Posted by: C.E. Chambers | August 26, 2011

Conan the Barbarian 2011 (Film Review)

(theatrical release poster)

By C.E. Chambers  Posted August 26, 2011

Blood and guts, wizards and witches, sorcery, implausible legends and myths…and now naked breasts.  Conan’s sweaty, bare chest is one of this antediluvian character’s major trademarks but the film also includes young, nubile women who are naked from the waist up.

I’m a fan of Arnold Schwarzenegger but not necessarily of Conan the Barbarian and company.  However, I was so impressed with Jason Momoa’s appearance recently on Jay Leno that I would have been willing to pay the price of a theater ticket just to watch him on a TV talk show again, which influenced me to see this film.

Momoa (a model and TV actor: “Baywatch,” “Stargate: Atlantis,” HBO’s “Game of Thrones”) is, according to a Hawaiian newspaper, 6’4″ tall.  He’s half-Hawaiian, German, Irish, and Native American, and radiates great good humor, self-deprecating charm and gut-busting personal anecdotes.

Honolulu’s Star Advertiser quoted him as saying that he was accepted for the TV role in “Game of Thrones” because he gave a haka (Polynesian war chant) to “two small haole ladies” who were HBO producers.  (“Haole” means “white person” in Hawaiian.)

Momoa warned the ladies first: ‘“Don’t be scared, I am not going to kill you,’ and they were just smiling…And I went off.’”  Afterwards, as the journalist related, “people in other offices thought something was wrong, but his intensity sealed the deal for Momoa.”

Momoa has two children by actress Lisa Monet (“The Cosby Show”), and one is a son named Nakoa-Wolf Manakauapo Namakaeha Momoa.  “Nakoa” means “Warrior” in Hawaiian (read about Harry Nakoa in  “Silent Thunder: A Hawaiian Horse Whisperer”).  “Mana” means “strength’ or “spirit,” “Kaua” is “rain,” and “Po” is “dark.”  (The child was born on an unusually inclement night in California.)

For his role as a barbarian, Jason Momoa studied the movements and behavior of lions.  (Interestingly, as Conan, he sometimes lowers his head and stares up menacingly at his opponents in the same way that Andy Serkis does, who studied chimpanzees before playing Caesar in “Rise of the Planet of the Apes.”)  Conan is a vengeance-seeking brute who tears off chunks of food like an animal and who experiences great satisfaction when he rotates his sword after embedding it in an enemy’s warm body.  Regarding the women in his life, he’s only known “harlots.”

Conan was born on the continent of Hyboria where a race of people seeking the secrets of resurrection regularly committed “unspeakable evil” and only the barbarian tribes were left to fight them. Years before in Cimmeria, Conan’s warrior mother had been fatally wounded during battle and his father (Ron Perlman) had obliged her dying wish to see her unborn child (Conan) by cutting the boy from her womb so she could briefly cradle him in her arms.

A few years later, a vicious war lord named Khalar Zym (Stephen Lang) attacks Cimmeria looking for a bone shard to complete a mask that will revive his dead wife (a much-feared sorcerer), and Conan, a young boy, finds himself in a horrific Catch-22 situation that involves his father.  He wanders the world as a pickpocket until a pirate (Nonzo Anozie) takes pity on him.  Conan’s only desire is to find the heartless war lord and his evil-to-the-max daughter, Marique, a formidable witch (very effectively played by Rose McGowan).

During Conan’s search, he and the pirate chance upon a slave colony and set people free from their cruel masters.  (Young, half-naked women in cages are the major focus, and the large celebration afterwards, in keeping with Hollywood tradition, doesn’t contain a female over the age of twenty-five).  Conan learns the whereabouts of his nemesis and, hot on his trail, encounters a young nun (Rachel Nichols) from a remote, thousand-year-old monastery.

Since Khalar Zym and his creepy daughter need “pure blood” as part of the mask-reviving ritual, Conan’s life becomes intertwined with the nun’s (or “monk,” as she calls herself) whose ancestors created the mask.

The scenes with actor Ron Perlman teaching the young Conan (Leo Howard) how to have respect for the sword he’s making are infused with great dignity and surprisingly memorable.  Stephen Lang’s performance as the war lord is taut and tight and his facial expressions during sword fights are full of unholy glee and totally in keeping with his character.

Rachel Nichols who plays the nun is a former model and has two major degrees from Columbia University.  She was interviewed by VidJin and divulged information about her sex scene with Momoa: “The boobs are not mine,” she said.  (Ah, the wonders of digital wizardry.)

Nonzo Anozie and Rose McGowan give strong performances.  Anozie has an almost effortless charm; McGowan doesn’t overact as a power-hungry, bloodthirsty witch and sometimes her facial expressions are as effective as words.

As for Jason Momoa:  My seatmate is a fan of action films, and although some critics are giving a thumbs down to this reincarnation of the Conan character, he enjoyed it.  We both found it easy to became caught up in Momoa’s screen presence — although about halfway through the film I had reached my saturation level for explicit violence – and the large screen seems tailor-made for the actor.  If he’s ever allowed to play someone even remotely connected to his real-life persona, his real-life love interest, Lisa Bonet, will need to learn how to wield a sword in order to fight off his admirers.

NOTE:  “Conan the Barbarian” (2011) is based on the character from Robert E. Howard’s books, and Morgan Freeman narrates the film.

(Rated R: Pervasive violence, bloody sword fights, and battle mayhem; torture; man’s nose is cut off; character sticks his finger in man’s swampy nose area; limbs cut off; bad ass eels; women’s naked breasts; hint of incestual desire; sex scene w/naked man and naked woman)

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