Tuesday, August 23, 2011

A Wasted Opportunity

I've finally had the chance to see the new Conan the Barbarian movie in the theater. I caught a matinee yesterday, more out of a sense of duty than any real desire to see it for itself, since I had every reason to believe I wouldn't enjoy it. That makes writing a review of the film very difficult for me, since nothing less than a full recantation of my earlier doubts about it will appear objective, while any confirmation of them will simply prove that I did not view it with an open mind. I have no one to blame for this state of affairs but myself, so I don't begrudge anyone who summarily discounts what follows. Nevertheless, I did give the movie a fair shake, perhaps fairer than I might have had I not read so many reviews and commentaries beforehand, because I went into it with such low expectations that it would have been hard for the movie to have disappointed me any more than it already had.

On that front, I can say without hesitation that Conan the Barbarian is not as bad as I had expected. If I had to pick a single word to describe it, though, it would almost certainly be "mediocre." I knew going into it that I was not going to be getting Robert E. Howard's Conan, but I held out hope, particularly in light of some of the reviews that I'd read, that I might still be getting a solid sword-and-sorcery film whose protagonist just happened to share a name with a certain famous Cimmerian. Unfortunately, that's not what I got. What I saw today was, frankly, a mess and not of the glorious kind.

As a movie, Conan the Barbarian is all over the place, with only occasional flashes of cleverness, never mind brilliance. It felt as if it had been hastily -- or at least confusedly -- put together without any overarching vision of what it supposed to be. Was this an attempt to bring a more Howardian version of Conan to the screen, a remake (or "re-imagining") of the 1982 Milius version, a live-action version of a filler story from the latter days of Savage Sword of Conan, or just a B-movie sword-and-sorcery flick? This lack of a clear vision hobbled Conan the Barbarian, making it hard to know how to take the film. You see, I had hoped that, at the bare minimum, this movie would do two things: 1) Sever the connection in the general public's mind between Arnold Schwarzenegger and Conan and 2) Be an enjoyable movie in its own right.

Let's start with the first one. As is well known, I'm not a big fan of the first Schwarzenegger Conan movie (We needn't mention its sequel, since it's just awful). Despite that, I readily concede that the 1982 Conan the Barbarian possesses a certain something that gives it staying power. It's not REH by any means, but neither is it a joke, like so many of the fantasy action movies that followed in its considerable wake. This inexplicable gravitas, combined with a career-making performance by Arnie, has done much to secure its place in people's imaginations, especially those who don't know the real Cimmerian. To succeed, the 2011 film needed to establish itself as more than the ape of its predecessor, which it could have done in innumerable ways, though, to my mind, the simplest would have been to drink deeply from its literary wellspring.

Read almost any review and chances are you're going to see the new movie compared to the Schwarzenegger vehicle. Even when the comparison is a positive one, it only serves to emphasize the long shadow cast by the 1982 motion picture. This is why I find it bizarre that the current release focuses on Conan's quest for revenge against the warlord who slew his father and destroyed his village. Not only is this plot utterly alien to Howard's Conan but it ensures that viewers familiar with the Schwarzenegger version will have it in mind while viewing the new one. There are, of course, plenty of differences between the specifics of the two films' plots, but there are also enough surface similarities that even I, who knew better, found myself thinking of the 2011 film as some kind of remake. However you slice it, that's a failure, both of imagination and of any effort to give this movie its own identity apart from its predecessor.

This brings me to the second question: is Conan the Barbarian enjoyable in its own right? How one answers that question depends, I'd imagine, on the standards by which one measures enjoyment. There were definitely parts of the film I enjoyed. For one, the overall look of the movie wasn't bad and some of the special effects were well done. The same goes for many of the fight scenes, which were (mostly) nicely choreographed, though a few strayed into martial arts movie-inspired nonsense I do not want to see in a Conan film. The cast was solid, too, starting with Jason Momoa, who both looked the part and brought an appropriate intensity to most of his scenes. No one appeared to be sleepwalking through the film, which is more than could be said of me by the end of watching it. The script was mostly awful, laden with clichés and vapidity and largely lacking in the visceral power of Howard's best work. The plot, as I mentioned, is clearly inspired by that of the 1982 movie and does little to distinguish itself, other than the addition of comic book violence. Its characters, including Conan, sadly, are similarly two-dimensional, showing even less depth and development than the Milius version. In short, I was more bored by Conan the Barbarian than outraged.

