Archive for the Warriors Category


Posted in 2012, Adult Fairy Tales, Cinema Knife Fights, Fantasy Films, Magic, Special Effects, Sword & Sorcery, Warriors, Witches with tags , , , , , , , on June 4, 2012 by knifefighter

By Michael Arruda and L.L. Soares

(THE SCENE: An enchanted forest. A beautiful princess lies sleeping on a bed. By her bedside stand two men, one pale and forlorn, the other shirtless and brooding.)

EDWARD:  It’s all my fault. It was my job to protect her. If only I hadn’t been so distant and honorable, and chaste—why was I so chaste?  Idiot!—  perhaps she would have been happy and wouldn’t have come into these woods alone.

JACOB:  It is all your fault, you stupid vampire!  Any idiot can see that you’re not the right one for her!  I am, and I have the chest to prove it! (flexes his pectorals).

(A roar erupts from the woods, and suddenly, THOR jumps into the scene.)

THOR:  You’re both losers!  The princess belongs to ME!

(THOR begins beating Edward and Jacob with his hammer, and as they cower with lots of “Ouches!’  and “Oomphs!” THOR continues to pound away at them.)

(Camera slowly pulls back to reveal MICHAEL ARRUDA & L.L. SOARES eating popcorn and watching the proceedings.)

LS:  This is better than today’s movie!

MA:  There’s certainly more of an emotional connection. I want to be Thor right now.

LS:  Then what are we waiting for?  Let’s join the party!  (hands MA a club and lifts an axe over his head.)

MA:  No. We don’t have time to beat on characters from a lame movie series. We have a new movie to review.

LS: Damn!  We’re always working!

(EDWARD and JACOB flee, and THOR lets out a victorious roar. He approaches the princess and kisses her, but nothing happens.)

THOR:  Why isn’t anything happening?

MA:  Nothing’s happening because—and I don’t mean to burst your bubble, Thor, but— today’s movie is SNOW WHITE AND THE HUNTSMAN, not SNOW WHITE AND THOR—and even though Chris Hemsworth’s performance as the Huntsman is Thor-like, he’s still playing the Huntsman in this one, not Thor.

LS: In other words, the chick’s not for you, Thor. Sorry.

THOR:  Dammit!  And I came all the way from Asgard, too!  (Skulks off into the woods.)

MA:  Yes, today we’re reviewing SNOW WHITE AND THE HUNTSMAN (2012), the new movie that attempts to put an adult spin on the old fairy tale and turn it into a rousing action adventure story. It stars Kristen Stewart, of TWILIGHT fame, as Snow White, Chris Hemsworth as Thor…er…the Huntsman, and Charlize Theron as the evil Queen, Ravenna.

When we first meet Snow White, she’s a baby.

(A group of DWARVES by the edge of the woods start cheering and whistling.)

MA (shaking his head):  I said “baby” not “babe!”

(DWARVES boo and hiss. Some throw vegetables.)

LS: Thanks, I can make a nice salad later.

MA:  Then we see her as a little girl enjoying her happy life with her mother and father, who happen to be king and queen of the land—how’s this for a rousing start to an action adventure movie?  But then Snow White’s mother dies, leaving the family sad and grieving.

LS: And we never know how the mother died. It just says “It was a rough winter and Snow White’s mother died.” What kind of explanation is that?

MA:….until daddy meets Ravenna (Charlize Theron), is mesmerized by her beauty, and marries her immediately. She in turn murders her new husband, sneaks her army into the castle, and overtakes the kingdom, throwing Snow White into the dungeon.

LS: Actually, it’s not a dungeon, it’s a tower. Snow White is locked away in a tower. And it’s actually pretty ingenious how Ravenna tricks Snow White’s father into finding and marrying her. I thought that was pretty cool.

MA: Are you serious? Ingenious?  I thought it was a pretty standard trick.

We next see Snow White (Kristen Stewart) when she’s 18 and still locked away in that tower, but not for long, because the Queen’s magic mirror has informed the Queen that she’s no longer the fairest one in the land, that that title now belongs to Snow White. What’s an evil queen to do?  Why, kill Snow White of course!

