Sunday, December 11, 2011
Conan Versus Conan!
Having just watched the new 2011 Conan movie a few times, and having seen the classic Milius-Schwarzenegger 1982 version many times over, I want to play a bit by comparing some similar aspects of both movies.
Best Director - I give the title to John Milius who brought his own specific worldview to Conan and gave it his distinctive stamp. Marcus Nispil is dandy, but seems less committed to a particular attitude or thesis. That ultimately hurts the thrust of the movie especially in the end.
Best Score - Basil Poledouris created one of the greatest scores in film history for the 1982 movie, and so the modern flick with music by Tyler Bates was not really in a contest. There's not a doubt that the late great Polodouris wins.
Best Hyboria - I give the nod to the classic 1981 version on this. The Spanish countryside which served for most of the region was resplendent and offered up some fantastic vistas. Bulgaria which served for the 2011 version gave us some fantastically weird sets, but overall it lacked the sense of scale.
Best Witch - In the 1982 Conan we meet a were-woman/sorceress played by Cassandra Gava who is on screen briefly but memorably before she flies off cackling as a bolt of fire. In the 2011 rendition we have Marique a major character played by Rose McGowan who steals many scenes throughout the flick so I have to give the nod to Rose.
Best Sidekick - This is a tough choice. Gerry Lopez as Subotai is charming, but he sadly is overshadowed by Nonso Anozie who is resplendent as Artus. Anozie is a better actor. This one is close.
Best Funny Sidekick - Mako was totally memorable as The Wizard in 1982 and Said Taghmoui as the useless theif Ela-Shan was totally forgettable in 2011. That's the big difference with Mako utterly dominating this category.
Best Father - William Smith is one of my all-time favorite actors, but then so is Ron Perlman. Smith in the 1982 is on screen very briefly, but lingers throughout. Perlman gets more to do, but I have to admit the movie lets you forget him until the very end. So on that basis, I give the nod to Smith.
Best Mother - Naduiska in the 1982 gets the nod here. She looks the most like a Frazetta woman of anyone I've ever seen on screen and her demise is memorable and ghastly. Laila Rouass as Fiala is critical but dies very fast. It works for the movie, but makes her role minimal. The dad counts in the new one.
Best Henchmen - As utterly curious as Ben Davidson as Rexor and Sven Ole-Thorson as Thorgrim are together on screen, the henchmen in the new flick are varied and deliciously nasty. They each get a specific death worthy of them, specific to their personalities in fact. The only criticism is that they might be just a bit too many, as the director said killing them was like taking levels in a video game, always progressing to the big baddie, but overall I still give the nod to the 2011 flick with Remo, Lucius, Ukafa, and Akuhn.
Best Animal Beatdown - The camel punch in by Arnold is a golden cinema moment, so despite the fact that Momoa's slap at a horse with a giant chain is more energetic and visually more interesting, I still give the nod to the hapless dromedary who gets dinged by the Pumping Iron's own.
Best Monster - The giant snake from 1982 is awesome and puts up quite a fight, but it's no match for the Dweller in the new movie which is the squid from Hell many times over. A great monster which Conan only escapes and doesn't defeat -- the Dweller wins.
Best Swordplay - Momoa in the new movie is outstanding and totally dominates Arnold, despite Arnold's work at the time being rather memorable. Arnold did seem to be lugging around a heavier sword, but his action sequences were rather slow compared to the modern spin. Jason Momoa is convincing as Conan, totally.
Best Magic - This one goes to Arnold's movie from 1981 where the magic seemed more abberant and more subversive. In the 2011 flick it seems to be there merely to agitate some fight scenes and little else. There's a general atmosphere of decadence in the 1981 movie that the 2011 folks seemed a smidge afraid of. Had they pushed the idea of a profane relationship between the Father-Daughter villain duo, they might have gotten there, but they seemed timid.
Best Dame - Sandahl Bergman dominates this category. Her role as Valeria in 1982 totally overshadows the hapless Rachel Nichols as Tamara in 2011. Valeria is a kickass woman who won't let death stop her, while Nichols screams way too much to truly be a badass.
Best Villain - This one is a battle for the ages. Stephen Lang as Khalar Zym is tremendous, but he's up against the immortal James Earl Jones as Thulsa Doom. As good as Lang is, there's no serious way I can give the nod to anyone but the voice of evil itself, so Jones wins the day.
Best Conan - Arnold baby, I love ya, but sadly you must hand over the crown to Jason Momoa. Momoa is the very essence of what REH described, at least in tone and mood. He's big enough, muscly enough, lithe enough, quick enough, and smouldering enough for the role. Arnold always teeters on the edge of having to deliver one too many lines, and Milius does a great job keeping him just this side of too much, but Momoa is an actor and it shows. Momoa is the clear winner.
Best Ending - 1982 stomps all over the 2011 flick in this area. Sadly the 2011 Conan seems to wimp out at the end, keeping Tamara alive against all thematic reason. It hurts the sting and focus of the movie. In 1982 you wanted to rush out of the theater and sack Venarium, in 2011 you just wanted to hit the head and get to your car. It's a big fault with the modern movie.
Overall despite the fact I give the modern flick many categories, the overall impression of the 1982 movie is greater owing to a clearer thematic focus. Its spell lasts longer. Now combine that kind of intense movie making with an actor of Momoa's skill and you might have a gigantic flick, but sadly I fear we may never see it.
As good in so many ways as the new Conan is, it has not unseated the classic from 1982, which has as its goal still (as Arnold's Conan said so many years ago now} "To crush your enemies, see them driven before you, and to hear the lamentation of their women".