When the first announcement was made that a new Conan the Barbarian film was in the works, it was the first “reboot” announcement that didn’t entirely make me cringe. As one of the first comic books I ever read as a child, the character of Conan the Barbarian has always held a special place in my imagination. Not quite mainstream yet not quite overlooked, Conan has remained a lasting cultural icon among fans of both the comics and the classic Arnold Schwarzenegger film released in 1982.
Directed by Marcus Nispel and starring Jason Momoa in the lead, the remake of Conan the Barbarian is, unfortunately, a relatively flat action film that broke no new ground and had no real visual style to it. That is, of course, unless you find gratuitous amounts of bloodletting to be a “visual style.” Don’t get me wrong, that’s not to say that the gore isn’t appreciated. In fact, the violence and brutality is much more on par with Robert E. Howard’s original vision for the character and we’re more than grateful that the film went with an R rating to better tell the barbarian’s story. Unfortunately, the movie falters by having such a weak storyline filled with way too many one-dimensional characters in a film that was clearly built as a 3D spectacle. As an homage to the classic sword-and-sorcery motion pictures of the 1980s, the film does a commendable job, but it seems as though the film wanted to be something more than just a cliché without actually trying very hard to do so. There’s a point where a take-it-as-it-is action film, camp value and all, stops being enjoyable the moment it attempts to take itself too seriously. This is the Achilles heel that many of the drawbacks to Conan the Barbarian seem to stem from.
However, despite the shortcomings in regards to the actual storytelling, Conan the Barbarian is actually an amazing looking film in terms of visual quality.
Presented in an AVC encoded 1080p/MVC transfer at a 2.40:1 aspect ratio, Conan the Barbarian is one of the more impressive-looking transfers we’ve seen in a while. A huge bonus for the Blu-ray was that the filmmakers took advantage of filming some truly beautiful landscapes and locations for the film and all of these shots are quite impressive in high-definition. The transfer is super clean, allowing for razor-sharp visuals that highlight both the scenery and actors and provide rich, inky blacks for contrast. Most of the film is washed in relatively muted colors and tones yet they appear quite vibrant in the transfer. Of course, the most vibrant colors you’ll see in the film are the bright, rich reds of the blood being drawn by Conan and his enemies. The transfer is certainly the most commendable aspect of this Blu-ray with absolutely no compression artifacts or noise to speak of.
The 1080p/MVC encoding also allows for the 3D version of the film to fit on the same disc as the 2D version but many may wish to stick solely with viewing the 2D. Like most 3D films released in theaters, the 3D effects were added in post-production rather than being filmed using 3D cameras. Unless the film is animated, this often leads to a poor translation and lets the 3D go to waste on both the big screen and in the living room and Conan the Barbarian is no exception. That’s not to say that some scenes don’t deliver an impressive effect or two, but if a film is going to claim to be in 3D from start to finish, the audience needs to be immersed in the illusion for much longer than the duration of a flying dagger or exploding debris shot on the screen.
Even with our many gripes about the film, the sound components of Conan the Barbarian are a whole different story. The audio on the Blu-ray is a lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 mix that captures the ambient noises and battle cries perfectly. The clashing of metal swords and thumping of flesh being punched is captured in amazing detail and just explodes during the battle scenes. When we’re shown the vast landscapes that were mentioned earlier, the faint rustling of grass and sounds of the gentle breeze immerses the viewer directly into the scenes. In fact, the film does a fantastic job at creating an immersive audible for the majority of the film on both front and rear channels. The sound design fills your living room with dialogue, ambient background noise and/or the score of Tyler Bates at all times and is easily one of the greatest achievements on the Blu-ray.
The Extras included on the Blu-ray, while relatively light in content, are really all one needs for this particular film.
• Audio Commentary With Director Marcus Nispel.
• Audio Commentary With Actors Jason Momoa and Rose McGowan
• The Conan Legacy (18:01)
• Robert E. Howard: The Man Who Would Be Conan (11:24)
• Battle Royal: Engineering the Action (9:55)
• Staging the Fights (5:47)
• Theatrical Trailer (2:16)
Conan the Barbarian works for those with a lust for blood and a desire for brutal action at the hands of Jason Momoa and is, essentially, a fairy tale revenge story that will please audiences at a very, very basic level. However, like we mentioned earlier, the film does tend to take itself too seriously at times, which tends to significantly reduce the number of redeemable qualities beyond the action elements. For true Conan fans and those who appreciate gory, swordsplay action, the Conan the Barbarian Blu-ray is a must-see just for the sake of admiring how spectacular this guilty pleasure looks in high definition.