LS: Funny how Snow White does not become a competitor for “fairest in the land” until she turned exactly 18. This is also when Ravenna’s brother, Finn (Sam Spruell), first tries to have sex with Snow White, when he goes to fetch her for the Queen. Nice to know everybody at least waited until she turned legal first! At least they all had such nice manners back then (and a keen awareness of statutory rape laws).

And even more basic to the story—why the hell does the Queen keep Snow White alive for so long? Why not just kill her right away? She doesn’t even find out about what benefit Snow White can give her until the girl turns 18—do your research, lady! —so why did she keep her alive for so many years? And if Snow is so important because she’s so innocent, wouldn’t her beating heart have been even more innocent for the Queen’s purposes when she was a child? None of this makes sense.

And what’s up with the magic mirror? It looks like a great big golden plate. Gold isn’t exactly mirror material. It’s not all that easy to see yourself in. And instead of just answering her every time Ravenna asks “Mirror, Mirror, on the wall, who’s the fairest of them all?” (each time she asks this, I have to admit, I winced), the mirror has to melt all over the place and the melted gold turns into a man-shaped thing (played by Christopher Obi – or at least it has his voice), and it takes forever. A simple “You are the fairest!” would have been nice.

MA: The Queen sends her brother to kill Snow White, but he fails, and she escapes, somehow managing to get out of the castle and into the woods, all the while eluding the Queen’s soldiers. Who knew that Snow White was related to Indiana Jones?

LS: This Snow White will kick your ass!

DWARF:  Snow White rocks!

LS:  Quiet, you!  We’re reviewing a movie here!

(DWARF sticks his tongue out)

MA: Queen Ravenna then hires The Huntsman (Chris Hemsworth) to go into the dangerous woods and find Snow White for her. Of course, as you probably already know, the Huntsman falls for Snow White once he finds her, and he eventually helps her fight back against Ravenna. They’re also befriended by the obligatory dwarves who also help them in their cause to defeat the evil Queen.

LS: There’s a key scene here that I had a MAJOR problem with. The Queen has promised she’ll bring the Huntsman’s wife back from the dead if he finds and captures Snow White for her. So he agrees, and he finds her, and Finny is there—the Queen’s brother, who let her get away from the tower in the first place—and Finn says, “Give her to me,” and the Huntsman says, “Give me back my wife first!”

Anyone with half a brain would say “I can’t give you back your wife, my sister is the sorcerer in the family. We have to go back to the castle first.”

But, instead, Finn says something like, “It’s all a lie, Ravenna can’t raise the dead, and you’re stupid for believing her!”

Why the hell does Finn do this? All he has to do is get the Huntsman (and Snow White) back to the castle, and he can double-cross the guy all he wants. But instead, he blows it. This just didn’t make any sense to me, and the only reason it happens is to move the storyline in the direction the writers want.


MA:  Yep, I had the same reaction.  I sat there thinking, Finn, you’re an idiot.

And if you know the story of Snow White, you know how the rest of this movie plays out. No surprises here.

I was completely disappointed with SNOW WHITE AND THE HUNTSMAN. I actually thought I was going to be pleasantly surprised and enjoy this one. Boy, was I wrong!

This one lost me right from the get-go, as I thought the pacing was all off. It opens slowly, with those dull introductory scenes of Snow White’s origins, and for me, the movie never recovered. You’re turning Snow White into an action adventure story and this is how you start your movie off?  Come on!

LS: It’s called setting up the story. It made sense here.

MA: I get that, and it can be forgiven if what follows is compelling and exciting, but that’s not the case here.

It’s not like it has a slow beginning but the rest of the film kicks butt and so I can forget about the slow beginning. The movie is dull, and it started with those first few scenes.  That’s what I’m saying.

Truth be told, I didn’t find this movie adventurous at all, and I certainly didn’t find it exciting.

