Monday, 28 March 2011

Why Does It Bother Me So: Why The Upcoming Conan Film Is So Important

Full disclosure: this is going to be a very polarized post.  Yeah, one of those.  Lots of very angry things, and lots of super-duper happy things will be said.  It regards the upcoming film.  Just warning you.

You can probably guess what the vast majority of negative comments regarding the recent Conan trailer have been.  Variations of "The formula is C = A, C is Conan, A is Arnold, ergo -A = -C," "This Looks Mighty Poor Quality, Chaps," and the most amusing of all, "Proof That Hollywood Is Out Of Ideas" and "Why Can't They Think Of Something New?"  I can't be the only one who sees the inherent comedy in 90% of these comments saying almost exactly the same thing...

However, a particular subsection of those comments affects me more.  I'm used to the Arnold/Conan sublimation.  I'm used to people forgetting that Hollywood's been remaking films since cinema was born.  But, at the risk of being hyperbolic, these other comments... wound me. My chest seizes up, my head aches, something in my very soul spasms.

Perhaps you fine readers are made of sterner stuff.  Maybe I'm just not cynical enough.  Nonetheless, perhaps if I show you the comments, you'll see what I mean.

I live.
I love.
I slay.
I puke?
 - Josh at Slashfilm

"I uh...I live. I love. I slay. I wax my eyebrows. And I am pret-ty"
 - Movie Lover at Slashfilm

Snooze fest.....
"I live I love i slay"
 - thisbethesdasea

As an unabashed Conan fan, this completely underwhelms me.
Conan! What is best in life?
Crush you enemies, see them driven before you and to hear the lamentation of the women!
I live, I love, I slay and I am content?
What IS this?
 - the_return_of_conan

I live. I love. I slay... Makes me want to make fun of it, not worship it. Seems obviously trying to compete with the ultimate man-credo, "What is best in life?"
 - wierdo27

What a shame, another missed opportunity becomes some fuck-head producer thinks he know what he's talking about.
"I live, I love, I slay and I am contented" - I doubt 'love' ever featured much in Conan's vernacular, f*ck maybe, but love?
 - thall_joben at

"I live, I love, I slay, I'm content." Oh well, at least the dialog is on par with the cornyness of the original.
 - Anonymous at

I live, I love, I slay and I am content? Sounds like a poet with a chip on his shoulder...Whatever happened to "have no limitations of women" or I'll bash your brain in just for looking at me the wrong way. Those words sound more barbaric.
 - Binarychaos at

"I live, I love, I slay" It sounds like he was hitting on Buffy in that clip.
 - ErasmusSB654

If Conan has more than six lines of dialog in this movie, I'm not interested.
 - KillerB at

I live, I love, I slay, I get my hair blown out.
 - NP at

"I live, I love, I slay & I am content"? I've heard better dialogue in some of that shonky, straight to DVD schlock that they churn out on a weekly basis. Sinbad vs the Minotaur anyone? This is going to be utter, UTTER shite!!!
 - Tenacious P at

Were those lines an attempt to imitate the "What are the best things in life?" answer from the OG Conan? I really don't think Conan is ever content, whether he was spending time in the swamps eating frogs or wearing the crown of Aquilonia, his blood was always burning on what mayhem he could cause and what treasure he could steal next... Plus, Conan never explains himself to anybody!
 - Neutrallies

Way too much talking. That line was more than Arnold said in the 1st movie...
 - Niem8211

" I live, I love, I.." wha? What the [frick] was that crap? "
 - Superpooper at

“Yeah, it sounds more like something from ‘Buffy, the Vampire Slayer‘ show than ‘Conan the Barbarian’”
 - Movie God at

"I live. I love. I slay." Doesn't exactly have the same ring as:
- Conan, what is best in life?
- To crush your enemies, see them driven before you... and to hear the lamentation of their women!
 - Deathdealer at the Obsidian Forums

how funny is it that at the end he goes "i am content" a barbarian is? really going to know what that means aint he. fail movie
 - #KAoSILLuZionZ1995 on Youtube

