The Alexandrian

Conan the BarbarianI saw Conan the Barbarian a couple nights ago. Quick thoughts:

  1. It’s a much better movie than its box office.
  2. In fact, I’m comfortable saying that I think it’s a better movie than the Schwarznegger version from ’82.
  3. It is not, however, a great movie. It may not even be a good one. But it’s not a bad one, either. It’s a fun flick: It doesn’t insult your intelligence. The plot makes sense. The action sequences are dynamic. The script doesn’t carry much of the load, but it gets out of the way and lets the actors carry the load for making us care about the characters and the SFX guys carry the load for getting us immersed into the world.
  4. The biggest failing of the movie is the conclusion. It falls very flat and concentrates a lot of problems that were scattered throughout the rest of the film.
  5. It’s literally wall-to-wall action. It’s pretty much ACTION-breath-ACTION-breath-ACTION-breath-ACTION for the duration. I’d like to say that the movie would be better if it was 10 minutes longer and took a minute or two to catch its breath, but that would really only be true if they brought somebody in to punch up the dialogue.
  6. Momoa is a fantastic Conan.

The film has also forced me to revise my understanding of effective fight choreography. I used to break it down into basically two parts:

First, the choreography itself. Is it exciting? Clever? Compelling? Well-paced? The whole nine yards. Plenty of films, of course, don’t clear this basic hurdle.

Second, how the choreography is filmed. Effective cinematography will focus your attention, showcasing and even improving the choreography. But this is where a lot of films have recently been falling down: They get too tight on the action. They cut too rapidly between shots. And the result is that, regardless of how effective the choreography is, you cant see it. It’s as if someone filmed a drama by pumping up the soundtrack so that you can’t hear large chunks of the dialogue while panning away from the actor’s faces. Or like watching ballet in a strobe light performed behind a wall with some random holes punched in it.

Conan the Barbarian, however, manages to achieve both of these elements and yet still frequently fail. It’s forced me to add:

Three, conveying the geography of the scene.

This may really be just a subset of how the choreography is filmed. But I was really struck in Conan by how often I was completely enthralled by the actual, specific choreography of a given fight… only to be confused by how two simultaneous fights were relating to each other; or where the fight was in relationship to the person Conan was trying to save; and so forth.


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