I also really didn’t like Kristen Stewart as Snow White. I thought she was miscast in this role. She seemed awkward and uncomfortable throughout, and didn’t come across as very princess-like. She seemed much more comfortable at the end of the movie when she gets to dress as a warrior and take on Ravenna in battle. But as Snow White, whose beauty is as pure as snow, I didn’t see it. She seemed like she would rather be riding a motorcycle than a horse.

LS: I think she would look more natural on a motorcycle, too, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing (laughs). But seriously, I think she’s growing on me after seeing so many damn TWILIGHT movies. It was just nice to see her in a movie that wasn’t about whiny vampires and shirtless werewolves. I liked her in SNOW WHITE. And toward the end, in her armor, I thought she might be able to play a decent Joan of Arc.

MA: As advertised, Charlize Theron has a field day as the evil Queen Ravenna, and this was one part of this movie that I did like. Theron gives the best performance in the movie, and she’s the main reason why I didn’t hate this film completely.  She’s as beautiful as she is evil, and she is exceedingly believable in the role. It’s too bad the rest of the movie doesn’t live up to her.

LS: I’m a big Charlize fan, and I agree, she looks beautiful here—in fact, I don’t once believe that Kristen Stewart is her competitor for “fairest in the land” —but I wasn’t all that impressed with her character, at first. All Ravenna does is scream at the top of her lungs all the time. I found her kind of irritating. Always shouting at everyone. She’s like a one-note character. And we hardly ever see her. In the beginning of the movie, she’s in it a lot after Snow White’s father finds her. But by the middle of the movie, she’s hardly in it at all. Every once in a while, there’s a shift from the action to show us the Queen looking menacing, but she doesn’t do much again until toward the end. I wish she’d been in it more, and they’d fleshed out her character more. There is one flashback to her childhood that makes you sympathize with her a little, but it’s not enough. I just think the character is underwritten. It’s too much of a standard baddie role.

MA: I agree with you that she’s not in the movie all that much, but I thought her performance was strong enough to overcome this. And  I liked all that shouting.

LS: But her character grew on me, because Theron does one thing that’s interesting with Ravenna. There are moments when she seems like a space alien. She just has no empathy or understanding for the characters around her, and she gets this weird look in her eyes—it reminded me of an insect—like she’s some alien creature trying to pass for human, afraid someone will figure out her secret, and I thought that was what redeemed her performance. This is an instance where acting ability is able to transcend a weak script.

MA: Chris Hemsworth’s performance as the Huntsman is about the only other bright spot in this movie. Sure, he’s a little bit like Thor here, but like Theron, he’s believable in the part, and he’s also very likeable.

LS: Hemsworth is fine, here. His character IS a bit like Thor, but that’s to be expected, considering it’s a fantasy film, and he’s kind of a warrior. But the guy has real charisma and the camera loves him.

MA: Veteran actors Ian McShane and Bob Hoskins are among those playing dwarves in this movie. The dwarves are supposed to be providing comic relief here, but they didn’t really do it for me. They weren’t over-the-top enough to make me laugh, nor were they earthy enough for me to take seriously.

LS: I couldn’t tell what they were trying to do with the dwarves here. Once or twice, they seem like comic relief, especially Gus (Brian Gleeson). But most of the time, it’s like they were trying to make the little guys much more edgy and dangerous. When the Huntsman and Snow White first meet them, the dwarves attack and then capture them, threatening to rob and kill them.

I don’t have a problem with more edgy dwarves, but it’s like the writers weren’t sure whether to keep them edgy, or make them more comic as the story goes on. Make up your minds!

MA:  I agree with you.  That’s why I didn’t really like the dwarves.  It’s almost as if they were written to be edgy and then somewhere along the line someone decided dwarves in a Snow White story shouldn’t be this dark and watered down their scenes.

(A DWARF comes out of the woods)

DWARF:  Is this edgy enough for you?  (Flips MA & LS the bird.)

LS:  You stick that finger out at me again, I’ll cut it off!

(DWARF darts back into the woods.)