That's the crux of it for me. Conan the Barbarian 2011 is just not a very interesting movie. The Milius film, for all its manifest faults, as both a motion picture and as a cinematic presentation of Robert E. Howard's most famous character, is memorable. Indeed, it's powerful in its own way and can serve as a discussion point amongst fans of both movies and Robert E. Howard. Its successor, though, is, at best, a way to blow two hours and then move on. It's a very forgettable movie and certainly not one that left me hungering for more. If it weren't for the fact that it laid claim to REH's legacy, it would be largely indistinguishable from any number of fantasy films that have come and gone and were never thought of again.  I doubt very much that, in 30 years time, many people will look back on this movie with great fondness.

I think that's a shame, because I remain convinced that Conan is a character who could do well on the silver screen. As conceived by Howard, he's eminently suitable to a series of episodic movies, each one presenting one of his adventures, even as the series advances the larger story of his life, culminating in his claiming of the throne of Aquilonia. To do that, though, Hollywood needs to do more than pay the briefest of lip service to Howard's conception of the character. Even assuming for a moment that a straight adaptation of any of Howard's stories were impractical -- something I don't believe -- why can't we at least move beyond the silly revenge quest origin story and get something different? And, while we're at it, is it too much to ask for stories whose plots actually make sense? I'm not looking for Tolstoy here. Heck, I'm almost to the point where I'm not looking for Howard anymore, but, surely, someone in Hollywood can find a way to tell an engaging, coherent story featuring Conan.

I almost feel bad for this review, because, truth be told, Conan the Barbarian 2011 isn't a terrible film so much as an example of bland, lowest common denominator entertainment, mostly devoid of anything that distinguishes it from dozens of other paint-by-numbers action films churned out each year. For some, that's probably enough and that's great; for me, though, it isn't. I kept hoping against hope that this movie might prove to be more than that, something that might kick off a series of movies about Conan, but, after the disaster this is proving to be at the box office, that seems increasingly unlikely. Indeed, it may have poisoned the well against any future Robert E. Howard-based movies for a long time to come and I am much more disappointed by that than I am by this halfhearted, forgettable movie.

42 comments:

  1. Best part is, now the film company is getting sued over the Conan rights: http://sordnbord.blogspot.com/2011/08/stan-lee-sues-film-company-says-he-owns.html

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  2. Damn. I was almost looking forward to seeing this film. Until now I have studiously avoided reading any reviews so this is my first inkling that all in not as good as some of the trailers had indicated.

    Personally I'm a fan of the Schwarzenegger version. Its not Howard, but it was the first Fantasy movie I saw that wasn't crap. And it has a brilliant soundtrack. Having said that I was looking forward to seeing a modern version of the story with all the improvements in filmaking that Hollywood could bring to it. I clearly should have known better. If there is one thing Hollywood does best, its make mediocre films.

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  3. Alot of that martial arty feel in Conan might actually be gratuitous 3D shots. I swear tentacled monsters is a cop-out for 3D anymore.

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  4. The "Stan Lee Media" thing is quite bizarre. SLM was launched during the .com heyday and actually did make a deal with Conan properties back when the stock was high.

    SLM only lasted about 18 months before going bankrupt, and apparently a lot of the investors are now trying to get a hold of any valuable IP that SLM was involved with. (And include some wild claims, like saying they own a piece of Marvel). They could have a legit case against Conan because they were supposed to acquire it, and I'm not sure what happened.

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  5. I felt the same way about the "A Wizard of Earthsea" TV movie put out years ago on the Sci-Fi channel. Dubbed simply, "Earthsea" it basically held the barest of resemblance to the source material, taking mostly just the characters' names -- and getting them wrong in the process.

    Both are an example of opportunities lost. Opportunities to celebrate what makes the source material so engaging and popular, to bring new fans into the fold, and in what may be their main interest, to create an ongoing series of money-making films that advance their careers.

    What a shame.

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  6. What's with Hollywood pumping out "origins" films?

