New 'Conan' won't bore you

August 19, 2011 

Conan the Barbarian

Upfront. The new Conan the Barbarian, Jason Momoa is a better actor than Arnold Schwarzenegger. It's a relative statement. He's still terrible. What Momoa doesn't have is Schwarzenegger's charisma.

Not even close.

A long, personal story to begin. In 1982 when the original Conan the Barbarian was released, Arnold Schwarzenegger was the man. No one did larger than life quite like Schwarzenegger. A terrible actor on his best day, Schwarzenegger didn't need dialogue to make his point. Great facial expressions, a god-like body and dominating presence did the job.

You believed Arnold could rip you in half with his bare hands. That belief helped him become an American action idol.

By the late 1980s, Schwarzenegger had done The Terminator and Predator, and he was a superstar. I did the media coordination and public relations for a physical fitness promotion that brought Arnold to the Tri-Cities in 1992.

This was a couple of months after the release of Terminator 2: Judgement Day.

Over two days, I spent quite a bit of time with the man. He's massive. In 1992, the 6'4" Schwarzenegger looked like he weighed something like 250 pounds. I could hide behind him. Turned sideways or facing you, if I stood behind Schwarzenegger, you would not see me.

The guy not only has a commanding presence, he is just plain huge.

I introduced him to several groups of kids and adults at the event, and was the master of ceremonies for a ceremony honoring the participants the following day. Schwarzenegger, who was the head of the President's Council on Physical Fitness, handed me a proclamation of some sort from then President George H.W. Bush and we shook hands.

My hand disappeared in his.

The crowds and the media in the Tri-Cities loved him. Standing ovations followed us everywhere. That was how audiences responded to Schwarzenegger through the 1980s and 90s. Up until Schwarzenegger quit making movies to do the political thing as governor of California, he was one of the most popular actors of all time.

As charismatic as Schwarzenegger is, his people skills - at least according to my experience - are lacking. I went everywhere with him for two days and the man didn't know I was alive. The only time Schwarzenegger appeared to be warm at all is when he was in front of an audience. And he was positively electric when speaking to the media.

I found that out when introducing him to Tri-City media.

During the event Schwarzenegger's focus was totally on himself. The promotion wasn't very organized, so there was a lot of free time. If he said it once, he said it 10,000 times, "Ver do I goh nexdt? Don't vaste my time."

That statement is as impressive as his size. There are only so many hours in a day, in a week, in a month, in a lifetime. Schwarzenegger didn't want to "vaste" even one of them. It's hard not to admire someone that focused.

That's why - even after nearly a decade of not making movies - Arnold is still a superstar and Jason Momoa will not likely come close to reaching that status. It is also why he doesn't dominate the new Conan the Barbarian like Schwarzenegger did his.

The new version has elements similar to the original but is not - I am told - exact. Truthfully, I haven't seen Schwarzenegger's film since it opened in 1982. Almost 30 years leaves the memory fuzzy, and I don't remember a thing about it except Schwarzenegger's overwhelming presence and James Earl Jones doing the villain.

Here's the new version. Conan is out to kill a Khalar Zym who wants to conquer the world and become a god. The film opens with Zym invading Conan's village while he is a boy. His father is the village leader and a great warrior. Zym chains his father up to a pot of molten metal ready to tip onto his head. Conan is on the other end of the chain.

When he tires and can no longer hold the pot upright, his father dies.

After Zym finishes crushing the village, and his father is dead, the boy vows revenge. Years later as a grown man, Conan goes after him. Zym has a mask that will make him all powerful once he finds a woman who has the pure blood of a long deceased race. He and his pathological and psychic daughter find her at the same time Conan finds them.

That's the basics.

Written by three guys who've done films you've never heard of, and directed by Marcus Nispel (the latest Friday the 13th and Pathfinder) the film is complex and character laden. However, it is not rocket science.

Momoa - as mentioned earlier - is probably a better actor than the Governator. He actually delivers his lines rather than grunting them. Momoa (TV's Stargate: Atlantis) is also musclebound and buff. At 6'4", he is close to Schwarzenegger's size.

As an actor, however, he's just there. In this movie, Momoa is the piece on the chess board that all the action revolves around. Same thing with his supporting cast. The characters plod through the movie, action happens to them, they live or die and you're entertained.

As mentioned earlier - not rocket science.

Positives outnumber the negatives. Nispel keeps his movie moving. He plows through the plot with bloody, violent scene after bloody, violent scene. There's a smattering of humor and some decent special effects.

You will not be bored.

The negative - it's unnecessarily gory. The R-rating is going to limit the box office take. Kids love this stuff and those under 17 won't be able to attend without their parents. The good news, most of their parents grew up with the original so there may be a draw.

And we get to see Conan in 3D. Not very good 3D but it's still 3D.

Bad 3D and all, Conan the Barbarian is worth the investment of time and money. It will be a hit.

The ending also has an unfinished flavor to it. Momoa - like his predecessor - will more than likely be recast as Conan in a sequel. To paraphrase one of Schwarzenegger's most famous quotes - he'll be back.

Rated R for extreme violence, nudity. It opens Friday, August 19 at the Carmike 12 and the Fairchild Cinemas 12.

Mr. Movie rating: 4 stars

5 stars / 4 1/2 stars: Must see on the big screen
4 stars / 3 1/2 stars: Good film, see it if it's your type of movie.
3 stars / 2 1/2 stars: Wait until it comes out on DVD.
2 stars / 1 star: Don't bother.
0 stars: Speaks for itself

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