DVD Review: Conan the Barbarian (2011)

Conan the Barbarian DVD boxSTUDIO: Lionsgate | DIRECTOR: Marcus Nispel | CAST: Jason Momoa, Stephen Lang, Rose McGowan, Rachel Nichols, Ron Perlman
BLU-RAY & DVD RELEASE DATE: 11/22/2011 | PRICE: DVD $29.95, Blu-ray $37.99, Blu-ray 3D/Blu-ray/DVD Combo $39.99
BONUSES: commentaries, featurettes
SPECS: R | 113 min. | Action adventure fantasy | 2.35:1 widescreen | Dolby Digital 5.1/DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 | English and Spanish subtitles

RATINGS (out of 5 dishes): Movie | Audio | Video | Overall

Though Conan the Barbarian is truer to the concept of “Conan” as created by fantasy writer Robert E. Howard in 1932 than any other film or TV adaptation we’ve seen, the film still plays like plenty of sword-and-sorcery warrior fantasy films released over the past decade. It’s biggest selling point is, well, that it carries the familiar moniker of Conan the Barbarian.

Conan the Barbarian movie scene

Jason Momoa prepares to make a point in Conan the Barbarian.

In the movie, as in Howard’s pulp novels, Conan is born on the battlefield in the fictional “Hyborian Age,” an ancient time supposedly set after the destruction of Atlantis. The boy quickly grows into a muscled, wild-haired barbarian (played by a brawny Jason Momoa of HBO’s Game of Thrones, who certainly looks right for the part). He’s lethal with a sword, nasty with his humor and ambitious in his goals — and right now, he’s hell-bent on avenging the death of his father (Ron Perlman (TV’s Sons of Anarchy) at the hands of the villainous Khalar Zym (Stephen Lang, Avatar).

Warlord Zym and his sorceress daughter Marique (Rose McGowan, Grindhouse: Planet Terror) are after the pieces of a mystical mask that will unleash all sorts of evil powers and what they need is the pure blood of beautiful Tamara (Rachel Nichols, Star Trek) to make it all work. After slaying his way through a bunch of baddies, Conan eventually hooks up with Tamara, leading to his ultimate confrontation with the Zym family.

Director Marcus Nispel (Friday the 13th) brings some style to the director’s chair for Conan, and he delivers good-looking entertainment for the first hour, with Conan’s history and head-lopping barbarism pacing out nicely. Before an over-reliance on CGI work kicks in for the final half, there’s actually a lot of nice stuff going on.

The hand-to-hand combats are lively and well-edited — and even many of the computerized elements are winners. In fact, battles with computerized sand warriors who rise out of the ground and a tentacled water monster are reminiscent of the beloved stop-motion creations that Ray Harryhausen (Jason and the Argonauts) mounted for these kinds of movies more than a half-century ago. By that, we mean the new scenes have a little weight to them and play like they came from an artist’s hand and not just a computer program.

Performance-wise, not surprisingly, the bad guys are the ones who have the most fun, particularly Stephen Lang , who stalks and snarls with command and malice. Rose McGowan  is a bit too silly at times. The dialog given to her young sorceress is admittedly quite corny. But she looks so cool with her semi-bold skull and Freddy Kruger-ish finger talons that we can forgive her.

Supplemental materials on the DVD pay the proper respect to Conan’s rich history via a pair of featurettes, one on the history of the Conan franchise (from pulp novels to Marvel Comics to, of course, Arnold!) and another focusing on Conan creator Howard. The cast and filmmakers take part in both, along with various knowledgeable commentators.

The other two DVD featurettes are standard pieces that focus on the film’s action and fight sequences.


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About Laurence

Founder and editor Laurence Lerman saw Alfred Hitchcock’s North by Northwest when he was 13 years old and that’s all it took. He has been writing about film and video for more than a quarter of a century for magazines, anthologies, websites and most recently, Video Business magazine, where he served as the Reviews Editor for 15 years.