Honestly, I'm tired of people bitching about Milius' Conan being unfaithful to the books. I'm a fan of Howard's writing, but let's not get pretentious about it. He wrote gory sexy adventure stories, not important works of literature.
And even if they were, faithfulness to the source material does not a great movie make. Greystoke has very little in common with Burroughs' Tarzan, but that doesn't change the fact that it's the best Tarzan film ever made.
Source fidelity can take a flying leap, for all I care. Make a good movie. That's all that matters.
First of all, let's ignore this idea that we're being "pretentious" in wanting a film adaptation that respects an author who is in the Library of America, Penguin Classics, is about to have an academic study published, and has been critiqued in more fanzines and independent scholarly journals for decades than any other fantasy author save Tolkien. Apparently, that doesn't matter, since everyone knows Conan's just puerile adolescent wish fulfillment. That said, this does accurately reflect the old Lancer approach of being "just a story." Also, kinda hard to view the foundation stones of an entire literary genre as "not important literature."
Second, the Greystoke comparisons. No, Greystoke does not have "very little" in common, it has a lot in common with the original Burroughs novels. Here's the major difference: Greystoke is still recognizably a Tarzan movie. It's still about an English boy named John Clayton, the heir to the Lordship of Greystoke, being lost in the dark jungles of Africa after his parents are slain by a wild beast, where he is raised by apes and becomes the dominant male of the group, learns language and survival quickly, and is brought home to civilization as an adult. Even with the radical departures in the second half, it's still Tarzan. What of Howard's Conan is even remaining in Milius' film outside a few snippets of his life cannibalized from the stories out of context and thus meaningless as "adaptation"? That's he's called Conan, he's from a group of people called Cimmerians, his homeland's called Cimmeria, he becomes a thief and eventually a king. That's it. Milius' Conan is a different character with the same name. It's Jon Peters' Superman.
Finally, the notion of fidelity not being required for a good adaptation. I can never understand this point of view. I simply can't understand the thinking going behind it. The only way that makes any sort of sense - and even then it's a stretch - it's that the person who thinks source fidelity truly doesn't matter, doesn't think much of the source material to begin with. This seems to be Greg's opinion, so frankly, anything that he says is kind of irrelevant. I don't know, it's just kind of anathema to me.
Of course, seeing as our friend Greg David (I've noticed that a lot of people I've butted heads with on the 'net have Groucho Marx as an avatar, an interesting coincidence since I have an intense dislike of that particular Marx sibling) views the Conan tales as nothing more than "gory sexy adventure stories" perhaps I shouldn't be surprised.
Later in the thread, I'm quoted, specifically my belief that Arnold's Conan was reactive as opposed to proactive. Whoo, I'm famous! The reactions:
Okay fair enough, but Milius's film is an origin story. After he gets his revenge against Thulsa Doom, what propels Conan forward? The coda of the film hints that he wants to be a King and has the drive to make himself one. I believe there is some discussion about this earlier in the film as well. Anyway the point is that there's no saying Milius's Conan wouldn't have evolved into a more self-actualized and driven character. Imagine a sequel where he wanders around doing mercenary work because what else can he do but sell his sword-arm, and then ends up on the high seas first captured by pirates and then becoming Am-Ra and finding a new purpose in life, etc etc.
"What propels Conan forward"? What propels Conan in any of the stories? In "The Tower of the Elephant" he's after the priceless jewel. In "Beyond the Black River" he's investigating the Picts' heightened aggression. In The Hour of the Dragon he's fighting to get his kingdom back. In "The Devil in Iron" he's looking to rescue Octavia. In "Xuthal of the Dusk" he's running from Stygian soldiers, and searching for shelter and eventual escape back to civilization. Every Conan story has an immediate, direct drive for our Cimmerian. Conan doesn't have a "purpose in life" beyond the immediate: why should anything beyond that be necessary for every single character anyway? Conan didn't plan beyond the here and now: he lives in the moment. Yet there's that subtle character arc, barely perceptible at first, but when the stories are juxtaposed, highly apparent.
Another reaction, this time talking about Moriarty's posts on the films:
That's some good reading. I may be one to defend Howards Conan - but I still have a lot of love for the original film.
Oh Lord, don't get me started on Crown of Iron...
No, faithfulness to the source material does not a great movie make. But to say one should throw fidelity to the wind is to say that one shouldn't care about it. And frankly, if you're not going to stick to a source, then why use the source to begin with? Conan the Barbarian could easily have been called "Fredrik the Ubermensch" or something suitably Germanic/Nietzschean, and I doubt many would've seen its similarities to Conan over any of the other Sword-and-Sorcery films released at the time.
The tower heist is similar to "The Tower of the Elephant," but a barbarian sneaking into a tower to get a jewel is hardly unique to Howard. Evil Serpent gods are a hallmark of REH, but have become common in other authors' work. Many of the most memorable parts of the film - the first ten minutes, the Wheel of Pain, Doom's speech, the Riddle of Steel, the Battle of the Mounds - are Milius originals, or at least elements Milius really liked from other films. Without Howard's names, the only moments in the film which are strictly Howardian as opposed to just Sword-and-Sorcery in general are the vulture-bite at the "crucifixion" and Valeria's resurrection. Even then, I'm sure people could just consider them homages - much as the vulture scene from "A Witch Shall Be Born" itself could be considered an homage to a similar episode in an Edgar Rice Burroughs Tarzan novel.
But I've done this argument to death, and I've long gotten tired with people asserting that fidelity to the source material doesn't matter in film adaptations. Especially when they present films that are actually truer than half the other cinematic adaptations released up to that point as examples of "unfaithful" ones.
What do you fine folk think? Am I nuts? While I can understand certain types of unfaithful adaptations - Shakespeare adaptions in modern times, foreign lands or science-fiction, for instance, mostly because all the "accurate" versions have been done - isn't the point of an adaptation to adapt a particular work from one medium to another? Once it goes past divergence and into alienation, surely that's a point too far?
EDIT: By the way, I just wanted to share this link. It made me laugh.