    All the background story you need in a Conan film is in the title "Conan The Barbarian", run with that and shoot a new film. It isn't like there are a large number of stories to find "inspiration" from.

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  7. I found it ironic that after reading your review, I scrolled down to the next entry of your blog and saw a reference to Indiana Jones. The reason is that while reading your review, I was thinking, "Raiders of the Lost Ark is a better Conan movie than the new Conan movie."

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  8. I liked it. It was good.

    However, I have devised a barometer amongst my friends to know if they liked it based on if they liked another movie.

    Did you like Van Helsing with Hugh Jackman? Both barely deal with the source material in any real way. If you found Hugh Jackman and the Frankenstein's Monster fighting Dracula and the wolfman with a series of steampunk weapons a good thing you will like Conan. If you did not, you will not like Conan.

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  9. I can't believe you actually went to a theater to see this movie. Well, thanks for taking the hit and writing the review.

    While I understand that fans of REH want an accurate adaptation of his novels on the screen I'm wondering why a movie studio would bother. "Conan" is certainly a recognizable property in the general public do to, I believe, the Arnold movie and his subsequent career but not the novels. Fans of REH and people in the gaming/geek community know the "true" Conan but the general public does not. At their height in popularity were the REH novels even good sellers? I don't recall them ever being so. Of course in the geek/gamer community they are hugely popular but so are the Shannara books, the Thomas Covenant books, the Myth Adventures books, and many more, but you don't see faithful (or any) movie adaptations being made for any of these so why would a movie studio see Conan differently? If it were not for the Arnold movie I don't think the 2011 Conan movie would have even been made. In fact if it were not for the Arnold movie I don't think Conan would be any more recognizable in the general populace today than Sturm Brightblade or Hen Wen the pig. If not for Arnold, Conan would be in line with the hundreds of other cherished fantasy characters that no one has ever heard of.

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  10. I don't think comparing Van Helsing to Conan is a good thing because of the following reason. Dracula has already been translated to the silverscreen literally hundreds of times. And the novel is not only an evergreen novel but is part of classic literature. If the source material is well known AND there have been successful adaptations of it that are more faithful, then I can get behind re-interpretations--the upcoming Musketeers movie (with the flying steamships and Wuxia like moves) doesn't bother me because the source material is still read in High School English classes and there have been about 30 movie adaptations so far.

    Conan and the Earthsea examples, however, are specific works not in the public domain and haven't had many adaptations. I think if the work has never been adapted, you owe it to the material to translate what worked about the movies before you start with the looser adaptations and pastiches.

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  11. I wonder if there isn't room for a community powered small-scale film, along the lines of what the H. P. Lovecraft Historical Society has acheived. Perhaps not of Howard's stories (whose well may be tainted now, with too many of the iconic names being associated with dubious films already), but has anything been made of, say, Leiber's stories? Ill met in Lankhmar seems just right for a shorter movie adaptation. I could well imagine it as an animated piece, perhaps with some of the noir style of the Batman: the animated series.

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  12. @JRT Conan is absolutely in the Public Domain, Life of author + 75 years.

    He's not really much younger than Dracula either (comparatively).

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  13. Thanks for the review, James. I agree, the most disappointing aspect is about the future of movies based on Howard's work. However, if we're already seeing another Spider-Man origin movie soon, perhaps we won't have to wait another 20+ years.

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  14. Ugh, Conan deserves so much better. This trite, boilerplate film does nothing to bring the true Howardian Conan to modern audiences. I notice that there's now a collection of some original Conan stories for sale that has Momoa on the cover:

    http://www.amazon.com/Conan-Barbarian-stories-inspired-movie/dp/034553123X#_

    I have some hope that this MIGHT attract some curious people to Howard's Conan...but it's a slim hope, most likely.

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  15. James, I think you hit the nail right on the head in reference to the poor box office showing which my stall further films which could be truer to the source material. I was talking with my friends about the exact thing you mentioned in terms of the REH stories being used as the basis for a franchise of Conan films. Unfortunately, as you pointed out, the fact that this film will likely lose the studio money on the long room due to its inflated $90 million budget, it is likely we may never see a true Conan film. It's a shame really because there is so much potential there.

