Stage 1: Denial
Date: 23rd February 2009
Trigger: the Latino Review Featurette
"Let's not be hasty, guys, the Latino Review might have gotten their facts wrong, or perhaps someone's screwing about with them. No way is this script outline real: "Khalar Singh"? Conan's tribe being wiped out yet again? Acheron being a significant plot point in what's chronologically the first Conan story, but never gets mentioned again until the very last? Come on, guys."
Stage 2: Anger
Time: 23rd October 2009
Trigger: Moviehole character casting sheet report
"I am vexed. After almost 80 years, we're going to get Another Made Up Origin Story just like the one we had 30 years ago. It is extremely difficult to amply convey my deep and resolute exasperation at this turn of events."
Stage 3: Bargaining
Time: 12th September 2010
Event: Encouraging reports on Blackman's script for the sequel
"OK, OK, maybe there's another way of looking at it: if this film does well, then can we get an actual Howard adaptation? If this film does well at the box office, maybe we'll finally get a Howard story on the big screen. Maybe Blackman's script really is a pretty close adaptation of one of the original Conan tales - come on guys, this could be our chance!"
Stage 4: Depression
Time: 12th March 2011
Trigger: Conan the Barbarian teaser released
Stage 5: Acceptance
Time: 17th May 2011
Trigger: This post
"You know what? This is happening. It can't be stopped. It can't be changed. It can't be helped. We just have to figure out what we're going to do from here."
It's a source of constant amusement to me that there are several folk on various boards who think I'm somehow not a "real" Conan fan because I have the audacity to try and give the movie the benefit of the doubt. Some even seem to think I've gone soft, that Sean Hood's outreach has given me some sort of about-turn on the project, and that I've said the formerly heinous script was now awesome (Wikipedius, he say: "citation needed.") As far as they're concerned, I'm now the project's number 1 fan, and I brush off all criticisms with a "hey, at least it isn't Ahnold." They have no idea how very, very wrong they are. What they don't know is that giving the film that benefit of the doubt is the only thing that's keeping me sane.
Sure, I could make every single post on the Conan Movie Blog a bitter tirade about how clueless the production seems to me, ignoring anything remotely good because of the stuff that simply can't be changed. What does it matter that Jason Momoa might make a fine Conan if he's in a story concocted by a bunch of screenwriters that isn't based on any of the Howard stories? What does it matter if they have a substantial budget for an R-rated film if none of the funds are going to realise the prose and descriptions Howard put in? What does it matter if the film tanks or soars at the box office if it has nothing to do with REH?
I could. So easily, I could. But I won't, because I have enough damned negativity already. Being measured and fair in approach to the film has done absolute wonders for my sense of calm and general wellbeing. I call out the things that seem obviously wrong to me, but I don't repeat past misgivings, I try to keep the snark to a minimum, and if I see things worth praising, I let them have it.
What would be gained by unleashing all the pent-up frustration, irritation and outrage in every single post? There's only so many times I can say "just a shame Khalar Zym doesn't exist in any Howard story, or I might care about his costume/actor/motivations/design/singing voice," or "this is all well and good, but since it's not only not a Howard story, but in many ways antithetical and contradictory to Howard's work, I see no reason why I should care about this stupid Mask of Acheron or Tamara the Chosen One or Conan the Scary Violent Kung Fu Kid," or "it's nice they're going to the effort of shooting on location in Bulgaria and using every trick in the book to get all they can out of their budget, just a shame it's all going to be wasted on a story made up by the geniuses who made Sahara and A Sound of Thunder...
It gets repetitive. However, I'm going to concentrate on the one thing which upsets me most about the trailer, which is indeed one of the things which bothers me about the film in general.
Trailers are a finicky thing. Show too much, and the audience might think there's no point, since they've already shown all the best bits; too little, and the audience just isn't interested. A general audience should be treated as largely ignorant of the source material, should it exist, and one cannot simply assume that they'll know what's going on, who certain characters are, whatnot. The trailer is selling the story to people who don't know names, history, biographies, as well as to the casual fans who might be on the fence.