LS:  Of course, here the dwarves are CGI, which means that instead of real dwarves, we’ve got famous actors “shrunk down” to look like dwarves. Between that, and the make-up (which is pretty good), it’s interesting to try to guess who’s who. As you said, the actors Ian McShane and Bob Hoskins are here, there’s also Nick Frost from SHAUN OF THE DEAD (2004), and Ray Winstone (who I didn’t recognize at all at first) and Toby Jones, who we most recently saw in THE HUNGER GAMES as one of the announcers. It’s actually kind of fun identifying them.

MA: I’m happy for you.  Why don’t you develop a new TV game show while you’re at it: “NAME THAT DWARF.”

LS: Maybe I will

MA: I thought the writing was particularly weak. The characters aren’t fleshed out at all. What do we know about Snow White other than what we already know from the fairy tale?  Nothing much!  You know, if she wasn’t such a boring character, this movie might have been more fun!

LS: I don’t think Snow White is all that bad

MA: Come on!  She put me to sleep.  And if she’s such a kick-ass character, what does she need the Huntsman for?

When Ravenna decides she needs to hire someone to find Snow White in the woods, she immediately hires the Huntsman even though she seems to know nothing about him. When we meet him, he’s drunk and he’s in a fight. These are the qualifications needed to hunt down a princess?  I mean, who is he?  Is he the greatest huntsman in the land?  If he is, I missed the part where we find that out!

LS: Sometimes I think your story comprehension is a little off. They explained it clearly enough. Not many people have gone into the haunted forest and lived to tell about it. It’s dangerous. The Huntsman is one of the few people who have been in the forest and knows his way around. He’s not the greatest huntsman in the land, but he knows the territory and Finn and his soldiers can’t find Snow White without him.

MA: I wouldn’t say they explained it clearly.  They mention it in one brief scene.  And for me, it wasn’t clear that he was the only guy who could do this.  It just seemed a forced plot point to me.  I kept thinking, if Ravenna a sorceress, why can’t she just find Snow White using her black magic?

LS: Maybe if you hadn’t dozed off, it would have been clearer

MA: (laughing):  Shh!

LS: I agree about Ravenna, though. It’s never exactly clear how powerful she is. What her limitations are. In one scene she seems all-powerful, in another she’s unable to do something you’d think would be easy. I don’t get it.

MA: Evan Daugherty, Josh Lee Hancock, and Hossein Amini wrote the screenplay, which is about as fresh as a rotten apple. In Amini’s case, this comes as a surprise, since he’s the guy who wrote the screenplay for DRIVE (2011), a movie we both liked a lot.

LS: I didn’t think it was that horrible. It was weak in spots, but my main problem with the script is the whole idea of remaking a fairy tale in the first place. By doing this, you know what the outcome is going to be. You know what the characters are going to do, for the most part, so there’s no suspense. I think the script does what it can with the idea, for the most part, considering the concept is flawed from the get go.

MA: Yes, SNOW WHITE AND THE HUNTSMAN definitely suffers from the “We Know This Story” syndrome. We all know the story of Snow White, yet the movie doesn’t seem to make much of an effort to approach this familiar story from different angles. Sure, Snow White gets tough in the final act, but before that, things are pretty dull.

The love story angle is also pretty much a dud. I have no idea who Snow White loves in this movie, the Huntsman or her childhood sweetheart, William (Sam Claflin), who returns to the kingdom to save her. She doesn’t seem particularly interested in either guy, and the Huntsman seems to be only interested in her because she reminds him of his deceased wife. So, even though this one plays like a love story at times, it’s missing the actual love story!  And there’s no sexual tension whatsoever.

LS: I’ll agree with you there. There were times when I thought this movie was trying to recreate the whole “love triangle” silliness from the TWILIGHT movies. Does she love William, who she grew up with as a child, or the Huntsman who’s more manly, and better looking, and stronger, and more heroic? The movie seems to be teetering on going for the triangle, but then it seems to just forget about it. Clearly the Huntsman is the main male character here, and it’s his kiss that becomes crucial later on (and there’s no Prince Charming to be found!).
And there isn’t a lot of sexual tension. The script just doesn’t give us any. And  the actors, while good here, don’t bring any sexual tension of their own to the screen.

