Thursday, 29 October 2009

It Is The End Of All Hope

When Thomas Dean Donnelly and Joshua Oppenheimer were announced as scriptwriters, I tried to be positive: perhaps they just didn't have their break yet. When Kickinger was rumoured, I was optimistic: it was just a rumour. When Nispel was attached, I looked on the bright side: Pathfinder was fairly nice visually, perhaps a good script and supporting crew will balance it out.

I mean, with Nispel directing, Donnelheimer writing and the insistence on an origin story, there was no chance it would be a good Robert E. Howard movie. It probably wouldn't even be a good Conan movie. I had no hopes for the film to be anything like the film REH and his fans deserved. Still, I was interested in seeing how it turned out.

No more. The movie holds no further interest to me, save to criticize and decry.

Everything is completely and utterly wrong. The story is incompatible not with what we know of Conan's origin, but the subsequent tales themselves. There are no references to established events like Venarium, the Bull-Breaking, the 15-year-old already repeated around council fires. Apart from Conan and a reference to Thoth-Amon, there is not a single character or even name from the original stories.

SPOILERS for those who actually care:

Entirely contradictory to Conan's established fighting style - unorthodox, without finesse and technique, more like a tiger fighting a boxer than a swordsman - Conan is "trained" by his father to be a better swordsman, since even though he can slay a gang of Pict at 10 years of age(!) he apparently needs his hot head "tempered" before he can be a "real swordsman." Which sounds pretty clearly like nonsense to me: if he can kill adult Picts as a 10-year-old, he could kill practically any human foe on as a 20-year-old without having to have his "steel tempered."

Then we have nonsense like Khalar Singh (the Sikhs would have every right to be ticked off that one of their most holy names was appropriated for a bad guy who may not even be of Indian, let alone Punjabi, ethnicity), Tamara the Greek Warrior-Monk, Cheren the BLIND archer, Lucius the Aquiromian, Remo the nasty monster guy and so forth. It gets even worse when one derives what the plot has in store.

Nearly everything in the plot can be derived from a film. Not a Howard story, or even a pastiche story, but a Cromdamn Sword-and-Sorcery movie. The story of the Cimmerian boy, close to his father, who is taught certain secrets involving steel, whose people are betrayed by a Pict, whose tribe is slaughtered by the mercenaries of an evil sorcerer who will become his lifelong nemesis - Conan the Barbarian. The giant black warrior who is a rival to Conan, the precocious royal who is key to the revival of darkest evil, the feisty woman-warrior, the ally of old who seems to have had many adventures with Conan despite not appearing in earlier iterations, the whole "gang of thieves" in general - Conan the Destroyer. The act of an evil warlord entering a temple of woman-warriors to retrieve a Macguffin Of Ultimate Power, who the same warlord who traumatised the protagonist's life years beforehand - Red Sonja. The Queen whose power will restore the power of Acheron, the disgruntled royal soldier with a personal grudge against the protagonist for besting him earlier in life - Kull the Conqueror.

There's something really freaking wrong when a Conan film is plagiarising from the derivatives built upon the genre which Conan is practically a founding father of. At least Conan the Barbarian had the decency to find inspiration from good films outside the genre like Apocalypse Now, Alexander Nevsky and Cabiria.

Deuce Richardson
says pretty much everything else I want to say on the subject, but I'd like to add one observation on Conan's origin.

Anyone who's read Shakespeare's Scottish Play knows about the "No Man Of Woman Born" riddle. The prophecy comes to pass because Macduff was not "born" in the natural manner: he was "untimely ripped" from the womb via a caesarian. Evidently, this doesn't constitute a true birth in Shakespeare's sense. Howard was a great admirer of Shakespeare, slipping in references all throughout his stories: he would without question be unaware of this.

Conan's birth on the battlefield is not questioned in any of the Conan iterations I've seen. Even when they don't depict the birth, they at least don't directly contradict it, or put it in an un-Howardian light. Even Conan the Barbarian does not explicitly deny or retell the circumstances of Conan's birth.

Conan, in this story, is similarly cut from his mother, to accomodate her dying wish to see her son. Conan enters the world via a caesarian.

In Donnelly and Oppenheimer's script, Conan is not born on a battlefield.


  1. Right on Al. This is a travesty in the making, and your last line says it all.

    What gets me is the sheer, unbridled gall of thinking you can do better than the original Conan stories, which have lasted 70 years, and are now more popular than ever. I sincerely doubt that in 70 years anyone will remember this director or this movie.

  2. Crom's devils, you're not kidding. I desperately hope the ITV production works out: I might even try to worm my way into it somehow, being (relatively) close by.