Monday, 22 March 2010

King Conan: Clown of Iron

Well, Milius' draft for King Conan: Crown of Iron has been circulating the internet. A Google search will probably take you to one. I'll probably do a bigger post on it some point in the future, but here, I'll just say everything that I hate about Conan the Barbarian is worsened tenfold. Ironhand's parody is not that wide of the mark.

I'm not exaggerating. Remember how Konahn was a slave to destiny and obedient to authority? He's that, and more: he's a spineless, cowardly, weak-willed, stupid, altogether not easy to root for lapdog. Kon is no better, growing up subservient and cowed by his betters while they beat and berate him. Remember how the Hyborian Age was ignored in favour of a pseudo-Bronze Age milieu? Not a single nation in the entire setting is unchanged: civilized nations become barbarian lands and vice versa, Stygia has been wiped out, every nation in the earth is now under the heel of the "Aquilonian" Empire. You know how I hate the Aquiromans of Marvel & Dark Horse comics? Milius doesn't do that: he doesn't even pretend to make them "Roman-like", he just makes them Romans. Period. You could honestly just change every reference of "Aquilonia" to "Rome" and you wouldn't know the difference. Anyone hoping that Milius would adapt a real Howard story will be sorely disappointed.

Oh, but of course, that doesn't mean Milius doesn't strip-mine Howard for good bits, taking them out of context and diluting their impact. He steals themes and elements from "The Frost-Giant's Daughter," "The Phoenix on the Sword," and The Hour of the Dragon. He also includes some lines of Howardian poetry from "A Song of the Naked Lands" and "A Word from the Outer Dark." These are by far the only Howardian elements in the entire script, and they ring devastatingly hollow when recited by Conan. And, of course, DeCamp manages to muscle in, as his "Lair of the Ice Worm" gets a more respectful homage than any of the Howard stories, just like "The Thing in the Crypt" in Conan the Barbarian.

It isn't just the Howard aspect that suffers, but internal consistency. Milius can't decide whether Rome has iron or steel, which is a major part of the script. He also can't make up his mind whether Zingara is a province of "Aquilonia," or merely an allied state. His philosophy and metaphor is woolly and self-contradictory. Perhaps most damning of all, however, is that this script contradicts Milius' own Conan the Barbarian. I could almost--almost--look over the hash Milius makes of the Hyborian Age, since this is just nothing new. But here, Milius seems to forget what happened in his own damn movie. For instance, remember how Konahn "becomes a king by his own hand"? That doesn't happen. And the inversion of Conan is complete. This is Bizarro-Conan, the Hyborian Age of the Mirror Universe, Earth-3. The opposite of the real Conan.

Remember how I said I'd rather see Crown of Iron than the upcoming abomination? Well... I don't know if that's true any more. Somehow, Milius manages to make his usurpation and subversion of Howard's themes and characters even worse. There is zero trace of Howard's Conan in the pathetic creature in this script. The age he lives in is unrecognizable. It's almost a parody of Howard's work, and I would laugh if I didn't realise this is supposed to be serious. And, here's the clincher: I don't think Milius fans will like it. It lacks the simplicity and elegance of Conan the Barbarian, with a rash of unnecessary characters, reams of pages and subplots that could be cut, and many of the disparate elements fail to gel together.

There are many scenes in this script where I bellowed "Oh COME ON!" in indignation and surprise, but it occurred to me that it isn't just because it's an affront to Howard, but an affront to Conan the Barbarian. I get the distinct feeling that Milius fans are going to do a lot of the same things, as Conan does things that are unspeakably cowardly, and bends without resistance to others' will. I wouldn't be surprised if Milius fans will look on Crown of Iron as the Konahn equivalent of Indiana Jones & the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull or The Lost World: Jurassic Park: a fall from grace from the director of a classic. Sure, it'd probably be quite successful financially, but the fans of the 1982 epic might feel slighted, offended, and betrayed.

Well, misery loves company. Maybe then they'd understand what us Howard fans are talking about.


  1. I seem to remember reading some where that Kull: The Conqueror with Kevin Sorbo was based on a re-write of this script.

    Is that correct? or did I hear incorrectly?

  2. I think Kull the Conqueror was in fact a different script, since this one has many divergences. I've still to read the Conan the Conqueror version.

    Let me put it this way: CoI is, in its way, worse. KtC could at least be ridiculed with its Hercules: The Legendary Journeys nonsense and Harvey Fierstein, but this is filled with po-faced pomposity and gravely serious meaningfulness (though I admit, the humor in CoI is actually funny sometimes). People wouldn't take the former seriously: they would with this.