MA: And why do all the creatures, both good and bad, instead of dying, shatter like glass in this movie?  Do all the living creatures in this kingdom have a different molecular make-up?  What planet are they on?

LS: They don’t all shatter like glass, only the ones the Queen conjures up with magic. But this effect is over-used and gets tired awful fast.

MA:  Really?  I could have sworn I saw some of the “good” animals shatter as well.

LS:  Were you drunk when you saw this movie?

MA:  No, but I was saturated with boredom.

SNOW WHITE AND THE HUNTSMAN was directed by Rupert Sanders, and I can’t say that I was impressed. The pacing was off, and there really weren’t any memorable scenes to lift this movie out of its doldrums. There was also very little sense of fantasy. I wasn’t drawn into its world of dark forests and evil kingdoms, mostly because I found the action to be superficial and dull. It’s anything but exciting.

LS: I disagree. It has its flaws, and there are a couple of slow scenes, but overall, I thought it did a good job retelling a classic tale.

MA: The special effects were average. There’s a neat troll scene, and the troll looks cool, but it’s one and done for Mr. Troll. Needless to say, he doesn’t do much.

LS: I would really have liked to see the Troll come back during a crucial scene to help Snow White fight her enemies or something. He seemed like too cool a character to waste. But yeah, after showing us this monster, the movie just forgets about him.

But I disagree about the effects. This movie has terrific effects. Most of them are on a very small, detailed level, though. They’re not all as big and flashy as the Troll. Like when we first enter the forest. There are all of these weird animals and plants that we see – some of them are kind of fascinating.

(MA yawns)

LS:  And a scene in a part of the forest that belongs to the fairies is kind of beautiful, too. It’s mostly small stuff (except for that giant troll), but it’s fascinating to look at.

MA: SNOW WHITE AND THE HUNTSMAN lacks the necessary edge and style to successfully make the jump from fairy tale to adult action adventure tale. I liked the two performances by Charlize Theron as Ravenna, and Chris Hemsworth as the Huntsman, but that’s all I liked. The rest of the movie is muddled and dull, exhibiting about as much imagination as a worm in an apple.

I give it one and a half knives.

LS: Yeah, we’re in disagreement about this one. We do agree about Charlize Theron, and Hemsworth. I liked Hemsworth doing his cocky warrior thing. He’s good at it, although it would be nice to see him play something completely different in another movie. So I agree with you about the two of them.

But I think Stewart is actually pretty good here. She emotes a little more than she does in the TWILIGHT movies.  She does have a kind of awkwardness to her. A kind of stiltedness, but it’s starting to work for me. And there’s actually one scene in this movie where she smiles!

MA:  I just didn’t think this awkwardness was a good fit for the Snow White character.
LS: It didn’t bother me. In fact, it kind of worked for me. And I thought Sam Spruell was interesting (and odd-looking) as the evil Finn. It almost seemed like he was in the movie more, and had more to do, than Charlize did. And I liked the dwarves for the most part.

I didn’t love SNOW WHITE AND THE HUNTSMAN. Despite the revisionist spin on it, I just find the story too familiar, and therefore a little boring. But I thought it was well-made, had a good cast, and was visually impressive. For what it was, I enjoyed it.

I give it three knives. It was at least as good as last week’s CHERNOBYL DIARIES, and I gave that three knives.

MA:  Wow, we really do disagree here.  And I think the main reason is where you found the story a little boring, I found it a lot boring.

(They’re suddenly surrounded by a group of menacing looking DWARVES.)

DWARF (points to LS):  You can go.  You said good things about us.  (Points to MA).  You stay.  We’re going to teach you a lesson.

LS (hands the club back to MA):  You might need this.

MA:  Gee, thanks.  You sure you don’t want to stick around?  It might be fun.

