Sunday, March 11, 2012

Ryan Watches A Motion Picture #94: Conan The Barbarian (2011)

 That's right. We've got Morgan Freeman's voice. And we're not giving it back.

Chicks wearing little,
Swords, axes, and sorcery
Somehow made boring.

Here's a little tip: if you go to see a movie and it starts off with voice-over narration, even if it's Morgan Freeman, it's probably going to suck. Hard.

Guess what Conan does. Then guess the result.

Narration's bad because going that route typically breaks that always important 'show don't tell' rule. Fantasy films just love to feel like story books and open with a prologue that clearly establishes you're about to enter into a magic realm full of dancing wizards and burrowing unicorns. But it doesn't ever need to because when you go to see a fantasy film it's a pretty safe assumption that you're going to see some fucking fantasy. That's the point. And if informing you that you're in for a wizardy time isn't their mission, then the voice-over will be there to fill you in on some legend or similar crap that will be of importance to the characters and to the movie's overall aim to be cliché. This they don't have to do either, because all that backstory stuff can be revealed as you actually watch the movie. We can figure it out. All it would require is a bit of careful writing, which is, of course, unfair to the diseased monkeys the producers of Conan chained to a typewriter in a Swedish dungeon.

What was worthwhile in Conan? Not much. You'd think scantily clan woman and swords would be enough, but it really isn't. I'd say only the appearance of Ron Perlman is worth watching, but after he departs the film never manages to reach that dizzying height again. The 3d sucked. Not just because the pop-outs were cheap, but the effects mostly looked like paper cut-outs walking over paper cut-out backgrounds. It's way over-scored, meaning that the soundtrack plays way too much and is overly epic at points that don't call for it. There's a pointless sex scene with an even more pointless romance that just wastes time and patience. The female character involved is token at the best of times, which I guess I was expecting, but part of me hoped for more. I probably shouldn't have hoped for any kind of sophistication once I heard some of the dialogue. Some key lines were, and I quote, "Barbarian, I don't like you anymore" and "Barbarian! I'm going to kill you with your father's blade!" And Conan just shouting "Die!!" as he kicks someone. It was like a grade 7 writing exercise.

You know how movies that think they're being clever will often have a line uttered early on in the film by the bad guy and then later on the good guy will use the same line once the tables have turned? And you can twitch in your seat and pee in your pants and whimper something like 'omg thatz wut he said b4.' That line repetition is meant to be witty or ironic, but in Conan it felt like it was done just to strike that movie cliché off the list.

There was just a hell of a lot of shoddy thinking. More than could be excused. Like enemies that were clearly just Pict-esque human dudes in warpaints snarling like they were supposed to be orcs or werewolves or something. They actually used animal sound effects for them. And there's a scene where a ship is being boarded in the secret hours of the night, but within moments the intruders are discovered and a fight breaks out onto the deck – and it's broad daylight. The movie pays so little attention to itself that it fails even to get the most basic thing about Conan right – that he's a badass. Conan's not really supposed to be a good guy. He's actually a pretty huge dick. But this incarnation made him out to be a noble savage fighting the good fight, saving the girl, overthrowing the evil overlord etc. etc. The actions and motivations of the characters in general seemed arbitrary and stripped of import or gravity. Fairly early on in the film I came to the realisation that I didn't care about what was happening on the screen, and was far more interested in the backs of the heads of people I didn't know sitting in front of me. That one's balding. That person left her hat on. Isn't she overly warm? What does she do for a living? That was me hungry for character.

Just try and care about me. I dare you.

I was somewhat happy to see a two-bladed sword in the movie. Not a blade for each end of the stick mind you, a sword with two blades running parallel to each other. Hadn't seen anything that silly since Sword and the Sorceror's three-bladed canon-sword.

So: Has potentially destroyed an already shakey market for sword and sorcery films that aren't The Hobbit.

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