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  16. I think that if we get a Directors Cut thats about 45 minutes longer.. made up mostly of exposition between the monotonous fight scenes.. then it could legitimately be a good film.

    But I feel the single factor that worked its malice against the film, was that they stayed to close to the idea of re-making the 1982 movie. They should have abandoned the patricide angle and should never ever ever have called the film 'Conan the Barbarian'. If they had made the script as distant from the 82' movie as Momoa's Conan was from the 82' movie I think, for what it's worth, they would have made a better movie.

    But this isn't the first time this sort of thing has happened to lionsgate. They could still make money on this when it comes out on DVD, which if I was them I'd be rushing into production to have on store shelves by Halloween. If it requires digitally adding in a few more bare breasts in order to get an 'Unrated' cut so be it.

    The aspect I hate the most of this is, it will likely obliterate poor Jason Momoa's career.

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  17. Apparently the movie was rewritten just before they started shooting. Maybe even during shooting. It certainly felt that way.

    The plot really is completely incoherent, and lazy at that. In particular, the last third of the movie makes almost no sense at all and you can only follow it because it's so completely cliched that you can just make assumptions about why the characters are doing strange things.

    If anyone should suffer career damage, it's the director and screenwriters.

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  18. International sales still need to be accounted for. There was an article in a recent Entertainment Weekly that discussed how Hollywood is much more focused on international sales, especially with the poor economy. Movies are making bushels of money in China, India, and Taiwan, where economies are on the rise.

    If Conan does well over seas, there will be a sequel.

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  19. Here's hoping someone can bring Conan back to the screen in a few years and do it right. It's too bad--Momoa seemed to be a good fit.

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  20. "Fans of REH and people in the gaming/geek community know the "true" Conan but the general public does not. At their height in popularity were the REH novels even good sellers?"

    The initial paperback releases of Conan, the ones with the Frank Frazetta covers, apparently sold millions of copies through the 60s and 70s, and for awhile basically resulted in damn near every fantasy novel that wasn't by Tolkien having something like "In the Tradition of Conan/Robert E. Howard" emblazoned on the top and on the back of the covers (which preferably also had Frazetta, or at least Frazetta-esque, artwork). If anything that's why no one really remembers Conan anymore - the book publishers burned everyone out on the concept, and then after a short lull the Shannara books came out and it was Tolkien's stuff that started getting squeezed dry instead.

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  21. At their height in popularity were the REH novels even good sellers?

    The Lancers alone were a publishing phenomenon, each selling in the millions. The Best of Robert E. Howard Volume 1 was even one of the top five selling books on Amazon's bestseller list in November 2009:

    http://www.fantasybooknews.com/2009/11/amazons-top-5-fantasy-bestsellers-november-21-2009/

    So, yeah, they did sell pretty well, even 70 years after their original publication.

    If it were not for the Arnold movie I don't think the 2011 Conan movie would have even been made.

    Actually, it's precisely because of the Arnold movie we haven't seen any other Conan films in 27 years. Ever since Conan the Destroyer, Arnold has been a massive stumbling block in getting another Conan film made, in that the studios simply weren't interested in a Conan film starring anyone else. There were three separate occasions in 1987, 1996, and 2003 where they were trying to get King Conan made with Arnold, but he decided Predator, Batman & Robin and Terminator 3 were better uses of his time. It's only after Paradox got the license that anyone even entertained the idea of an Arnold-less movie.

    That's not considering the fact that the Conan franchise went into freefall in the late 80s/early 90s after Conan the Destroyer, culminating in the old CPI going bankrupt and selling off to Paradox for 6 million dollars.

    In fact if it were not for the Arnold movie I don't think Conan would be any more recognizable in the general populace today than Sturm Brightblade or Hen Wen the pig. If not for Arnold, Conan would be in line with the hundreds of other cherished fantasy characters that no one has ever heard of.

    You can't tell me Sturm Brightblade or Hen Wen at their height were even remotely on the same level of popularity that Conan was in the '60s and '70s. Did they have a critically acclaimed and incredibly popular comic series that rivalled even Spider-Man in popularity? Were they the stars of book series with Frank Frazetta covers that sold in their millions?