LS:  How so?

MA:  I was thinking of starting a new games show of my own: BEAT THE DWARF!

LS: Hmm.  Has potential. Maybe I’ll stick around, after all

DWARF: I prefer the new show, BEAT THE CRITICS.

(The DWARVES charge, just as MA lifts his club and LS wields his axe.)

(Suddenly, the BEAUTIFUL PRINCESS sits up in her bed. Everyone has forgotten about her, and she’s boiling mad)

PRINCESS: Will you all shut up! I’m trying to sleep here!

(Fade to White)


© Copyright 2012 by Michael Arruda and L.L. Soares

Michael Arruda gives SNOW WHITE AND THE HUNTSMAN ~ one and a half knives!

LL Soares gives SNOW WHITE AND THE HUNTSMAN ~three knives.


Suburban Grindhouse Memories: DEATHSTALKER (1984)

Posted in "So Bad They're Good" Movies, 2012, Bad Acting, Barbarian Movies, Grindhouse, Nick Cato Reviews, Suburban Grindhouse Memories, Sword & Sorcery, VIOLENCE!, Warriors with tags , , , , , on January 26, 2012 by knifefighter

DEATHSTALKER: Conan…Without Class!
By Nick Cato

I spent most of the time during the second half of my sophomore year in high school daydreaming about movies.  While horror preoccupied 90% of my mind, other exploitation films took about 8%, and the final 2% was dedicated to all things CONAN.  From the early Marvel comics to the 1982 Ah-Nuld film version, I was always a big fan of the sword & sorcery genre.  And while the success of CONAN THE BARBARIAN (1982) spawned several rip-offs, none were as memorable as the 1984 schlock-fest DEATHSTALKER, which happened to be released as I trudged through the tenth grade.

Picture—if you will—a group of fifteen year-old male teenagers managing to get into an R-rated action film with no problem.  Now picture—if you will—that same group of ecstatic fifteen year-old teenagers giggling with glee as the sword & sorcery epic unreeling before them turned out to feature some of the worst acting, fakest-looking creatures, and massive amounts of jiggling boobs this side of a PORKY’S film.  Even one-time sex symbol Barbi Benton appears as a princess, although she was better off taking another cruise on THE LOVE BOAT than accepting whatever peanuts she was offered for her forgettable role here.

Besides the gratuitous boobs and brutal fight sequences, what truly made DEATHSTALKER such a joy to watch was the title character himself.  Deathstalker was played by stuntman/actor Rick Hill, and is far less noble a warrior than Conan: he’s a conscience-less murderer and rapist, taking any woman who even looks at him as he walks by with his bulging biceps.  And in what tries to pass for a plot, a king asks Deathstalker to try and redeem himself by rescuing his kidnapped princess daughter from a tattoo-headed tyrant.  Like any social misfit, Deathstalker basically tells the king where to go, then proceeds to eat (yes, EAT) half of the king’s poor dog!  At this point, you either buckled your seatbelt and prepared to enjoy the trash that followed, or you left the theater and spared your brain any further damage.

I stayed.

There was mumbling around the theater wondering  just why this king asked a known, savage rapist to rescue his daughter, and why he even cared if the guy redeemed himself.  But such are the mysteries of rip-off, grindhouse cinema.

In one scene that drove the audience wild, a brawl goes down where one burly man (with his gigantic mallet) smashes his opponent into a bloody pancake.  Popcorn flew around the (now defunct) Fox Twin Theatre in appreciation, and at one point I started to hope some of the older guys in attendance didn’t get any ideas after the film, out in the parking lot.

Between more bouncing boobs and heads getting lobbed off, there was talk of Deathstalker also having to find three objects that were allegedly part of the world’s creation (I remember one being a sword, which he finds, but can’t recall what the other two were…and you probably wouldn’t, either).  Deathstalker eventually rescues the princess (who actually looks like an old sea hag) and takes the sword of creation from the clutches of Munkar, the aforementioned tattoo-headed tyrant (and MAN did his head-tattoo look fake!).  Just WHY Deathstalker went ahead and did what the king asked —after saying he wasn’t interested—is anyone’s guess.

