Conan the Barbarian 3D (2011) Review

Five minutes of exposition is too much for Conan, a film so obsessed with stabbing people in various ways it doesn’t stop to realize that something needs to drive this violent revenge tale. It opens on action, transitions into action, action moves into action, and action moves into action which then turns into more action.

Conan becomes laughably pathetic with its timing. You could set a stopwatch to the impending appearance of conflict, the longest stretch without a death around 10 minutes. Even without a dead body, Conan is still poking and prodding people, the villains are stabbing some innocent females, and somewhere in the background there’s probably someone jumping off a roof to get out of this movie.

There’s no reprieve from the ineptness, Conan (Jason Momoa) picking up side characters that are dropped as quickly as they’re introduced, commanding women to do his bidding, and then fighting someone else. The whole thing comes across as a sexist male fantasy, women prancing around topless, sitting on the sides while they await rescue, and their name becomes nothing more than, “woman.” How quaint.

This remake/reboot does have a small energetic spark coming from a younger Conan (Leo Howard), providing more determination and fierceness than his elder self. He doesn’t talk either, another bonus, and even if he’s stuck in the same action rut, there’s more character coming from his eerily angry eyes than anything else in this movie.

All of the money and work that goes into a production like this is tossed to the wayside, the lavish sets rarely interesting unless they’re being broken in a brawl. Conan is proud of its fantasy exteriors, resting the computer generated camera on castles while the audience soaks it in, or wishes they cared.

By the time the film tries anything unique, the effort is lost. Part of the finale has the two leads brawling on a falling sacrificial wheel, visually striking as well as fun to watch. Credit is probably due for the film letting its hero punch somebody in the face with a decapitated head too, but it’s too easy to come away from this one feeling dirty.

Movie ★★☆☆☆ 

If nothing else, the film is a looker, Lionsgate’s intense AVC encode capturing a super sharp film stock in its prime. Extensive panoramas of landscapes are awe-inspiring, dripping with finely rendered and resolved details. Grassy plains are welcomed en masse.

Close-ups exist on equal footing, the intensity of pre-battle stare downs replicating an immense level of high-fidelity detail worth getting excited over. Fur coverings are exceptionally crisp, and Ron Pearlman wins the best beard award assuming one was given out. If not, there should be, and this disc stands as a testament to its power.

Black levels keep a deep, rich layer of dimensionality in the image, with minor instances of black crush. That’s usually left to the effects scenes within the interiors. There are no moments where they fade or lose their touch; it’s keeping in line with the intensity of the movie. It needs a vicious contrast to accentuate the bulky good vs. evil story.

What’s left is the color palette, shoved into two distinct groups. Cooler nighttime arenas are bathed in blues, interiors lit by flame and warmth. What’s surprising then is saturation, the typical look almost to the point of being annoying, but the oranges spring to life with a brightness that is unexpected. For something about an oppressed populace, dim browns and grays might have sufficed, but there’s some zest featured here.

Elsewhere, the 3D crumbles. Wholly artificial and lacking the depth needed to sell the vast expanses of land, the flatness of it all is quite alarming. Conan’s 3D highlight is a superficial map and its ember-filled title screen. Nothing that past that some close.

So drab is this presentation, there are times when the actual 3D is in question. Are the glasses working? Was the 3D version (shared on the same disc with the 2D) selected? Did it glitch? The handful of shots where it delivers anything of merit are so brief, there is no reason to splurge to see the film through tinted lenses.

2D-Video ★★★★★ 

3D-Video ★★☆☆☆ 

It’s too easy to write off Conan as a series of clanging swords, although there’s plenty of those to go around. Oh so many of those.

The real thrust of this DTS-HD mix comes when it does something different, as if those scenes are desperate to stand out. Arrows pan around the surrounds when fired, rocks smash through a town during a raid, and there’s a carriage flip that jams itself into the subwoofer and barely lets go.

Specialties are what separate this brawler from the rest, although no credit should be taken away from the battlefields. Even if its repetitious, there’s a clear focus on keeping things active and putting the stereos to use as often as the surrounds.

Regardless, it’s hard not to appreciate the fight against the magical sand people, popping up from the ground and sand scatters to hit each channel on command. Part of the finale includes an earthquake and booming, masculine stand-off where stomping feet suddenly take on a life of their own in the low-end. All of this is balanced beautifully, accentuating moments where drama hits its peak and keeping it all in line with the handful of dialogue driven scenes.

Audio ★★★★★ 

The 2D version reviewed here has nothing in terms of extras beyond trailers. If you’re willing to pony up for 3D, there’s a handful of featurettes and dueling commentaries. This is not a positive trend.

Extras ☆☆☆☆☆