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    BLU-RAY REVIEW: Conan the Barbarian

    PLUS: Interview with Film Producer Fredrik Malmberg...












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    There's no doubt fans of Conan the Barbarian had something to celebrate this year as the classic pulp fiction character - originally created by Texas writer Robert E. Howard in 1932 - returned to the big screen for the first time in nearly 20 years. This new film, directed by Marcus Nispel and starring Jason Momoa in the titular role, recently hit home video in a special edition 2-disc Blu-ray 3D, Blu-ray, DVD and Digital Copy set which is sure to impress fans.

    Featuring dynamic action, spectacular special effects, and a lavish amount of world-building, Conan the Barbarian more accurately bases itself on the original source material and thus is a more accurate film than the past incarnations featuring bodybuilder extraordinaire Arnold Schwarzenegger. Thanks in part to Conan being played by Jason Momoa, best known for his TV roles in SyFy Channel's Stargate: Atlantis and HBO's Game of Thrones, this new film captures not only the look but also the mannerisms of Howard's most famous character.

    Conan the Barbarian tells an intriguing and entertaining sword and sorcery story set in the mythical Hyborian Age, where, thanks to the dark arts and witchcraft, a mask of unspeakable evil has been created in order to rule the world. However, because of the courage of various tribes throughout the land, the mask and its wielder are destroyed and the pieces of the mask are given to each of the major tribes in order to ensure no other can rebuild the mask and reign supreme.

    Skip ahead in time, viewers are introduced to the Cimmerian way of life as they find Conan's tribe battling a neighboring tribe. Conan's pregnant mother, battling with the best of them, is mortally wounded and, in proper barbarian style, Conan's father (played with brutish perfection by Ron Perlman) cuts the baby from his wife's womb and hands the screaming infant to his wife, who promptly names the baby "Conan" and dies. Thus is Conan born on the battlefield, foreshadowing the life which lies in wait for this baby who will someday be a great warrior, pirate, thief, commander, and king.

    Besides Momoa as Conan and Perlman as Conan's father, the film's cast includes Avatar's Stephen Lang as the warlord Khalar Zym, a sultry Rose McGowan as Zym's sinister daughter Marique, and a lively Nonzo Anozie as the pirate Artus among others. While no awards will be won, the acting is engaging and solid, with few overacting or cliche moments. Unfortunately, the story leaves a little something to be desired.

    Die-hard fans of writer R.E. Howard's original yarns immediately recognize a Conan story as something special; be it the way Conan engages with other characters, the way he solves problems, or the simple fact the warrior is actually less brute and more brains. That said, those looking for the definitive on-screen Conan may appreciate what screenwriters Thomas Dean Donnelly, Joshua Oppenheimer and Sean Hood were trying to do; unfortunately, most fans will be slightly disappointed. While the story is fun and action-packed, there's just something about it that screams "generic" and, as every Conan reader knows, he's really anything but.

    Thankfully, the film's video is gorgeous, the hi-def 1080p video transfer beautifully capturing in the film's original 2.40:1 aspect ratio. The colors are bright and bold (especially the visceral blood red) and the black and dark shadows are deep. The movements onscreen are all fluid and there's little issue anywhere. The 3D, while well done at times, seems really unwarranted. While I understand the desire to make the film using the latest in tech and audience appeal, to me, the 2D version of the film almost seemed easier and more relateable. That said, the DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 surround track on both versions of the film is excellent and will have you looking over your shoulder for the arrow that'll pierce your armor or the axe that'll cleave your skull. Battles and war cries fill the sound stage while dialogue is easy to hear from front and center. Dynamic, engaging, and all around fun, the audio track should impress everyone who hears it.

    As for special features, the 3D Blu-ray Set is the only release which includes these, which means fans who want to gain access to the special features have to purchase the 3D Blu-ray in order to do so. While disappointing, it may be worth it to some fans, especially since the special features include two audio commentaries; one with film director Marcus Nispel, who provides plenty of insight into the making of the film, its action, settings, and his use of the original Howard stories; the second, with actors Jason Momoa and Rose McGowan, who provide insight into the creation of the film and their roles. Other special features include a 18-minute "The Conan Legacy" featurette which shows the film's staff discussing various versions of Conan the Barbarian and how these helped inspired the creation of this film; a shorter 11-minute "Robert E. Howard: The Man Who Would Be Conan" featurete, which offers a portrait of the Texas writer and creator of Conan; a nearly 10-minute "Battle Royal: Engineering the Action" featurette, which examines the film's fight choreography and battle sequences; and a nearly 6-minute long "Staging the Fights," which examines the actual fight scenes without effects. Lastly, the film's 2-minute theatrical trailer is also included.

