The other day my TV broke completely without warning. As I fruitlessly puzzled over it for a while, trying to remember the last time it had worked for me and I realized that the last thing I had done with it was watch last year's Conan The Barbarian.
That’s right, the new Conan is so bad that it made my television commit suicide. My Blu Ray player is currently on twenty four hour watch in a locked ward.
Even setting issues of broken appliances aside It is official, if I see Marc Nispel crossing the street, I will not brake. With Conan he has entered the rarified company of the likes of Cassandra Claire and Joel Schumacher. No mere hack, Nispel is an active hate crime against genre fiction.
Looking at his two previous terrible films, both of which I utterly loathed, even I never suspected that Nispel had anything this incompetent in him. Both Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Friday the 13th are terrible films that completely misunderstand the appeal and approach of their source material (No points for guessing that this works pretty well as a description of Conan as well). But I have no doubt that Nispel accomplished, if we must sully the word, exactly what he set out to in each of those films. There is nothing in either of those films like the flailing, desperate out of control tone present in Conan. It is without a doubt the goofiest mainstream movie I can recall seeing, and not in a good way. It seems like everyone on the cast and crew were laughing their asses off before and after every take. When even Ron Perlman can’t be bothered to treat your movie with a straight face, you know you’re in trouble.
Conan begins with a shot from inside the womb for a fetus point of view as Conan’s mother is stabbed and Ron Perlman rips Conan out of the womb, bellowing “Name Your Son!” while Morgan Freeman narrates with the gravitas usually reserved for documentaries about major social issues for some damn reason or another. This is perhaps the sixth or seventh most ridiculous thing to happen in the film.
In all fairness the next ten minutes of the film or so can be described as “not entirely unpromising”. The film kicks off with a young Conan participating in a training sequence that gets ambushed that offers an interesting(ish) take on the character. The basic idea being that Conan survives not because he’s stronger, smarter, or a better fighter but simply because he has an amount of killer instinct that puts everyone else around him to shame. The idea of Conan surviving through sheer viciousness alone still isn’t exactly Howard’s take on the character, but it is at least a take on the character. Unfortunately this is more or less dropped when Stephen Lang comes and burns down Conan’s village before covering Ron Perlman in melted steel. At which point child Conan is replaced by, “Buffed Out Billy Zane With VD Eyes.”
Conan begins his Quest For Revenge™ and the film devolves into episodic nonsense, and not in the good way that Milius’s film devolved into episodic nonsense. Stephen Lang makes a thoroughly unimpressive villain though his various facial expressions do suggest that he has electrodes strapped to his testicles. Rose McGowan, as his villainous second on the other hand, contents herself to doing that fucking Rose McGowan voice where she testily ultra enunciates every word she speaks on every line she is given.
The film has that inimitable look of failure, that of looking really expensive and incredibly chintzy at the same time. All the effects, sets, backgrounds and costumes looks like they’d be more at home in the service of a lesser Xena spin off than an actual film. The only good part of all of this is that it made watching The Immortals significantly less unpleasant, as while that movie is nearly as dumb as Conan it is nowhere near as abrasive to the eye.
All in all the thing that makes Conan maddening rather than merely laughable is that it more or less rules out any chance we have for getting another take on the material for quite some time. Robert E. Howard’s Conan remains to a large part unadapted, there’s a wealth of material for those who care to see it. But I’m not going to be holding my breath.
Meanwhile Over at the Action Cast you can hear me geek out most mercilessly on a true tale of High Adventure. And bag on a really terrible one.