From a more dedicated fan's point of view, however, trailers have a far more profound effect. These faces, places, creatures and things can be recognized. A figure glimpsed for a second can instantly recall memories of an instrumental character; a landscape seen in a few moments can conjure the events and adventures that happened; a mere silhouette might be enough to trigger the synapses. Fans can recognize characters in trailers: these aren't just actors, effects, puppets, matte paintings or location shoots, these are people, moments, beings, nations, history.
So it is with a number of trailers where the general audience and the fanbase can have a very different reaction to a trailer. I'll use an example, one of the first trailers for The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring. Not the film itself, mind, I'm going purely by the trailer.
The average cinemagoer sees nothing particularly familiar: a series of bearded folk with swords fighting some horrific creatures in pitched battles, some sympathetic child-like young heroes taking up extraordinary challenges, a wise woman of the forest, a gigantic monster, a wide range of locations from rural idylls and lush forests to oppressive underground caves and slag-strewn volcanic landscapes, and all manner of things that make it look like a ripping good time at the cinema.
But the Tolkien fan sees so much more. They're seeing Gandalf riding into Hobbiton to meet Bilbo at Bag End. They're seeing Sauron forging the One Ring, marshalling the Hosts of Mordor. They're seeing the Nine riding out; Frodo gazing upon the ring, the ring-verse reflected in his innocent face; Aragorn, Legolas, Gimli, Boromir, Elrond, Arwen; Mount Doom, Moria, Minas Morgul, Rivendell, the Argonath; the journey through Khazad-Dum, the voyage down the Anduin. They're seeing things that they recognize. Of course you'll have fans disagreeing with certain interpretations, but it's at least clear that they are interpretations of Tolkien's characters, places and events, and not made up for a new story.
How about a more recent one, perhaps one that isn't quite as engrained in popular consciousness as The Lord of the Rings, yet has a substantial fanbase of its own - Green Lantern?
Once again, the general audience just sees the things that might entice them: the promise of action, grand spectacle, a little humour, some gravitas, and things they haven't seen in a film before. But the fans are seeing Hal Jordan receiving the ring from Abin Sur, they're seeing his relationship with Carol Ferris, they're seeing Sinestro, Tomar-Re, Kilowog, Hector Hammond...
Now let's look at the Conan the Barbarian trailer.
The average cinemagoer might feel a number of things, ranging from "this just looks like another dumb Sword-and-Sorcery movie like Clash of the Titans or Prince of Persia, I'll pass" to "cool, this looks like another dumb Sword-and-Sorcery movie like Clash of the Titans or Prince of Persia, I'm so there!"
The Howard fan in me feels... nothing.
I see a great castle. I don't know what it is, or what it's meant to be. It's just a big castle. With a skull in the mountain. It could be a city referred to by Howard, or one of the pastiches, or an original creation of the script, but without anything immediately evocative of Howard - the gleaming white spires and minarets of Khorshemish, the blue and golden towers of Tarantia, the black monolithic citadels of Khemi, the jade walled cities of Xuthal or Xuchotl, the colossal pylons and purple minarets of Python - it's just a castle.
Then we see a girl in a weird headdress. Just a girl. Not Belit, nor Valeria, Yasmina, Zenobia, Belesa, even Olivia or Natala - just some girl in a weird headdress. The giddy glee of recognition is untapped. Jason looks pretty good as Conan, but he's doing these preposterous, pointless twirls and katas which don't evoke Conan to me so much as a Wuxia epic. Then we see some bald guy asking us to "behold and despair our new master" - not one of Howard's despicable villains like Xaltotun, Thugra Khotan, Tsotha-Lanti, the Master of Yimsha, Yara, Khosatral Khel, Nabonidus, or anyone who could be recognized from their attire or words. Then we see some balding chick with weird tattoos and a sword too big for her. All through this trailer, I'm feeling nothing... until the quote from "The Frost-Giant's Daughter." Then I feel that spark, that "hell yeah" - but it's gone almost as soon as it arrives as I see another succession of meaningless images. It comes back when I see that frame of Momoa holding the two swords, an absolutely fantastic expression on his face that's pure Conan to me. Then it's gone again.
