I want to start this review by saying the first Conan movie with Arnie, despite its flaws, will always have a special place in my heart. I was 11 years old when it came out, I was the perfect age, full of innocence and impressionable. I was just getting into Heavy Metal and was starting to tinker with Dungeons and Dragons, the scene was set. The impression that movie made on me with my introduction to swords and sorcery has stayed with me my entire life. I wonder how many skulls with swords and daggers I have doodled over the years and drawings of Conan I have sketched in various warrior poses.
It was only a few months later that I was fully immersed in the comics, the monthly color comics, the bloody 'Savage Sword of Conan' and the pulp writings of one Robert E. Howard. Crank the MAIDEN and PREIST and raise your swords on high!
Right at the height of my friends and my enthusiasm the second Conan movie came out. Imagine our anticipation as the greatest barbarian hero ever was going to be on the large screen for a follow-up to the original movie. Holy shit this was going to be epic.
Fail. Mitra and Ishtar save us from this Hollywood disaster. The movie strayed even further from Howard's vision than the first movie. We allowed a certain amount of artistic license for the first movie, we had to. The awesomeness of the barbaric fury and the gore and the naked women all helped dull the fact that Hollywood had distorted several of Howards stories and the Conan character himself, to concoct their "original" story for the big screen. Even at that, the second movie was shit. It was almost a cartoon. Hell, it became a cartoon a few years later using that same formula and then a cartoonish live action tv show that, again, was so far from the original writings that it was really only a borrowed name.
So we waited. And waited...Nothing, no new Conan anything. The comics were gone, it was all gone.
A few years later Dark Horse started doing some Conan stuff but for me it didn't capture what the Marvel comics had even though they had even become ridiculous by the end. Here and there you would hear tales of a new Conan movie but nothing ever came about. I had all but given up and lost track of anything related to a new Conan movie. About once a year I would re-read one of the old paperbacks and relive my youth a bit. And then there it was...One day out of the blue the deep announcer voice caught my attention and I was drawn to the tv screen to see a trailer for...CONAN the BARBARIAN!
Crom strike me as a mad man! Something is amiss! To the interweb I charged searching for answers to the questions that danced in my head like troupe of court yard jesters. And there I found what I was looking for...indeed there was a new Conan movie afoot.
So as the weeks went by the worry that Hollywood was really going to screw this up was the topic of many a conversation. But just as I was about to really commit to debunking the movie a new trailer was released on the internet. One that showed a young Cimmerian decapitating a scouting party of Picts and it was filled with brains and gore a plenty! By Crom's grey beard maybe there was a chance that this movie could amount to something.
And then I stumbled across a copy of the paperback book written by Michael Stackpole from the screen play of the movie. Although his writing style vastly differed from Howards he had obviously done his homework and had written a book that honored the writings of REH rather than desecrated them as the book and screenplay of Arnie's Conan did.
So now it was down to actually seeing the movie. By now we have seen plenty sword and sorcery special affects laden output from every movie studio with over the top epics like 'The Scorpion King', 'The Mummy', 'the Prince of Persia', to the 'Lord of the Rings'. It's not a new movie genre such as it was when Arnold took to slashing and camel punching. In that sense the new Conan movie was missing the excitement of the unknown.
Another place where the deck was really stacked against this movie was there was so much to compare it to. Again, with the original movie it was fresh and new, you had the books and the comics, that was it. Now, as I mentioned in the previous paragraph there is a whole genre of movie to compare it to as well as the first two Conan movies and on top of that the books, the comics, the cartoon, the tv show, etc, etc....In fairness I will only compare it to the previous Conan movies and the Conan books by REH as they really are the foundation of this empire.
If your knowledge and understanding of the Conan character starts and stops with Arnold you will not like this movie. If you have a background in the pages so skillfully crafted by REH you will understand how Jason's Conan is a far truer portrayal of Conan. His appearance is more accurate (could have done with less mousse in the hair), his cunning and slyness are depicted almost perfectly and his tactical prowess is far better reflected in this movie than compared to Arnie's oafish goon. Jason's Conan is intelligent and crafty, he has a dark side as we know our Cimmerian hero did too. Howard wrote that Conan had reflexes like a cat and our new barbarian hero displays that as well. In every way the new Conan character is far superior to the old.
The story moves fast, like a comic book. Maybe that was the intent. Most importantly though, it honors the writings of Howard far more than original movies did. The only thing Hollywood really seemed to change was Conan's youth, we know Conan stayed in his village into his teens, but, like the first movie, we see his village decimated by a crazed warlord. The first movie introduced characters out of order based on the original stories and took the liberty to also change the name of locations such as the 'Tower of the Serpent'; it was supposed to be the 'Tower of the Elephant'. Mitra! I do recall that in the new movie they referred to Zamora – the city of thieves as someplace else entirely. The plot is a basic revenge story and, although original to this cinematic adventure, could have fit anywhere into Conan's illustrious career.
So in portrayal of the Conan character, in the details of the Hyborean world and in the overall probability of the plot the new movie conquers all leaving the old movies writhing in pools of their own gore.
In excitement and overall epicness the original remains on the thrown, ruling over the kingdom of Hollywood with a heavy brow.
I saw it twice in the opening weekend and am already looking forward to the DVD and hopefully a follow-up movie as well.
All hail the Usurper!