Please indulge me, gentle readers; I have to make an update to my post about Robert E. Howard and the ‘Conan’ movie adaptations.
I felt bad lamenting about the new ‘Conan the Barbarian’ film based solely on the overwhelming negative critical reviews the movie has received. So I decided to go see it for myself last Saturday night with a friend who was brave enough to accompany me. And I’m here to say that it was not nearly as bad as I’d heard!
OK; the story was not terribly original. It followed a very similar template as the first Conan movie from 1982, which I found disappointing. But ya know, folks, this is Conan the Barbarian; not Macbeth! It was gritty, dirty, bloody Barbarian action. I think Jason Momoa did an admirable job portraying Conan. He definitely has the look, the body, the brooding scowl and the ferocious swordsmanship of my favorite Barbarian. Also the kid who briefly played young Conan was awesome!
The look of the film was really beautiful; the magnificent landscapes and ancient ruins of a sprawling, half-forgotten civilization. Many scenes from the movie conjured images from my own imagination from reading Conan stories long ago. And we got to see Conan’s pirate buddies! That was a nice touch. I thought Momoa showed more range of character and emotion than he was given credit for from other reviews. The bad guy (and girl) were a bit over-the-top; but hell – it was fun! You got sorcery, many-tentacled monsters, and Ron Perlman as Conan’s dad! I think I still like the first Conan film better; but I really liked Jason Momoa as the burley Cimmerian.
So, harkening back to my previous post, I still just wish they’d adapt Howard’s original stories for future Conan films. That would be truly awesome! If anyone reading this has thoughts about the movie (or anything else around here) I’d like to hear them.
And while we’re focused on movies and science fiction/fantasy: here are my thoughts on the ‘Planet of the Apes’ reboot that just came out:
After seeing ‘Rise of the Planet of the Apes’ a couple of weeks ago, the first thing I have to say is “I am SO looking forward to the next movie in this series!” (I read somewhere they are planning this to be a trilogy). I’ve been reading many positive reviews about this film from diverse sources; and the reviews are pretty much spot-on. It was for the most part very intelligent, emotionally engaging (thanks to Andy Serkis, John Lithgow, and some amazing CGI), and downright intense, with a healthy dash of suspension of disbelief near the end.
The original ‘Planet of the Apes’ from 1968 is still one of my favorite science fiction films; so I got a bit leery when I heard someone was doing another reboot of ‘The Apes’ series. Tim Burton’s remake of a few years back was pretty much despised by the majority of moviegoers and science fiction fans. I thought it had some interesting twists from the original movie story, but there were also many things I didn’t like about it, either. That ending sure was wacky, and it looks like we’ll never find out what would have happened had there been a sequel. But it’s interesting that the original novel ‘Planet of the Apes’ by Pierre Boulle actually did take place on a distant planet, as in Burton’s remake. Boulles book was very different from the film, however, with only the basic idea of humans and apes having reversed roles being used as the seed for the Apes movies.
But back to the new film; I think they did a very nice job updating the story. I can see why critics were rather unkind toward James Franco’s portrayal of the geneticist who tries to find a cure for Alzheimer’s disease, but ends up making apes super intelligent. He was just adequate, compared to his female co-star’s incredibly bland performance; but the real stars of the film are Andy Serkis as the computer template for Caesar, leader of the ape uprising, and the always delightful John Lithgow as the scientist’s father and inspiration for his experiments. It’s really astounding what level computer generated imaging has reached these days, when I could feel that the CGI characters of this film were more emotionally engaging than most of the real actors.
Another thing I enjoyed were the numerous references the writers threw in to the original ‘Planet of the Apes’ movie. In one scene there’s a TV in the monitor room of the primate facility that briefly shows a close-up of Charlton Heston, (I think it may have been a scene from ‘Ben Hur’, but I’m not sure). Then there’s the sadistic ape handler who hoses down Caesar, just like what happens to Taylor in the original Apes film. One thing that bothered me was why someone with such disdain for primates would have a job working with them? It was a little over-the-top. And of course, there was the obligatory scene where a human gets to yell “Take your stinking paws off me, you damned dirty ape”! Probably my favorite Heston line of all time!
But my favorite part was where we see a glimpse of a TV news report telling about the first manned mission to Mars; then later in the film another news bulletin saying that contact with the returning Mars mission has been lost. I’m imagining this is the setup for the next film in this series where our intrepid astronauts get catapulted into the future? Also the end of the movie does a great job setting up a very plausible explanation of how the future Planet of the Apes comes to be. But that’s all I can say about that. Go see the movie!