I live, Ilove, I Sla...Oh, shut the hell up!
 - Joe,

The trailer is quite brief (one minute), and doesn’t show much beyond a lot of smoke, a few poorly nutritioned villains, a beautiful woman, and some goofy dialog on how to achieve contentment through slaying. That part reminded me of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, but with more swords and a better soundtrack.
 - John O'Neill at Black Gate, who I expected better from

Why does this particularly hit me?  Is it because it's a version of the last sentence in one of my all-time favourite Conan moments?  Is it because people think it's an attempt to "improve" on "Crush your enemies" - or worse, that the inclusion of "love" is some sort of ham-fisted PC-driven alteration?  Would these people still think this is goofy/cheesy/stupid/a shallow imitation of the 1982 film's credo if they knew it was written by the creator of Conan - and do I really want to know the answer to that?  Who knows.  All I know is that I have to fight down an urge to reach into my monitor and Chokeslam the people who type this.  To the centre of the earth.

 The Chokeslam, or Nodowa Otoshi, as demonstrated by Vader.  I have something of a fondness for the ancient Japanese art of Puroresu.

But then... why should I get so mad?  These people are clearly uninformed.  They shoot from the hip about subjects they don't understand.  Perhaps in some circumstances they're incapable of understanding.  It makes them wrong, yes, but it doesn't make them bad.  So why the reaction?

I think it's simple: I really, really, really like Robert E. Howard, and when I really like a subject, I want everybody to know about it.  In the case of Howard, I haven't had the opportunity to engage with like-minded people outside my family until the age of the internet.  This is probably why I talk about Howard all the time on my blog, despite it being ostensibly about all manner of authors.

Look at it this way: I love Arthur Conan Doyle, too, but I've had ample opportunities to talk with other people about The Lost World and Sherlock Holmes when I was growing up.  Same with Burroughs and Haggard: I've been able to discuss The Land That Time Forgot and King Solomon's Mines before the age of the Internet.  However, I discovered Conan, and the rest of Howard's work beyond Almuric, at about the same time I started to get around the Internet.  Thus, while I've spent most of my reading life talking about Conan Doyle, Burroughs, Haggard, Verne, Welles, Asimov and the like, Howard is comparatively new to me.

I guess you could say I'm a born-again Howard fan.  I read and adored Almuric, but it was one story among dozens that I loved.  Then, during the 2000s, I discovered Howard's Conan, and I became fairly obsessed with Conan, then later, Howard's work and life in general.  Perhaps if the author was different - if I read Howard voraciously as a young'un, and only discovered Conan Doyle in my late teens - this blog would have a Conan Doyle fixation, filled to the gunwales with essays on Maple White Land ecology, Sherlock Holmes chronological issues, and Challenger biographical musings.

Hey, there's still time yet!

As such, I tend to be particularly sensitive when it comes to Howard related things.  I'll still leap to the defence of Conan Doyle, Burroughs, Haggard, and others if I come across anything particularly unfair, and appreciate anything I read that gives them props, but because Howard is still so new and shiny to me, perhaps I'm a bit more preoccupied.

This is why I feel so strongly about the upcoming Conan film.  Other Howard fans have written it off.  To an extent, I have too: I know it isn't going to match my vision of Howard's Conan, I know it isn't going to be an adaptation of one of my favourite tales.  But I really wish that wasn't the case.  I really want to see "The Tower of the Elephant," "Beyond the Black River," "Red Nails," "Queen of the Black Coast," The Hour of the Dragon and others in a cinematic medium.

Why?  Because I want to be able to talk to even more people about them.  These stories are fantastic.  Everyone should read them.  And a good way to get people to read is to show them the films.  Yes, there are some who won't bother with reading, say, Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption after having seen the film adaptation, but think about the many who did see the film, and decided to check the book out.

Even given my problems with Jackson's The Lord of the Rings trilogy, the amount of people I've had the opportunity to talk to about the characters, themes and story of Tolkien's masterpiece has grown since the film came out.  The beauty of it is, I can talk to them about the broad strokes that the film got right - the idea of a modest diminutive being undertaking a quest of monumental importance, the fall of Saruman, the sense of an age passing - even if they haven't read the books at all.  I can argue about how Aragorn, Gimli, Frodo, Denethor and Faramir are pale imitations of their literary inspirations, but I can also talk about how comparably authentic Saruman, Gollum, Galadriel, the Witch-King, and Sam were.