The remainder of DEATHSTALKER features our anti-hero joining a tournament where warriors battle other warriors to the death—sort-of like a sword & sorcery tribute to the Bruce Lee classic ENTER THE DRAGON (1973).  Here the blood flows deeper than your standard slasher film, as arms, legs, and heads fly, bodies are impaled; all the while Munkar looks on with a smirk, thinking everyone who stands in his way will eventually kill themselves off, leaving him to rule the world.  MUHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!

But as fate would have it, Deathstalker manages to kill the final opponent, a goofy-looking pig-faced warrior beast, and eventually destroys Munkar and the mystical objects of creation.

Unlike CONAN THE BARBARIAN, or better rip-offs such as THE BEASTMASTER (1982), DEATHSTALKER’s sloppy script and countless plot holes will cause even the most jaded fan of grindhouse cinema to shake their head in disbelief.  But, if you’re looking for a real GUY/party flick, full of hot babes, endless bloodshed, and acting so bad you can’t help but yell back at the screen (even if you’re watching it at home), DEATHSTALKER is a prime example of a so-bad-it’s-amazing film.  Most mind-boggling: this cinematic abortion was followed by three sequels, with Rick Hill returning in the title role for the fourth installment.  None were half as good (or bad) as the original.

Deathstalker (Rick Hill) battles a pig-faced beast during the exciting conclusion of DEATHSTALKER (1984)

© Copyright 2012 by Nick Cato


Posted in 2011, 3-D, Action Movies, Fantasy Films, LL Soares Reviews, Magic, Pirates, Warriors with tags , , , , , , , , , on August 23, 2011 by knifefighter

Movie Review by L.L. Soares

Welcome to the Hyborian Age, by Crom!

It makes sense that someone would want to reboot the CONAN franchise. After all, Robert E. Howard gave us one of the greatest characters in the history of heroic fiction, and the movies have just barely scratched the surface of Conan and his world. For all the cult adoration for John Milius’s 1982 version with Arnold Schwarzenegger, the truth is, it’s not a very good film, and didn’t stick very closely to the source material. Oh yeah, and Arnold might have looked the part, but he couldn’t really act. So a lot of Howard fans were a little disappointed. Almost thirty years later, Hollywood has decided to start fresh.

The 2011 version of CONAN THE BARBARIAN is a decent enough flick. This time around, Jason Momoa plays the title role. Momoa rose to fame in TV shows like BAYWATCH and STARGATE: ATLANTIS, but his most recent television role was as another barbarian leader, Khal Drogo, in the HBO series GAME OF THRONES. Momoa was fairly impressive as Drogo, and he does a good job as CONAN. He may not be the most gifted actor to ever appear on screen, but at least does a better job fleshing out the role than Arnold did.

The new movie begins during a war of barbarian tribes. Conan’s mother gives birth to him on the battlefield, his birth cries filling the air just as his mother breathes her last breath. I have to say, though, that the blood-covered baby looked incredibly fake as his daddy lifted him up toward the sun.

The boy is brought up by his father, the Cimmerian leader (and blacksmith) Corin (played by Ron Perlman, who always makes movies like this better, just by appearing in them), and shows a gift for fighting (and killing) at an early age. He easily moves ahead of the pack during a ritual of manhood, to determine who of the youngsters will be allowed to fight with their elders in battle (the ritual involves running up a hill and back, without breaking a quayle’s egg that you carry in your mouth). But as soon as he proves himself, Conan’s tribe is attacked by an army of killers.

The army is led by the ruthless Khalar Zym (Stephen Lang), who is searching for a piece of a mask made from “the bones of kings.” It is supposed to bring its wearer untold magical power, and Zym is determined to reassemble it and rule his world. Corin is hiding one of the pieces, and Zym’s “uber-goth” daughter Marique (she’s about the same age as the young Conan), sniffs it out. Corin is tortured and killed with molten metal in front of his son for his troubles. In fact, Conan does what he can to save his father, but it’s a lost cause. He makes a blood oath to get revenge on Zym and his warriors.

