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‘Conan’ a barbaric, blood-and-sandals clunker

Gory remake of '80s hit, minus Arnold, is so over the top it’s funny

POSTED: August 18, 2011 12:30 a.m.
Simon Varsano/AP Photo/Lionsgate

Jason Momoa portrays Conan in a scene from "Conan the Barbarian."

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"Conan the Barbarian" is a movie without fear. It isn't afraid to exploit its actors, it isn't afraid of being too violent and it certainly isn't afraid of offending someone.

It doesn't just cross the boundaries of good taste. It grabs those boundaries by the throat then growls platitudes about manhood while it slowly, vengefully kills them.

This unapologetically gory, chauvinistic (many will say misogynistic) blood-and-sandals epic is being released in 3D because two dimensions simply aren't enough to contain the staggering amount of testosterone on screen.

These are only slight exaggerations. I can't remember the last time I saw a movie that embraces its own machismo and bloodlust with such abandon.

The gorefest begins with Conan's birth. When his mother (Laila Rouass) is wounded during a fierce battle and likely won't survive, his father (Ron Perlman) pulls out a very large knife and performs a battlefield Caesarian. No, really, this actually happens.

Years later when Conan is a teenager, megalomaniac conquerer Khalar Zym (Stephen Lang, basically reprising his role in "Avatar") slaughters Conan's entire tribe and kills his father by pouring molten steel on him, right before Conan's eyes.

Adult Conan (Jason Momoa) sports a larger-than-life physique and even bigger thirst for revenge. He also frees slaves as he searches for Zym, and one of those scenes sums up the whole movie.

Conan and his pals attack a slave colony, brutally killing the masters and setting the slaves free. These particular slaves happen to be female, and they are all topless. The next scene shows Conan's men and the women slaves celebrating their freedom - and the women are still topless.

Perhaps the filmmakers misunderstood that "Save the Ta-Tas" breast cancer awareness campaign?

Zym and his twisted witch of a daughter, Marique, played devilishly well by Rose McGowan, need to find a pure-blooded girl named Tamara (Rachel Nichols) to perform a ritual that will resurrect Zym's dead wife, a powerful sorceress.

Naturally, Conan and Tamara cross paths, team up and eventually have completely gratuitous sex. He treats her terribly, but in the world of "Conan the Barbarian," this proves irresistible.

This is, of course, a remake of the 1982 Arnold Schwarzenegger star vehicle of the same name, but this version doesn't owe much to the original other than muscles, violence and bare-chested women.

The landscape in this update resembles medieval England more than the deserts of the original. And whereas the original offered plenty of atmosphere and sweeping imagery, this 2011 "Conan the Barbarian" rarely slows down long enough for us to enjoy the view.

In fact, one of the huge problems with the movie is that the landscape makes no sense. During one scene, we see Conan and Tamara disembark a ship and walk away from the shore, which looks very much like a Mediterranean beach, all sand and bleached rocks. Two scenes later, Tamara walks back toward the same shore, yet suddenly she is walking through a forest.

Scene after scene, sloppy details such as this emerge. Not that viewers of "Conan the Barbarian" will be looking closely enough at the background to notice.

This is a movie designed to keep our attention from wandering. There are constant hero poses, swords clashing, blood spattering and the occasional CGI dervish. It's all sleight-of-hand to make sure we don't notice how dreadfully bad the dialogue, story and acting really are.

"Conan the Barbarian" is fun to look at, despite the haphazard filmmaking. It's a hard R-rated movie that will no doubt become forbidden fruit for teenage boys, who will sneak into theatres or download it without their parents knowing.

For everyone else, though, this is fodder for ridicule. It's bound to be the most unintentionally funny movie of the year.

Jeff Marker is a media studies professor at Gainesville State College.



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