You can’t keep a good barbarian down.
Fans of Robert E. Howard’s iconic hero Conan of Cimmeria have certainly taken their lumps. The most recent cinematic version (CONAN 3D) was a complete misfire, despite the best intentions of actor Jason Momoa (i.e. Khal Drogo from GAME OF THRONES). Many years before that came a disastrously bad TV series, and years before that the absolutely horrible CONAN THE DESTROYER, a sequel to 1982′s CONAN THE BARBARIAN, which remains the ONLY good Conan film and a true classic of the fantasy genre.
Directed by John Milius (ROME) and co-written by Oliver Stone (PLATOON, NATURAL BORN KILLERS, etc.) CONAN THE BARBARIAN is still—arguably—the best “Sword and Sorcery Movie” ever made. It’s also one of my personal favorite films (saw it on the big screen when I was 12 years old). Fans tend to argue endlessly over this, but I constantly defend Milius’ film—I have a framed copy of the movie poster hanging on my wall, along with the posters for PULP FICTION and INDIANA JONES AND THE TEMPLE OF DOOM.
Recently Universal announced a deal with the original movie Conan, Arnold Schwarzenegger, who was introduced to the world in his role as Conan in the original ’82 film. Whispers of this deal have been around for years, but while Ah-nold was the governor of California, his movie career was pretty much on hold. Now the big Austrian-American is returning to his BEST role ever by taking up the broadsword once again. The new movie bears the title THE LEGEND OF CONAN, and I like what I’m hearing about it.
Writer/Producer Chris Morgan said he wants THE LEGEND OF CONAN to be a direct sequel to the original Milius/Stone film. “This movie picks up Conan where Arnold is now in his life, and we will be able to use the fact that he has aged in this story,” Morgan told www.Deadline.com. Fans of the original will recall that at the end Conan sits on a throne (which we know from REH’s original stories is the throne of Aquilonia). That means this new movie will basically be a KING CONAN movie—which is perfect for Schwarzenegger’s advanced age.
Several of Howard’s best Conan tales featured him as King of Aquilonia, specifically “The Phoenix on the Sword,” “The Scarlet Citadel,” and the only Conan novel written by REH, The Hour of the Dragon (also known as Conan the Conqueror). More good news is that the producers are planning to COMPLETELY IGNORE the terrible 1984 sequel (CONAN THE DESTROYER) and the travesty that was CONAN 3D. Even as a 14-year-old kid I knew how far the franchise had fallen from the first movie to the second. I found out later (much later) that there were several reasons for this: The producers wanted to make the franchise more kid-friendly, so they demanded that DESTROYER be Rated PG instead of R like the original. Also, Milius and Stone were dropped, and the special effects budget must have been half of the original.
THE LEGEND OF CONAN could be the sequel that the original film deserved. ”I love the property of Conan so much that I wouldn’t touch it unless we came up with something worthy,” Morgan said. “We think this is a worthy successor to the original film. Think of this as Conan’s UNFORGIVEN.” With Ah-nold involved, there is sure to be a plenty huge budget. What we really need is a good script and a good villain. Hopefully Chris Morgan will look to the original Conan tales written by REH for inspiration. I refuse to judge him on his previous work (FAST AND FURIOUS) because I really, REALLY want this movie to be a worthy successor to the one truly GREAT Conan film that exists.
Yes, Stone and Milius took some liberties with Howard’s Conan (he was never a slave or a gladiator), but they also nailed some of the great moments such as Conan’s crucifixion on the Tree of Woe, his taciturn nature, his barbaric sense of honor, and even the moment when the ghost of his slain lover appears to save him from death (although in the stories it was Belit, not Valeria who did this—in the classic “Queen of the Black Coast.”) There was also a nod to Nietzschian philosophy, and plenty of gore, violence, and naked breasts. Giant snakes, cannibal orgies, and decapitated heads delivered the blood-and-thunder spirit of Howard’s work, if not the letter of it.
CONAN THE BARBARIAN marks the zenith of the entire 70s Sword and Sorcery craze, and it heralded the end of that era. Now, with Sword and Sorcery making a serious comeback as a commercial genre, it’s time to redeem the Cimmerian as a movie hero. (Or anti-hero.)
KING CONAN is coming. Praise Crom!