Monday, August 06, 2007

The Best S&S Film

I've been trying to decide what the best Sword & Sorcery film ever made is. The one that comes closest to approximating the feel of the works of Robert E. Howard and his followers. The pickings are pretty slim. I've made it no secret that I don't care much for either of the two Conan films. The first one was very popular but has about as much to do with Conan as the Johnny Weissmuller Tarzan films have to do with Edgar Rice Burroughs' Tarzan novels, which is to say, not much. The second film, Conan the Destroyer, is a bit better but still no great shakes. Kull, starring my pal Kevin Sorbo, is okay too, but the storyline makes very little sense. We won't even talk about the Red Sonja movie.
The success of the first Conan film brought about a bunch of cheap quickie rip-off movies such as The Sword and the Sorcerer, Deathstalker, and The Barbarians. Utter drek.
A leading contender is Beastmaster, which while not being very much like a REH story, does come close to the feel of such lesser S&S lights as John Jakes' Brak or Lin Carter's Thongor. It's a fun movie and the 'look' is pretty close to what a Conan film should look like, more ancient Mesopotamia than Medieval Europe.
Ditto The Scorpion King, which has the look and some great action sequences. My only problem with Scorpion Kings is that it's played for laughs a bit too much. Like "we don't really take this stuff seriously, folks." Not that Sword & Sorcery is a serious genre, but I would like to see a S&S film played straight.
Some of the films that most closely approximate Robert E. Howard's vision don't contain any outright sorcery which sort of disqualifies them as S&S films unfortunately. Films such as Gladiator and The Thirteenth Warrior. The two movies I watched this weekend, 300 and Pathfinder fall into this category as well.
Some of Ray Harryhausen's movies come close. The Golden Voyage of Sinbad in particular, being a darker movie than most of Harryhausen's work and being more concerned with the black arts than the other Sinbad movies. But there's a bit too much of the fairy tale in all of the Sinbad movies.
Ultimately, I don't think that a definitive Sword & Sorcery movie exists. The precise mix of historical fiction and horror hasn't been reached yet. Were I given the money and the task of filming a S&S film, I'd probably shoot an adaptation of the a Conan story, like Rogues in the House or perhaps The People of the Black Circle, either of which contain the proper elements and enough plot to make a decent film. There is an animated version of the Conan novella Red Nails in production at the moment. I'll be interested in seeing how that turns out.

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