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  22. Instead of watching this movie (I am not even sure it is out over here; probably not), I bought a copy of "King Kull and the Ancients", the first Hungarian critical edition of REH's Kull, Allison and Am-Ra stories (including fragments, outlines and poems).

    I have also bought my brother's birthday presents: The Star Rover by Jack London, and a collection of crime stories by Dashiel Hammett. I think my money has been well spent. .)

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  23. @taranaich - totally agreed. Anyone who thinks Conan is some sort of underground cult/geek phenom hasn't been paying attention. The books have always been very popular and the comics and Savage Sword of Conan magazine were huge in the 70's. Conan is certainly right up there with Tarzan in terms of public familiarity. In the right hands, a franchise of Conan films could be very successful. And afaic its rarely a bad idea to go directly to the original source for inspiration.

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  24. This was a terrible film. It was simply a generic fantasy film with the name Conan tacked on it. Who didn't know this was going to suck? They didn't even have a script to work with and apparently used a 12 page outline. Say what you will about the 82 Conan but at least it was entertaining and influential.

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  25. So Ah-Nuld wasn't much like Conan to true fans (although I was a Conan story fan and loved the Ah-Nuld film).

    But you can at least be trying to describe the Conan tales to somebody who knows nothing about it, and at least point to the 1982 film and say by watching it you can get a good idea of how the lands Conan walked looked, how the cultures and cities looked and felt, and how the side characters and villains were used. Sorry Arnold didn't have blue eyes and couldn't speak like a lettered gentleman when necessary. There was still plenty of Howard in the character, and even more in the movie he was featured in.

    Oh, and I would not pay for one sitting of this new film (I saw the 1982 one three times in the theater). But if they have a showing of it at the Sci Fi Academy and I feel like making it there on a weekend morning to catch it, I'll give it a go. Blazing a doob in the alley will probably help the enjoyment factor of what sounds like another stupid barbarian movie from the late 80's.

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  26. I remember being so jazzed to see the Arnold movie. My friends and I had seen a slide show presentation (!) about it and a Q and A with Sandahl Bergman. It looked so cool.
    We made a big pilgrimage to Manhattan (from Staten Island) to see it. At the end I was left disappointed by the smallness of the whole thing. Despite Milius' gonzosity it felt like there was nothing behind the film or inside of it.

    Part of me might be tempted by the new movie but not enough to warrant paying for it or sitting in the theater. So, James, thanks indeed for taking the hit for some of us. I think I'll just go re-watch "Hawk the Slayer" instead.

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  27. I am surprised that James didn't spontaneously combust in the movie theatre as he seemed so against seeing this and I am glad that he sees that it isn't THAT bad of a movie. If the movie gets a few people to pick up the books and read the REAL Conan stories it has done its job.

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  28. I think if the work has never been adapted, you owe it to the material to translate what worked about the movies before you start with the looser adaptations and pastiches.

    Unsurprisingly, I agree. I think "re-imaginings" only really work in a context when the thing being re-imagined already has wide popular currency rooted in its original source. Conan is not yet at that point, so I don't find comparisons to, say, Dracula or Sherlock Holmes or Batman all that convincing.

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  29. I wonder if there isn't room for a community powered small-scale film, along the lines of what the H. P. Lovecraft Historical Society has acheived.

    I'd love to see something like that, but I doubt we'll ever see it, for numerous reasons. But it's still probably our best chance of seeing the real Conan in movie form.

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  30. There was still plenty of Howard in the character, and even more in the movie he was featured in.

    For example?

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  31. If the movie gets a few people to pick up the books and read the REAL Conan stories it has done its job.

    While I'd be happy if this film introduced more people to REH, I'm pretty sure the film makers were hoping for more than that :)

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  32. I think the assumption that a "Conan" film needs to be based on Howard's Conan is intriguing...and terribly naive. Consider, the first film version of "Dracula" (setting aside "Nosferatu") was based on the Hamilton Deane Broadway play, a dramatically different animal than the Stoker novel. That was in 1931. Hollywood had never had any interest in literary authenticity, but in playing to what the most widespread concept of a character is. That was true 80 years ago and is true today. For each of us who have read Howard, and love Howard, there are hundreds of others whose idea of the character is shaped by comics and video games. Hollywood will go where the money is, or at least--given the lackluster first returns--where they think it is.