The new ‘Conan the Barbarian’ movie opened this weekend in theaters. I’ve read several reviews from widely divergent on-line sources, and the great majority of them say the film is pretty bad. I haven’t seen the movie myself, but from the previews I’d watched recently I already had a bad feeling about the new ‘Conan’. The reviews so far have confirmed my fear that this movie is another special effects gore-fest that’s big on visuals and severely lacking in character development, story and dialogue, as I’ve come to expect from ‘Hollywood’ films.
And you know, it really pisses me off!
When I read many months ago that a new Conan film was being made, and that it’s creators wanted to get back to the spirit of the original Conan stories of Robert E. Howard, I started to get excited! I rather enjoyed the original 1982 ‘Conan the Barbarian” film with Arnold Schwarzenegger. It was a little trippy, a little cheesy; but it had a good heart. It had humor as well as bad-ass sword fights. It had violence and gore (in the spirit of Howard’s stories) but not the totally over-the-top CGI buckets of blood that everything these days seems to employ (ie; Spartacus: Blood and Sand; The 300). It had one of my favorite movie soundtracks of all time by Basil Poledouris. And, I think Arnold did a decent job playing the stoic Cimmerian; speaking little and only when he had something to say. But still – the idea of a modern movie that could better capture the true spirit of Howard’s iconic character and the dark sorcery and wild diversity of the eldritch world of Hyperboria really got my hopes up for this new film. Only, it seems, to be dashed once more!
When I was in my late teens back in 1973-75, I loved Robert E. Howard’s Conan stories. They were the pinnacle of swashbuckling, testosterone-stirring adventure! (And the genesis of the ‘Sword and Sorcery’ genre, I would later learn). I also loved the Conan comic book series by Marvel in the 1970s. But more than that, I loved the atmosphere of Howard’s stories. They took place in a vast and mysterious prehistory that was completely unknown; ripe with magic that seemed like ancient vestiges of a forgotten science. A kind of post-apocalyptic Dark Age reminiscent of Jack Vance’s ‘Dying Earth’ stories or Gene Wolfe’s ‘Book of the New Sun’ about a far future Barbaric Age where the glories of a superior technology were almost, but not quite, forgotten. So really, anything was possible! It was a world as wild and untamed as imagination; both strangely familiar and utterly mysterious.
“Between the years when the oceans drank Atlantis and the gleaming cities, and the rise of the sons of Aryas, there was an Age undreamed of, when shining kingdoms lay spread across the world like blue mantles beneath the stars. . . . Hither came Conan, the Cimmerian, black-haired, sullen-eyed, sword in hand . . . to tread the jeweled thrones of the Earth under his sandaled feet.” That kind of says it all.
For a few years before I discovered Robert E. Howard, I had been immersed in reading the great science fiction authors like Asimov, Arthur Clarke, James Blish, Theodore Sturgeon, Murray Leinster, Philip K. Dick, etc. The myriad possibilities of the future and life on other worlds; and how science, politics and religion might shape human destiny were what I grew up on. And most of these writers were scientists and wrote about what might be theoretically possible. So when I found this new genre of primal savagery, heroic exploits and sinister sorcery (not to mention scantily-clad babes) it appealed to another aspect of my adolescent psyche that had been previously unattended-to. And the stories of Conan’s adventures are just plain fun! As were other authors I soon discovered who inspired or were inspired by Howard; like L. Sprague De Camp, Lin Carter and Edgar Rice Burroughs.
It looks like it could be interesting, and hopefully more in the style of the books than the Conan movies have been so far. One can only hope!
But there’s one thing I must realize: A movie is never going to be as good as a book. And that’s just the way it is. A motion picture is a completely different animal than a book. And that’s OK.
But I really wish someday someone would use one of Robert E. Howard’s wonderful stories to base a Conan movie on. Or combine a couple of stories. Conan was a well-developed, interesting character who changed and evolved over many years and adventures to finally become a great king. Heck, there are a wealth of great Conan stories by the man who created him; why not attempt to base a film on that?!
Alright, my rant is coming to an end. For now. I just wanted to let whomever may read this know that Conan is much more than what you see in the movies. And Robert E. Howard was a writer of great talent who found a niche and launched a new literary genre. And tragically, he died way too soon, by his own hand. Below I’ve arranged a few links about Howard and his life. Check them out; I think he’s worth getting to know.