Sometimes you go into a movie not knowing how it's going to end. Sometimes, you know exactly how it's going to end. Conan the Barbarian definitely falls into the latter category, but getting there is still worth the ride.
It's tough to reboot a film that everyone has seen. Somehow, director Marcus Dispel manages to bring a fresh take to Conan, introducing a few new faces and ending up with a movie that's surprisingly entertaining. Granted, most people go into a film like this with pretty low expectations. Happily, these expectations are met, and then some.
Jason Momoa wins over the audience as a more complex Conan, bringing to the role a sense of honor, nobility, and humanity that raises his performance above Arnold Schwarzenegger's earlier heroic efforts. This is Momoa's first major film role, but hopefully not his last. His acting is good, his physique is superb, and his Elvis-like sneer is simply awesome. Ron Perlman (whose baritone, interestingly enough, was featured as the voice of Conan in the 2007 video game released) is as usual a standout supporting character, playing the Cimmerian's father in the opening scenes. With just a subtle look, he expresses a father's love for his young son — and, when his youngster shows up with handfuls of freshly severed heads, he makes it very clear that he's wondering just what kind of kid he's raising.
The visual effects in the movie are exceedingly good. Touches such as CGI sand creatures that burst into cascade of rock and dust, as well as the beautifully detailed background cities and landscapes deliver a believable excursion into the Hyborian Age. The film was shot in 2D and converted to 3D, but the extra dimension doesn’t add much to the splatterfest.
Throughout, Tyler Bates' score adds mightily to the impact and feel of the film; it is a thoroughly enjoyable musical journey and rivals Basil Poledouris' superb score for the original Conan. Each of the story’s cities features its own music underscore that plays a major role in defining the nature of each locale and environment. Understandably, the score takes a backseat when significant sound effects take the lead. For example, during some of the battle scenes, the clanging of swords is heard clearly, while the score falls silent. And notice how awesome the sound of those swords is — every time you see a sword swing by, it seems to "zing" to life. The silencing of the soundtrack is also used at the very beginning of the film, when the battle sounds are silenced to make room for the cry of the newborn Conan.
There are lots of impressive sound design features. Throughout, there's an organic use of animal sounds — growls and snarls that add tension and drama to the human fighting. Listen for the sounds of tigers and lions mixed into the "voices" of some of the bad-guy creatures. The thundering low-frequency rock falls will thrill viewers when this comes out on Blu-ray. Get your subwoofer ready. There are more subtle features too. The reverberation on the voices in the Shaipur Monastery adds a layer of depth and realism to the scene. Overall, this is a very solid sound design effort.
This epic muscle pic has it all: Beheadings galore, snarling sand creatures, topless wenches, bountiful swordplay, a damsel in distress, bulging oiled pectorals, wispy harlot's attire, a creepy witch daughter, predictable dialogue, and an even more predictable plot. A complete bloodbath — what's not to like?
Leslie Shapiro has been an audio engineer for 25 years, with experience in television, film, and the music industry. She is also a member of NARAS, which gives her the coveted privilege of voting for the Grammy Awards.
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