The intrepid Leo Grin isn’t what one would call delighted with the new Conan movie:
Saw Conan the Barbarian last night. Revoltingly stupid, incomprehensibly plotted and edited, and overflowing with the kind of quasi-erotic torture porn (seemingly pulled wholesale out of a serial killer’s wet dreams) that’s become a staple of both fantasy literature and Hollywood films this century. Easily one of the worst films I’ve seen during decades of painfully slumming through mediocre genre fare — I daresay even Uwe Boll (the ham-fisted director commonly seen as the modern era’s answer to Ed Wood) has never made anything this irredeemably rotten.
I daresay we can soon expect to hear from the admirers of the New Nihilism informing us that Leo has once again managed to miss the point, that the new Conan the Barbarian film is, in fact, a brilliant reinvention of a genre that had grown tired and stale, that it is admirably adult in its moral ambiguity and creative depravity, and may be the greatest film since Citizen Kane. Which leads me to contemplate two things. First, since when did “adult” come to imply torture, incest, and rape? I mean, I enjoy spending a quiet Saturday night creeping about the bushes at the local university armed with chloroform and a knife in search of a new friend to bring back to my soundproofed playroom as much as anyone, but sometimes one would like a little escapism in one’s fantasy entertainment. You know, just a simple quest to find the Macguffin, defeat the Foozle, and save the world or something would be nice. Second, someone desperately needs to make a movie entitled Citizen Solomon Kane about an elderly Puritan who owns a media empire and dies with the mysterious word Rosebud* on his lips after a long life spent reporting on politicians and industrial magnates by day and slaughtering the bad ones with a sword by night.
Even that would be less absurd than the New Nihilism’s oft-staked claim to “realism” in both its literary and cinematic guises. The idea that incessant wallowing in increasingly improbable sex and violence makes a book or a film more realistic or mature should be taken about as seriously as the notion that Hostel is a travel documentary about lodging in Eastern Europe and Saw is an instructional film on industrial safety.
*Rosebud was his soul.