  3. This is also the first draft. Apparently, Milius' subsequent draft was much better as a screenplay and featured a much stronger Conan, but proceeded to excise even more Howardian elements, leaving only The Phoenix and the Sword (which still owes more to "By this Axe I rule", frankly, what with the lack of Thoth Amon). At least "The Ice Worm" was dropped as well, but without ANY supernatural elements, you have to wonder what Milius was actually going for. It would have more in common with a 60s historical epic than anything remotely Conan, which is the problem with Milius approach to Howard. He's a passionate film-maker, but the movie he wants to make never has anything to do with the source material he's "adapting" from.

    As for that other script that became Kull the Conqueror, we have another case of perpetual whiner Chuck Pogue (boo hoo they ruined my script again) doing exactly the same thing. He had the gall to say "The Hour of the Dragon" couldn't be adapted into a film, and then didn't even try, instead giving us a bastardized mismash which cribbed some elements from The Phoenix and the Sword and the Hour of the Dragon, but mostly told a watered-down tale of his own a la Dragonheart. And then, seeing as he believed Kull and Conan were really the same character, he just switched the names around for the Kull movie. Really, Pogue's just as bad as Milius, but he's more prone to sniveling.

  4. Exactly, Taran. Milius just wants to do his own thing, but somehow, he manages to hoodwink an established property in order to do so. Hopefully Milius got his "Roman" fix with "Rome", since it's pretty clear he has no interest in adapting Robert E. Howard. Hell, I'd watch a Roman epic by Milius. I just don't want any goddamn Romans in my Conan.

    Pogue's screenplay was predictably lame. It's the same with Dirk Blackman's "treatment" of "The Frost-Giant's Daughter", which was rightly criticized on the forum. Some forumers lamented the fact that we burnt our bridges with him, but frankly, Blackman's the one who bullshot us from the beginning. All this talk of being a Howard fan, then he goes and posts his moronic screenplay that reads like a pastiche. If he expected us to fawn all over it, he's delusional at best and an idiot at worst.

  5. Oh, Dirk Blackman...initially, I defended him, but after a while, the sheer inanity of his "Frost Giant's Daughter" script gnawed far too much in the back of my brain. At least Bassett told the fans, right from the get-go, what he was going to do, rather than heading the Blackman route of saying one thing and delivering another. You think you're version is cooler than Howard's. Fine. But don't try and convince is you're actually staying true to him on screen.

    Also, earlier, I was specifically referring to Pogue's interviews about Kull where he would say what a stellar Kull script he had, and how the producer/director/script doctor ruined it, and tries to curry favour with Howard fans. In the course of this, we found out he what an arrogant "artist" he was, and that his original screenplay was still a steaming pile of garbage. He whines so much about Dragonheart, but his screenplay is just as moronic as the subsequent film was, just with faux-medieval dialogue. Blackman and Pogue don't get any sympathy from me these days. They could have at least been honest with the fans.

  6. so, I see that my old poster make some career :)
    I made this for TAF side years ago from one of Arnold old photos...
    but - latest news talks about Jason Momoa will be new Conan... I hope this is some joke or mistake... What do you think about this?
    best regards - Maciek from Poland.

  7. So you're the famous Maciek? Nice to hear from you: your old poster is probably the best thing about Crown of Iron. Do you have the original still, or has it disappeared into the aether?

    Jason Momoa is indeed Conan. Now, with Momoa I would've been prepared to wait and see - with enough time to bulk up at the gym, he might've been alright. But the director is horrible, the screenwriters atrocious, and the project has been so rushed Momoa's upper body is toned but lithe, and his legs are ridiculously skinny. Only two months for principal photography, and Momoa only had about three months to bulk up.

    Almost nothing right is going on with this film, and even the stuff that should be right (Stephen Lang and Ron Perlman) is still wrong, since they're wasting them on this film.

    It depresses me no end.

  8. nice to hear the poster was ok:)
    here - take a look on biger, earlier version:
    It was the digital artwork.
    ... also, back to conan news - I`m really worry about all project with that crew and don`t expect nothing good enough... the movie will be propably just next adventure-fantasy story in type "see it, and forget it". this is not good because conan is great theme for big epic movie picture. it should be some kind of work like on tolkien story. they must work on hole world of conan and the personality must be strong - not only body. momoa doesn`t have both. I have no hope for good results... but - this is my opinion - you have the right for the other :)
    sorry about my english - I know it`s horrible :)

  9. Wow, great article, I really appreciate your thought process and having it explained properly, thank you!

    King Iron Works