I viewed almost the whole trailer with all the emotion of someone who knows nothing about Conan, because I have zero emotional investment in Tamara, Artus, Ela-Shan, Khalar Zym, Marique, Corin, Fassir, Ukafa, the Greek-Influenced Monastery, the Hornet, and so forth. I'm a massive fan of Conan, and yet I'm experiencing no greater excitement or deeper feeling than someone who's never heard of the character. This state of affairs is, simply, perverse.
I'm watching The Lord of the Rings trailer, seeing beloved characters from the story I've read over and over again. I'm even watching the Green Lantern trailer with more enjoyment - even though I haven't read much of the comics, I know enough to recognize Sinestro, Kilowog and Tomar-Re, and think "wow, they're actually not half bad translations from the comic." I watch the Conan the Barbarian as if it's something completely new, unproven, and has yet to be experienced. A character with 80 years of history, and I'm treating it with the sort of vague disinterest I show towards Immortals. It's absolutely baffling.
To show you what I mean, let's try a hypothetical trailer using a Howard adaptation. Let's try... "Black Colossus," just for fun.
A black screen. Text appears on screen:
"There was an age undreamed of..."
The trailer opens with the ruins of Kuthchemes. A deep, calm, bell-like voice:
Voice of Mitra: "Speak not, my daughter, for I know your need."
Cut to the shadow of Natohk menacing Yasmela in her nightmares.
Cut to Yasmela & Vateesa trembling before a great statue.
Voice of Mitra: "In one manner may you save your kingdom"
Zoom in on Yasmela's face.
Cut to various shots of Conan dealing death.
Cut to Yasmela meeting Conan in the streets.
Yasmela: "Come with me off the street."
Conan: "Devil bite you, hussy!"
Lionsgate/Millenium/Nu Image/Paradox logos
Cut to Natohk's horde converging in the desert from all directions towards Shamla Pass.
Cut to Shevatas creeping through the ruins of Kuthchemes.
Cut to the serpent guardian.
Cut to a wide shot of the dome under Kuthchemes. A voice:
Natohk: "The desert is a rose-garden beneath the moon..."
Cut to the hooded figure of Natohk communing with the forces of darkness.
Natohk: "... where blossom the fires of a hundred thousand warriors."
Cut to Natohk's chariot before his massive host.
Natohk: "I have grown strong in the long years of dreaming..."
Cut to Natohk's destruction of Eruk's walls (as mentioned in an early draft, which I think would be awesome to include)
Cut to the Shemite friend of Conan:
Shemite: "A new prophet had risen among the nomads. Men spoke of tribal war, of a gathering of vultures in the southeast."
Cut to the Asshuri, Kushite and Nomad commanders.
Cut to Prince Kutamun with his Stygian nobles.
Cut to shots of Khoraja.
"Men said that the uplands of the Hyborians were the goal of Natohk and his chanting votaries."
Cut to Yasmela, imperiously addressing the nobility:
Yasmela: "The kingdom is in peril."
Shots of slaughter, destruction and rapine.
"Tomorrow we march southward"
Shots of the Khorajan army marching to war.
Cut to Yasmela.
"And there is the man who shall lead you!"
Conan steps out in full plate
Cut to Conan dealing death again.
Thespides: "This man is a savage – a fellow of no culture or breeding!"
Cut to Conan dealing death yet again.
Cut to Yasmela talking to Conan as he's eating.
Yasmela: "But can you lead men and arrange battle-lines?"
