Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Movies to Game By: Review of Conan the Barbarian

Another review for Movies to Game By. This time it's the latest telling of 'Conan the Barbarian', from 2011.

This movie got slammed by critics.  Rotten Tomatoes has critics at 23% and audience at 33%.  
Not a good sign. 
The original, 30 years ago, scores 75% and 66%, which brings up some interesting comparisons. 

For me, I enjoyed the movie.  I don't think a movie like 'Conan' is going to be general-audience.  I certainly can't picture my mother watching it.... or my sister, either of them- ok probably not even my father.. I'm now wondering if I am adopted. At any rate, I suspect that there are large segments of the population that would be adverse to this movie on genre alone, although the fact that audience rates the original twice as favorably makes me wonder if nostalgia has an influence. 

So, on to the movie: 

The cast is good.  Jason Momoa makes a convincing Conan, although there is a scene where he's asked his name and my MST3K trained brain replied "Drogo". Similarly, Ron Perlman makes a good barbarian father, but when he claims young Conan as his son, I did have a "I thought Jacks was your son?" moment. 

All that aside, the movie creates a very good atmosphere.  I didn't see it in 3D, but even in 2D the movie is rich with beautiful landscapes.  Snow covered forest, mountain forests, desert ruins, tropical coast, and more: lots of gorgeous settings.  That's one thing this movie has over the original: the setting feels more like an epic, while the original has that "Spaghetti Fantasy" feel to the setting, so common from the 1980's. 

There is one moment of unforgivable cheese that is just jarring.  A severed head falls to the ground, rolls, and suddenly the eyes open as if it is surprised.  Who let the director of "Tales from the Crypt" on the set? Someone needs to be kicked. Aside from that moment the rest was fairly high-road. 

The story is simple: one man's quest for revenge. He's very single-minded about it, even putting the heroine at risk for his pursuit. I'm guessing that lost a large part of the audience support.  A modern audience won't tolerate a hero that isn't selfless... he does come around a bit at the end though- but I won't give too much of a spoiler as to how.. it is a bit subtle and I think a lot of the audience probably missed it. There is also an undertone of incest and you're going to get some repulsion from that as well. 

The fight scenes are well done, special effects are good, and gore-level not over the top. 

This movie has some good gaming moments.  It makes me want to pick up some of the excellent 15mm Copplestone barbarians:

I can see two good table-top applications right away: 

The opening flight & fight scene would make a good con-style game: each player controlling a barbarian, with egg in his mouth, that must run an obstacle course of fallen trees, rocks, fend off non-lethal attacks from fellow barbarians and lethal attacks of the enemy tribe, with each challenge having a difficulty level.  A player that fails a challenge would have a difficult saving throw for the egg, if succeeding at the challenge an easy saving throw for the egg: a player could chose to add modifiers from a pool of luck that he starts with from the beginning. First to make it safely back to the village with the egg in one piece wins.

The desert ruin scene.  This has gaming written all over it. Great for tabletop and RPG both. The sand-elemental people are very fragile: hit them and they collapse back into sand, but they're also deadly: they can do damage and they pop back up somewhere else.  Making minis for these would be pretty easy. The Mantic ghouls, painted like sand would be ideal, and easy.  This would make a good solo-minis game as well. Each turn d3 sand elementals will appear.  To find their location, select the target hero, roll a direction scatter die and a d6 to find the direction and distance of the elemental's location.  To defeat the challenge, the hero must drive off the controlling sorceress, but getting there alive won't be possible if he ignores the elementals.  To make it more difficult, he also has to protect the woman he is with.  For an even greater challenge, if a 1 is rolled for the number of sand elementals, then there will also be an additional elemental appearing near the woman the hero is trying to defend: roll for distance and scatter in the same way as the others, except the elemental's location is based on her location.  

Speaking of the sorceress, Rose McGowen made a good & creepy one...
Would have made a great villain on 'Farscape' or maybe a Sith Lord. 

The rating system I use is based on old D&D armor class: the easier it is to hit, the better! So AC 10 is a winner, AC 0 is so hard to hit that you're likely to have no fun at all. 

I give this move an Armor Class of 6.  You get +1 to hit if you really enjoy visual atmosphere.  I don't think it's nearly as bad as critics have said and I think the polling audience is likely not the intended audience, or they were just expecting too much. There are certainly a lot better fantasy movies out there... this isn't Lord of the Rings by any stretch, but it's easily enjoyable. It also give a lot of ideas and inspiration for table-top and RPG gaming. I'd recommend it.


Chris said...

I enjoyed this movie as well, but as far as the gore level goes at one point a guy falls from a horse, hits his head, and I swear I actually got some on me. I know blood geysers were intentional in this film, but I kept waiting for someone to get punched by Conan and yell "Aigghh! You punched out all of my blood!". With that being said though I didn't find it off putting, I thought it was cool.

Brummie said...

Cheers for the review I might actual watch this at somepoint. Its on my list of things to catch up on from 2011

Laughing Ferret said...

Thanks for the feedback!

Was the same for me Brummie: it was on my list to see in the theater when it was out, but never found the time.

Chris: I think my standard for gore was adjusted after 300. There is certainly many moments of it here, but compared to a lot of movies it didn't strike me as overdone- seemed about right to me too.

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