    While the latest iteration of Conan the Barbarian may have failed to impress hardcore critiques and live up to the exceptions of the die-hard R.E. Howard fans, it's sure to impress casual fans of the genre with its new take on classic action and adventure. Once more, the barbarian without peer has graced the big screen and attracted an audience and now, fans can take him home to grace their televisions too.

    Conan the Barbarian is available now on blu-ray 3D, Blu-ray, DVD and Digital Copy wherever fine home video is sold.



    To find out more about Conan the Barbarian, the film's production, and the future of the franchise, we caught up with film's producer, Fredrick Malmberg, to ask him a few questions.

    Figures.com: You've been a producer on a number of films, including Let Me In and Mutant Chronicles. In your opinion, what is it about the film medium that's so appealing to today's pop culture fans?

    Fredrik Malmberg (FM): I think the VFX that are available today are creating an experience that the audience can become more immersed in. Same with video games, as these new technologies emerge we can really see these becoming their own art form.
    Figures.com: What makes Conan different from other pop culture characters hitting the big screen and home video this year?

    FM: He is so uncompromising, a true anti-hero. He is politically incorrect, yet stands for high moral values. He is a man's man—no spandex for him!
    Figures.com: What makes this new Conan the Barbarian movie different from the previous movies? Which is your favorite Conan film and why?

    FM: It is unfair to compare, as the first is such an iconic film. However this updates and delivers an experience for a modern audience, and re-imagining the Robert E. Howard material resulted a completely different movie than the original Conan the Barbarian. Conan the Destroyer is definitely the weakest of the films.
    Figures.com: The character Conan has been around for almost 80 years. Why do you think he's still popular with fans today? What is it about Conan the Barbarian that keeps fans coming back for more?

    FM: It's adventure. Legendary fights. Larger-than-life heroic action. Topless women. What's not to love and keep you coming back for more?
    Figures.com: Jason Momoa looked the part of Conan to near perfection. Tell us your thoughts on the actor and his portrayal of the titular character.

    FM: I'm a big fan of Jason and I think he fits Howard's description of Conan perfectly. I found that he acts best when he is just himself, but he is also incredibly versatile and did an amazing job with all the fighting and stunts.
    Figures.com: Marcus Nispel has experience with films in this genre, having directed 2007's Pathfinder. Tell us your thoughts on Nispel's vision of the Hyborian Age and his take on Conan.

    FM: This is a dark age, and Marcus was so persistent in pursuing us to make this film. He is a huge fan of Conan, and his vision really solidified and created a beautiful and epic Hyboria that is exactly the direction we were going for.
    Figures.com: This year's Conan the Barbarian, which was written by Thomas Dean Donnelly and Joshua Oppenheimer and later re-written by Sean Hood, was criticized by some die-hard Robert E Howard fans, who compared the film to the 1970s Marvel comic books instead of the original RE Howard pulp tales. Of course, there were other die-hard Howard fans who said this new Conan film was by far the most Howard of any to hit the big screen. What would you say to the RE Howard fans out there - both those who wanted something more and those who loved this new version of their favorite barbarian?

    FM: Everyone has their own vision of a written hero, and every artist will have their own interpretation, whether comic book, video game, or film. This is an enjoyable film and I feel that Jason portrays the character just fine.
    Figures.com: What's next for you? We've seen news you're looking to bring another RE Howard story - "The Vultures of Wahpeton" - to the screen. Can you tell us about this?

    FM: We are currently developing Vultures, as well as characters Dark Agnes and Kull of Atlantis. Being pulp characters, it is a matter of creating stories that are true to the source materials but resonate with today's audiences
    Figures.com: What's next for Conan? 2011's Conan the Barbarian was the planned springboard for a new film franchise and it's known both Dirk Blackman and Sean Hood have worked on scripts for a Conan sequel. Is there any chance we'll see another Conan films in the near future, even with this film's lackluster box office performance? Is it possible Conan could instead take to the small screen and see life as a TV series similar to Game of Thrones or Spartacus?

    FM: I am sure that there will be more Conan films, and television is equally interesting. Given the large cannon of Conan stories and the tremendous amount of quality television right now it would be worth exploring, as Conan has proved to be a favorite hero since the '30s.

    Special "thank you" to Mr. Malmberg for taking the time to answer our questions; we look forward to seeing more Conan on the big screen (or small screen) soon!

    - Jess C. Horsley


    Attached Thumbnails Attached Thumbnails BLU-RAY REVIEW: Conan the Barbarian-conan.jpg  
    "Until next time...have FUN with your figures!!"

    Jess C. Horsley

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