Cut to Conan. Comic beat as Conan pauses munching his huge joint of beef:
Conan: "Well, I can try!"
Cut to Conan in full plate finery riding out with the army.
Amalric: "If the dog ever commanded more than a company of cutthroats before..."
Cut to Amalric.
Amalric: "I’ll eat him, harness and all!"
Cut to various shots from the story: Thespides' charge, Conan and Yasmela at the camp, the giant snake, the battle, though without revealing any of the really big shots.
Cut to the commanders looking behind the camera (the fog, but it won't be revealed in the trailer.) Suddenly Conan puts his ear to the ground, his eyes widen.
Final montage of various scenes: action, mystery, adventure, danger, excitement.
Title screen "Conan the Barbarian: Black Colossus"
Cut to Conan rearing his charge.
Conan: "This day you become knights! Mount and follow me to hell!"
Cut to the delightful "Join the Barbarian Army on Facebook" screen
It tells you the story without giving too much away, a few shots of the cool beasties, characters, locations and set pieces, it casts Conan as a badass with a sense of humour, and of course plenty of action and sexiness. Cinemagoers would see pretty much everything the mass audience needs for a Conan movie: a badass hero swinging his sword, naked flesh, dire sorcery, horrific monsters, lots of blood and thunder - i.e., the stuff that You Just Do. They're as instrumental to a Conan film as tanks, guns and soldiers would be in film set in a World War II battle.
Now, can you imagine what I'd be like watching that trailer? "It's Yasmela! The voice of Mitra sounds awesome! Thugra Khotan looks great! Kutamun looks badass! Conan's just like how he was! Kuthchemes, Khoraja, Shamla Pass, all look fantastic!" Sure, I'd be likely to be caterwauling about any and all of the things they got wrong, like how I despised Arwen's stupid "come and claim him line" in The Lord of the Rings, but again, that's what fans do. The important thing is, I knew what was happening. I knew these people, the places, the events. I don't know Khalar Zym, or Tamara, or Marique, or any of the characters in the film outside of Conan himself. I have absolutely no emotional investment in them. This would already be the case for the average cinemagoer - but the fans?
Perhaps people might feel I'm expressing some sort of entitlement issues. "I'm a fan, so I deserve this." Well... what's so wrong about that? I'm hardly asking for the impossible here. All I want is to have the same experience watching a Conan trailer that Tolkien fans would watching the trailer for Jackson's Lord of the Rings - heck, I'd take Narnia or Harry Potter. Sure, some of it might be negative, but it's a strong, passionate reaction to something they know. If Conan the Barbarian: Black Colossus did Thugra Khotan wrong, I'd be passionate about it, because I know and care about Thugra Khotan enough to have strong ideas and a personal mental image. If they do Khalar Zym wrong, I don't give two figs, because I don't know or care about Khalar Zym.
I just want to be able to see a trailer and feel what those Lord of the Rings, Green Lantern, Narnia and Harry Potter fans have already enjoyed. I want to watch a trailer for Conan: The People of the Black Circle and jump up and down in my seat at the sight of Yasmina taking command, Conan assaulting Mount Yimsha, Khemsa and the Lord of the Black Circle duelling souls, the battle of Gurashah. I want to watch a trailer for Conan: Queen of the Black Coast, and giggle like a lunatic at seeing Conan's battle on the Argus, Belit in all her glory, attacks on the Stygian fleet, the fight with the snake and the were-hyenas and the Winged One, Belit's return from the grave. I want to watch a trailer for Conan: The Hour of the Dragon, and squeal like a girl as I see the Black Ring battling the Khitans, Akivasha lurking in the darkness, the Aquilonian and Nemedian hosts clashing, Conan freeing the slaves, Xaltotun at the king's altar. To feel that sense of glee, of recognition, of understanding, that there's so much more to Conan than the Cimmerian himself.
Is that really so much to ask?