Jason Momoa is Conan the barbarian, but damn it all to Crom's gates because the rest of the actors were not as convincing.
I rolled into the movie theater 10 minutes late, trying to catch the matinee showing, one of the two only show times today for this movie. I got in the theater just as the last preview was ending, to find that no one else was in the theater. As far as movie going experiences go, this was probably the best it gets as far as seating is concerned. Oh I got to scream and holler at the screen all I wanted to with no one to stop me.
As a fan of the franchise, I was rather eager to go see the movie, either to see it succeed or to lament its failure. I will thus analyze the film from a couple of angles, the first, as a fan of Robert E. Howard's northron barbarian.
When it comes to films sticking close to source material, this one comes pretty close, making full use of it's Restricted rating. There was a gratuitous amount of violence and blood, and other R-rated material, including topless wenches and a sex scene. In the context of Conan, it made sense to me-- it was there in the literature, it was there in the comics, and it was there in Frazetta's paintings. I geeked out so hard at the beginning, almost saying the words along with the narrator, "born in battle" (actually I wanted to say "born on the battlefield," but I'll get on this later). Momoa's performance as the dark haired sullen-eyed Cimmerian was visually the best representation of the barbarian, a lot closer to the Frazetta paintings of Conan than ol' Ahnold. For the most part they even got most of Conan's rough mannerisms right.
To my delight, they even made reference to one of Conan's actual short stories and accomplishments in the first bar scene (the reference was to the Tower of the Elephant).
The costumer-makers, leatherworkers, carpenters, set designers, and make-up artists did an excellent job bringing Hyboria to life. The concept artists and matte-painters did excellent work, as they should have (honestly there is no lack of reference for this franchise). Combat choreography was pretty excellent too. For the most part, the compositing was unnoticeable except for a few instances where the camera panning made it pretty clear there was a green screen with a matte painting. The one fight scene with the sand warriors was rather well done (I had anticipated this scene being cheesy having seen a clip of it in the previews) but I felt that the segment dragged on too long.
That was the good. Now the bad:
The acting: Jason Momoa and Stephen Lang aside, everyone else was just terrible (one other exception is Bob Sapp, who plays Conan's friend/fellow pirate) . I don't believe this to be the actors' fault directly, as I believe the casting director and the scriptwriter also share some blame. Hyboria should have been populated by more people with accents. In this sense, I think Gerrard Butler would've made for a better choice for the role of Conan's father. Ron Perlman, who did have that role, didn't do a bad job, but the fact that he delivered all his lines in plain American English (this goes for a lot of the other actors) really killed the mood for me. The Zingaran thief who helps Conan used an accent, but it was obviously a faked accent (which made it annoying to listen to). Bob Sapp, and some of the minor villains did this accent thing pretty well.
It also did not help the actors that some lines of dialogue were just written terribly.
Nichols, who played Tamara, probably had to deliver some of the worst lines in the movie, and it was pretty dry and unconvincing (imo they probably should've gotten Gemma Arterton to play this character). From an art direction standpoint, they probably could've just left Nichol have her natural blond hair for her character in the movie, as this would've been a good visual tag for her character to stand out from the rest. And for Hyborian lore nerds, they could've re-written the script to have her come from Aquilonia instead of Hyrkania, which I can't recall if Hyrkanian women had blonde or dark hair. Also despite the awesome matte-painting at the end, Hyrkania looked like an abandoned civilization as opposed to a thriving city.
Now for the main plot itself, it did feel like something out of Conan's adventures. But something felt off, probably the character of Tamara having no clue what's going on-- usually the women in Conan stories are rather knowledgeable about the sorcery they have to fight or at least why they're being chased after. I understand that the reason they rewrote most of his origin story (as far as the village getting sacked) was so they could set up the revenge scheme against Khalar Zym. But then why would they even have the narrator mention Venarium for the time skip? He originally sacked Venarium right before he left his village, so there's a continuity issue here. (I'd like to point out here that I also found the narrator's delivery to be sub-par and emotionless after the initial intro).
There was one scene where the girl was getting chased, and Conan was not far behind the rider chasing the girl--- I was yelling at the screen for Conan to just throw his sword into the rider, but alas, no impaling sword. However, Conan later strapped the villain's lackey into a catapult (reminiscent of this http://bit.ly/ng9D0W) to "deliver" a message-- and while the compositing for that was pretty bad, I felt that the gesture was pure Conan-the-Barbarian, and for that I cheered.
One last highlight of the film for me was final sword fight between Conan and Khalar Zym-- not sure how much Momoa did without doubles in this last scene, but he definitely looked good dual-wielding broadswords so fluidly.
Ending credits weren't particularly designed enough, and felt very bland for a movie like this. The other things that bothered me were certain camera shots that just felt mega-cheesy (weird zoom-ins and unsmooth panning).
Overall i found the movie enjoyable despite its shortcomings, and it definitely felt like the Conan franchise to me. However, its flaws will probably end up being the director's bane since opening weekend reports are showing that it isn't recouping all the costs to make and market the movie :(
Maybe it'll do better once it goes to DVD and Netflix insta-queue.