Wednesday, April 13, 2011

My Thoughts on the Upcoming Conan Movie

"Also, what are your thoughts on the upcoming Conan film? Excited? Dismissive?"

In a comment to one of my earlier posts, my friend Rachel asked me what my thoughts were on the upcoming Conan movie. I started writing a reply and realized it was going to be fairly long so I decided to go ahead and write my reply as a post. So here we go.
I try my best not to be one of those people who passes judgment on a movie before I see it. As Sherlock Holmes has noted, "It is a capital mistake to speculate before the facts." However, in the case of the upcoming Conan the Barbarian film I am in possession of sufficient facts, including plot elements and character descriptions, to know that this film is not going to be about Robert E. Howard's Conan. That disappoints me, as I am not only a fan of the Character Conan, but of his creator's writing, so the farther something strays from Howard's vision of Conan, the less I'm likely to like it.
That said, I should point out that I really liked Michael Bassett's Solomon Kane film. I didn't feel that it was a good take on REH's character, but I did think it a good sword & sorcery movie. So, you never know. I might like Conan as a movie, but still be displeased by its lack of adherence to the source material.
The funny thing is, as a major fan of Howard and Conan, but also as (hopefully) a thinking, reasoning, open minded human being, I have given considerable thought to other folks takes on a Conan film and I have come to the conclusion that there are mass amounts of people to who adherence to the source material means absolutely nothing. For instance I know that there is a large part of the public who ONLY know Conan from the Arnold Schwarzenegger movies and they are just as rabid about that film as I am about the works of Robert E. Howard. These folks are positively apoplectic about someone else being cast as Conan and are filling the internet with hate for the new movie because 'No one but Arnold is Conan."
Now as I have stated before, I absolutely hate the original Conan the Barbarian film. It has virtually nothing to do with Robert E. Howard's character, and I also don't enjoy it as a sword & sorcery movie. But, I realize that this is just my opinion. I don't say it's a bad movie. I just say I hate it. Your mileage may vary.
Then there are the folks who see Conan more as a media character, like Spiderman or Batman. These folks, who grew up on Conan as a character in Comic Books, TV Shows, Video Games, Choose Your Own Adventure books, a Saturday Morning Cartoon, and a plethora of Conan pastiche novels of varying quality, don't think of Conan as the creation of one man, but rather as a character who has always existed in different forms and therefore has no definitive version. So I can imagine why they scratch their heads when I get bent out of shape because the new movie Conan won't be true to the original version. These folks don't know from Robert E. Howard.
In some ways it's similar to the way I've always viewed Tarzan. To most of the public, the whole "Me Tarzan. You Jane." thing is Tarzan. The Johnny Weissmuller movies with their monosyllabic ape-man living in a tree house have become the general idea of Tarzan. Never mind that Tarzan's creator wrote two dozen novels about the character in which the ape-man spoke not only perfect English, but French and several other languages as well, and often lived in an estate in England when he wasn't in the jungle. The movie Greystoke was a little better but Weissmuller has proved hard to displace.
At the moment, the greater public perception of Conan is Arnold Schwarzenegger. If someone sees me reading a Conan book (and by that I mean one of the collections of REH stories) they will invariably launch into a bad impression of Arnie, thinking this will please me, because that's all they know of Conan. (After which I usually show them that my Arnie impression is much better. heh!)
So what does that mean as far as the new movie goes? Well there are a couple of possibilities. The movie could do really well, and then Jason Momoa would be the new public perception of Conan and I still wouldn't have a Robert E. Howard Conan movie. Or the movie could do really badly and the Arnold film would then be considered the good version by the general public and I still wouldn't have a Robert E. Howard Conan movie. That doesn't play out well either way for a REH fan.
But, as I noted above, if I at least like the movie as a movie, that would be nice. Also, if the film does well, the producers have made a few noises about actually adapting a Robert E. Howard story for the sequel. They did bring in someone for a rewrite on the current film to shoehorn some REH dialog into the movie, so they're not completely unaware of the REH fan base.
On a positive note, star Jason Momoa does look more like REH's idea of Conan. In Howard's stories, Conan's speed and agility are described as often as his muscles are noted. He's a big guy but also lithe and quick. Not a body builder type. And Momoa's hair, if not a "square cut black mane" is at least darker than Arnie's. Theoretically they're even making Momoa's eyes blue in post production, but I'll believe that when I see it.
So anyway, Rachel, those are my current thoughts. I'm not terribly optimistic, but I'm willing to give the movie a chance as a movie just as I did with Solomon Kane.


Brett Brooks said...

And even with all that said--and I agree with pretty much everything you said--I'm betting you are in the same boat as I, and are going to wait for it to hit dvd...about 2 weeks after it hits theaters, probably.

Charles R. Rutledge said...

You may be right, Brett. Still, I might see a Sunday morning showing, just so I can talk about it here, but no promises. I certainly missed a lot of movies I was more excited about while they were in the theaters.

Taranaich said...

Couldn't possibly add anything more, Charles. While I'm one of the mutants who likes CtB as an S&S films, that's not to say I think it's perfect by any means: it's still very flawed.

Still, I live in hope that it bucks the trend and is a tolerable film on its own merits, and doesn't drive too many people away from Howard.

Charles R. Rutledge said...

I know several folks, whose opinions I respect, who like CtB, Al. That's why I don't dismiss it out of hand. Of the two movies, I can actually watch Conan the Destroyer more easily because it's such a comic book movie. It's so far removed from the first film and from REH that I can easily pretend the hero is Kothar or Thongor or something...

Rachel said...

Thanks for the wonderfully thorough answer! Your love of the Conan of literature has made me want to read one of the books. The Conan of "popular" culture has never appealed to me but it sounds like the books would be a different experience.

Charles R. Rutledge said...

Thanks, Rachel, and definitely give Robert E. Howard a try. The Del Rey Conan collections are readily available. Volume one, The Coming of Conan the Cimmerian, has some of my favorite Conan short stories, including The Tower of the Elephant and Rogues in the House. You don't need to read the stories in any particular order as Howard wrote Conan's adventures out of sequence.
Or, if you'd rather start with something longer, volume two, The Bloody Crown of Conan, has Howard's only Conan novel, The Hour of the Dragon, and his novella, People of the Black Circle, which many people consider the best Conan story. Just remember, when it comes to Conan, if Robert E. Howard didn't write it, you don't want it. There are a lot of terrible pastiches out there.

Rachel said...

You always give me such thoughtful suggestions - thanks! I downloaded a sample from the novel to my Kindle. I enjoy novels more than short stories so it might be the place to start for me.