

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