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  33. "I wonder if there isn't room for a community powered small-scale film, along the lines of what the H. P. Lovecraft Historical Society has acheived.
    ---------------------------------------------
    I'd love to see something like that, but I doubt we'll ever see it, for numerous reasons. But it's still probably our best chance of seeing the real Conan in movie form."
    --------------------------------------------

    Well, today is your lucky day! There already *has* been a film adaption done of a true REH Conan story!

    The Viking Age re-enactment group, Vikings of Bjornstad, has already filmed and I think screened an adaptation of "The Frost Giant's Daughter". Here is a link to the site showing the poster, a film clip with outtakes, and still shots from the filming (up in Donner's Pass, no less...):
    http://www.vikingsofbjornstad.com/Conan_FrostGiantsDaughter.htm

    I am at a loss, however, at present, as to how to obtain a copy of the film or otherwise go see it.

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  34. I wasn't expecting it to be a good movie... so I wasn't that interested in seeing it. Still, I was surprised when I saw the preview and got the impression is was a lost episode of Xena: Warrior Princess.

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  35. There was still plenty of Howard in the character, and even more in the movie he was featured in.

    For example? <<

    I think it would be much easier to point out the few things that were not viewable as Howardian, rather than the tons of things that were. A nearly stone age setting, an ancient city full of Mesopotamian vibe and nods to fantasy/old world tropes (thieves guild talking smack to Conan, anyone? How about some Black Lotus? Whores!), mostly subtle magicians (with demonic manifestations here and there but not overdone), snake cults, kings with heavy crowns with daughters in trouble, climbing up into cult towers high above the darkened city, looting giant snake pits, sacrificial virgins, excellent and thrilling battle with sword, axe, war hammer, and bow, side encounters with things that seem lifted right from the pages of either Howard or other epic mythmaking (Conans run in chains from wolves and gaining of a sword from a kairn, the wolf witch and her sexy but demonic ways), and companions/friends who seemed very fitting for the setting (whether Valeria was used as a pirate or not).

    Whew! I could go on and on! Yeah, for me, I see enough Howard in the 1982 film to satisfy me. Add the great cinematography, music, and costuming and I'm sold on the film since I saw it as a kid on opening night and over 30 year.

    So I turn the easy job back to you James, besides your oft afermentioned dislikes of Ah-Nulds lack of baby blues and Georgian politician speech skills, and the fact that no particular Howard story was used, what are the truly weak points that keep it from being as Howard as it can be.

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  36. So I turn the easy job back to you James, besides your oft afermentioned dislikes of Ah-Nulds lack of baby blues and Georgian politician speech skills, and the fact that no particular Howard story was used, what are the truly weak points that keep it from being as Howard as it can be.

    What's interesting to me is that so many of the things you list as "Howardian" are in my opinion superficial connections to the source material, the very same things that most 80s S&S movies have in common with REH. What would have made the film genuinely Howardian is its thematic core. Instead of Milius's Nietzsche allusions and "riddle of steel" mumbo-jumbo, we'd have meditations on civilization and barbarism (impossible in Milius's low-rent version of the Hyborian Age, where there's no civilization to speak of) at the very least, as well as a greater emphasis on personal freedom as a supreme good. Howard's Conan would rather have died than be a slave, which makes so much of the movie's plot nonsensical from a Howardian point of view.

    I could go on, but I don't expect it'll be particularly persuasive to you. My feeling remains that the '82 film is a fun, occasionally powerful S&S romp that borrows a few names from Howard but little else. Its connection to its source material is extremely superficial, even moreso than the 2011 movie.

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  37. I could go on, but I don't expect it'll be particularly persuasive to you<

    Well, I doubt it would take away how much I love the film, but a couple of things you just said have a good deal of the truth ring to me as far as the Howard stuff. Because I see a lot of Howard going on in the film you think I'm a lost cause?

    Yeah, I would have preferred his origins stayed in being a young raider over being tied to a wheel or tricked out in the fighting pits.

