Roomie described it as a "classic gamer flick," which means Roomie talks like an old movie because who says "flick" anymore? As you all knew already, of course, he was absolutely right.
If you will not hear me say that I enjoyed this movie, then TO HELL WITH YOU. :D
It's definitely not a masterpiece of storytelling. It's not a masterpiece of visuals. It might not even be a masterpiece in barbarian-ing when all is said and done. The score's a masterpiece, definitely, and The Terminator fits the role he was given like a glove. It's also put together to be exactly what it is - an adventure movie with no stakes to it. No stakes means no STRESS, but really, when the fellow says "Conan will be king" at the start of the movie and you're not seeing any crowns on his head, you know he's still home safe.
The movie manages to tell an awful lot of tale without words; again, an absolutely gobsmacking score is behind a lot of that, with that perfect, robust, fantastical theme pumping up all the best action bits. There are a lot of questions that could be answered, but I think I expected too much D&D from what was ultimately a more down-to-earth gamer movie. This is a film where the wizard is more a person who understands the spirits of the universe than one who tells them what to do; where turning into a snake is purely for show and the villain's ultimate power largely stems from the belief of others. There's nothing tremendously supernatural about the story here; a great deal of it is just swords, axes, blood and "the power of flesh." I suppose that's kind of the point. Anyone who's played D&D 3rd Edition knows that magic can tend to overtake the sort of skills Conan and his party display pretty rapidly. What little is in here largely serves as decoration.
Did Valeria actually get named during the movie? I felt really bad about missing her name. She's a great character, a sort of fighter-rogue whose life goal is "warmth." In dying she talks about how cold she feels, and it's not just the cold of death but rather the idea that she died without attaining her goal. While alive, though, she's a dynamo; she helps infiltrate the Snake Tower, tries to talk her chosen lover out of doing something stupid, is right about that, tells off the forces of death and then brings murderhobo fury right into the heart of the MOUNTAIN OF POWER. It takes Thulsa Doom's snake arrow trick to bring her down and even then it only took, it's implied, because she owed death and it came to collect. In a film with a lot of appeals to the inner 12-year old (if you get my gist) it's good to see a strong woman character who stands out.
Honestly, she's better characterized than either Subotai (thanks Rachel) or the wizard or even Conan himself, who's a bit of a mystery. He read philosophy - does that ever come into play? He's got a patron god who has no time for him (and the feeling is quite mutual), he's good at setting up traps and taking advantage of the battlefield, he doesn't rush into stupidly dangerous odds and in fact spends more time using stealth to achieve his goals than pure brute force. Conan's world is very empty; where people do not congregate in droves, they do not exist unless they are isolated and individual. There's the witch demon thing earlier on who lives in isolation, and then later the wizard. Apart from that we have cities and the MOUNTAIN OF POWER. There might be a deliberate motif going there, of course; Conan's home village was small and sparse and it was Doomed. Oh I'll be making that joke a lot in the future.
So yes, the world is very empty and cold; Valeria's desire for "warmth" therefore means a lot of things, not just love and companionship as the scene originally implies. At the time they're savoring the proceeds of their wealth, which allow them to eat well and live among people. Three thieves, one a loner willing to provoke a snake cult, one fated to die and spared by chance in the form of a thousand muscles, and one who is the last vanished son of a destroyed village, possibly hundreds of miles from where he came from. None of them belong with people.
The King, whose name I can't remember, is known as the Usurper. Presumably he stole the throne or took it by force. He congratulates Conan and friends on their audacity, reflecting a desire for something in the world that lacks. I think it's all part of this broader theme that their world is insular, afraid and compacted, islands of people who have lost their nerve and daring. Is this Thulsa Doom's doing? Quite possible. The movie calls him a demigod and says he's been alive for a thousand years. If this is the face of a demigod, then it's no wonder the world is the way it is, for as gods go his power is very thin and limited, when you boil it right down; he relies more on the followers he can amass than on his personal capacity to fire snake arrows, laze about as a reptile, and give a faux-Vader speech to his foe. Gods in Conan's world are cold and uncaring; warmth is the provenance of people, "the power of flesh." Crom (thanks again) might have sent a vision of Valeria dressed as a valkyrie, or it might have been her own spirit, but either way, that's the best the gods can or will do. I mentioned a Prometheus idea in the first impressions, that the gods wanted to keep humans broken apart and cowering and that they accidentally left the power to unite and self-defend. Humans aren't using it well - Thulsa Doom is apparently scaring a lot of cities into submission, and not Kings nor anyone else dares bring steel against him.
It's a fascinatingly different world than I'm used to; it's coarse, rough, empty and sometimes you just want to haul back and punch a camel. People huddle together around each other, whether in cities or religious pilgrimages or fighting pits, because the alternative is out in the cold, among the haunted places, where demon witches lie and wild dogs will hunt you down. Is Doom really a demigod? Is he, perhaps, all the god the world has left? Is the MOUNTAIN OF POWER the final foothold of the divine and the unknown in a world that's too afraid to ask more from the gods of the elements, so cold and removed? If so, then Conan breaking his power and burning the temple really is a "TO HELL WITH YOU" to the very idea that the world can hold out for a higher power than mankind's own strength to deliver them from hardship and strife. The movie says none of this, and I'm sure it was intended largely as just a straightforward entertainment, but the beauty of saying little is that it offers so many opportunities to think and interpret, and when listening to that score and seeing the sights of Conan - not the snakes, not the battles, but the locations and sets and the people - the imagination is fired.
I think this is the first time on Some Wonderful Kind of Noise that I haven't paused a movie for one reason or another. There was no reason to. The movie is very slow and I had ample time for all of my thoughts. There wasn't a lot to fill the screen, much of the time, and that adds to the point I made above; it's a cup that's half empty, and the magnetism of our heroes is that they're looking to fill it.