We then leap ahead to a grown Conan, who has taken up with a band of pirates, led by his buddy Ukafa (Bob Sapp). Already, Conan is a legendary warrior to those who know him, but he has yet to make his mark on the world. As we know from Robert E. Howard’s stories, this guy is destined for big things. But before he can get there, he has a little thing called revenge to dish out first.

Despite the years of proving himself a warrior, he hasn’t had much luck finding the guys who killed his father, until he finally tracks his enemies to a monastery where Khalar Zym has gone to find a girl who is of “pure blood,” whose descendants can be traced way back to a race of mighty sorcerers. Her name is Tamara (Rachel Nichols) and she’s been raised in the temple as a female monk, and has no idea of her lineage. Zym wants her because only her blood can activate the mask he’s gone to such trouble to put together again. So, of course, Conan spends the rest of the movie trying to prevent Zym from getting what he wants.

Along the way, Conan has to battle Zym’s vicious henchmen, and a giant tentacled sea creature, among other obstacles.

I have to admit, I had high hopes for this movie. As a Conan fan, I really wanted this new franchise to blow me a way. The truth is, while I did enjoy this movie, and thought it was a decent-enough reboot, I was also a bit disappointed.

The acting is good for the most part. Momoa is not Laurence Olivier, but then again, he doesn’t really have to be, and he has just enough charisma to keep our interest. He looks a bit small for Conan, but over time that doesn’t seem to matter much, as he does a good job embodying the character.

As Conan says, “I live, I love, I slay – I am content!

Stephen Lang is just as effective as the bad guy, Khalar Zym, and his various henchmen are pretty cool, especially Rose McGowan as the grown-up version of Zym’s daughter, Marique. She looks pretty freaky with her futuristic hairdo, strange tattoos and wild eyes, and as a sorceress, she’s a force to be reckoned with. A scene where she conjures up warriors made of sand is especially interesting.

Ron Perlman always turns in an entertaining acting job at this point, and he’s just fine as Conan’s father, instructing his son in the ways of war, until war claims his life.

But my problem is that, while there are good action sequences, there are also parts that drag a bit, and the movie seemed overlong to me at 112 minutes. Also, while I liked this version of Conan, it didn’t completely blow me away. I was hoping for some really amazing scenes, and some came close, but none really amazed me.

The 3D effects didn’t help at all. This is another case of 3D being added after the movie was made—a la’ last year’s CLASH OF THE TITANS—and, frankly, it looks terrible.

Everything looked very dark and murky. And there were very few times when the 3D aspects stood out at all. This was one of those occasions when 3D actually hurt a movie for me, and I really didn’t see the point of it. If you’re going to see this one, seek out a theater playing the 2D version.

Director Marcus Nispel also directed the remakes of THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE (2003) and FRIDAY THE 13TH (2009) – this guy whole career seems to be made up of music videos and movie remakes – and those two horror reboots didn’t impress me much at all. Nispel is good at stuff like atmosphere, but his movies always seem to be lacking something, and the same goes for CONAN. I liked this better than a lot of his other films, but I still think it doesn’t go far enough in establishing Conan as a vicious killing machine. After all, he was born on the battlefield and he lives to crush his enemies. But the storyline in this movie seemed like a distraction.

I barely give this one three knives. I kept debating whether to give it two and a half or three – but it’s at least as good as something like CAPTAIN AMERICA.

But I wanted a more dynamic story. And I wanted more exciting filmmaking. CONAN THE BARBARIAN comes close, but doesn’t fully deliver the goods. I guess I just had high expectations for this one.

© Copyright 2011 by L.L. Soares

(NOTE: If you’re going to see this one at the theater – go to a matinee and skip the 3D. You’ll save yourself some money and save yourself a headache.)

L.L. Soares gives CONAN THE BARBARIANthree half  knives.