    As for meditations on civilization and barbarism, I don't need to see much of that in a 2 hour action film. I can actually suss out that meditations stuff for myself. They don't need to feed it to me in a movie I'm seeing because I want to see asses kicked. The riddle of steel thing was all the philosophy I need to see onscreen. The "feel" of a film is worth a thousand films with "meditations" to me.

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  38. One of the script doctor guys has an essay on his intentions. It doesn't go into much detail except about his feelings, alas.

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  39. I think the assumption that a "Conan" film needs to be based on Howard's Conan is intriguing...and terribly naive.

    The reason a Conan film "needs" to be based on Howard's Conan is quite simple: nobody's bettered Howard's Conan. In close to 80 years, not a single author or screenwriter has managed to come close to Howard at his best. Stone's script was, by his own admission, a drug-fueled trip into madness. Even the very good pastiches utterly lack the majesty of Howard's prose.

    Howard should be a starting point for the simple reason that his starting points are the best. Make an adaptation of, say, "The People of the Black Circle," and you have the foundations for a great cast, great set pieces, great scenes and a great story. But if you're going to start from scratch with your own characters, set pieces, scenes and story, then it has to measure up to that of Robert E. Howard. And frankly, very few people have shown the talent for such a job.

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  40. @Zzarchov: Conan is not absolutely public domain; it's actually quite complex. Copyright-wise, Europe is life+70, and most of the rest of the world is that or less, with the exception of a few that are up to life+100. (Ivory Coast, Mexico). However, the United States, for most purposes, is 95 years from publication, with the major exceptions that works published before 1923 are in the public domain, and that American authors had to follow various rules (like renewal after 28 years) or lose their copyright. Most of Howard's stuff was never renewed, but some of it was. http://copyright.cornell.edu/resources/publicdomain.cfm has the American copyright rules, and http://en.wikisource.org/wiki/Author:Robert_Ervin_Howard has links to out-of-copyright stories and notes by in-copyright stories, giving renewals and years when they'll leave copyright.

    As for the current court case, I bet that has more to do with trademark than copyright. Trademark can protect characters, like Tarzan, that are clearly in the public domain copyright-wise. I suspect that the name "Conan the Barbarian" is pretty well trademarked, but I don't know what all that would imply except for preventing the use of it as a title.

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  41. I refused to go see this in the theater, but just now ponied up a few bucks for On Demand — and must say it is awesomely bad. Soda through the nose, Mystery Science Theater, so-bad-its-good bad. Penny for penny it gave me more guffaws and less heartburn than a Taco Bell chalupa, and I enjoyed it for the sheer hamfisted silliness of it all ...

    Which is sure as hell what you don't want for a beloved fantasy property. This came off, in every way shape and form, like someone's middle school D&D campaign, mashing up a whole bunch of cool stuff from whatever comic book, novel, or movie you saw that summer at the multiplex, whether it made sense or not. (Again, not exactly what we wanted from a big screen Conan the Barbarian. Not in the least.)

    Beyond that James, your review was spot on. This was a hugely squandered opportunity — and the studio knew it, or else they wouldn't have dumped it into August the way they did. There were — maybe — two great minutes in the entire movie, and if the rest of it had been that good and fun and adventurous, we'd be having a different discussion.

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  42. Honestly, it was not horrible. Faint praise. But it got some things right:

    Momoa made a better Conan than I was expecting. He struck the right notes of arrogance, outsider-hood, sex appeal, and overall mood. The opening scene with the young Cimmerians on the hunt/chase was cool. I rather liked the romance story and Conan's attitude towards it. He was also appropriately selfish, a Conan-like trait. Howard's Conan is not particularly interested in the greater good.

    My beef with the movie was really the plot and story. I had no issue with the characterization, effects, or costumes. But the story ... can be summed up by the climax occuring in a mountainside cave with .. wait for it ... a skull-shaped entrance. Oy.

    I thought the bad guy was miscast. Steven something-or-another, the bad guy from Avatar. The MacGuffin of the mask was weird. I didn't mind the sorceress daughter; she was appropriately creepy. New story, new villain, and this could have been better. They didn't really place the movie in Hyboria, either. I never got a sense of Howard's world.

    I agree that they could make Howard stories into movies. Heck, Conan against a horde of Picts would get my blood pumping.

    I'd give it a C or C+.

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