I can't talk to people about Robert E. Howard's Conan if all they've seen is the 1982 Conan the Barbarian, because there are no points of commonality.  I can't discuss the finer points of barbarism against civilization as Howard wrote it when there isn't any such debate in the 1982 film, or the defiance of cosmic horror, or the many socio-political observations.  Nor can I talk about elements of the stories utterly alien or contradictory to the film, like Conan's upbringing, his patronage of the arts, his learning, his many adventures.  I can't even talk about the other great characters like Balthus, Khemsa, Rinaldo, Thoth-Amon, Belit, Zenobia, Zelata, or anyone who doesn't appear in the film - and even those that do, like Valeria, are too different for comparison.

Right now, if I had a conversation with a person who only knows Conan from the film (or, worse, Conan the Destroyer, the cartoon, or the live-action series), it would be limited.  What could I talk about?  About how of the twenty credited supporting characters, eighteen are inventions of the filmmakers, with only one of the remainder taking their name from another character in the stories, and the other taking his name from another Howard series entirely?  About how the plot directly contradicts almost everything we know about Conan's early life?  About how the themes are completely different from those of the original stories?  Even fans of Avatar: The Last Airbender can say that Aang, Sokka, Katara, Zuko, Iroh and Ozai were much better in the original series than in the heinous Shyamalan film: how can Howard fans even talk about Rexor, Thorgrimm, Subotai, the Wizard and others when they simply don't exist in the original stories?

But if there was an adaptation of a Conan story - say, "Black Colossus," with the unimaginative new title Conan the General to put it in line with the "Conan + Definite Grammatical Article + Occupation/Adjective" conceit - then there'd be a reason to talk to people.  There'd be conversation.  There'd be debate.  There'd be concourse.  Even if it wasn't as good as the story - and really, in many cases, that's always going to be the hardcore fan's point of view - I could at least talk about it, and people would know what I'm on about.  I wouldn't have to waste time saying "No, that didn't happen," or "no, Conan didn't do anything like that."  We would cut to the chase and start without that baggage.

It goes both ways.  If I complained that Conan the General had Mitra manifest on the battlefield to fight Set mano-a-mano, they know I'm referring to the part where a huge phoenix fought a giant snake; if I lamented that they changed the Stygians from Egyptian-like to Samurai-like, they'd know I'm talking about the enemy soldiers; if I protested at the alteration of Prince Kutamun into a lily-livered, lisping, effete coward, they'd know I'm talking about the lily-livered, lisping, effete coward.  By the same token, if I talked about how Amalric was perfect, they know I'm talking about the blond bearded dude; if I explained how I felt they managed to make Yasmela's relationship of Conan work for the screen with minimal alteration, they know I'm speaking of the hot princess; if I gush about how the battle was awesome, they know what battle I'm talking about.

I just want to be able to have these conversations with more people.  Last year at Cross Plains, I had the opportunity to speak, in person, about the Shakespearean and Classical elements of "The God in the Bowl."  I could discuss the juxtaposition of the dragon as both alien other and primordial kin in "Red Nails."  I could blurt out to Mark Finn my frustration that he doesn't adore "Kings of the Night."  I've never been able to talk to people about things like this with such spontaneity and enthusiasm in the company of like-minded people.  Some of those like-minded people frequent this site, and I hope to see them again in Cross Plains to chew the fat once again.

The internet is a fantastic tool for discussion, but there's just a certain something about live conversation that can't be easily replicated.  Something's lost in translation, perhaps.  So while I treasure the many discussions I've had on the internet, on forums, blogs and other sites, I truly wish I could extend that into the realm beyond cyberspace.  A Conan film based on one of the stories could do that with ease.  This upcoming film, with Sean Hood's inclusion of REH dialogue, may yet do this, in a roundabout way, but it requires people knowing exactly what's what.

Aside from live chatting and forum-based interaction, there's also youtube, where there are those who can comment upon things from their own point of view in their own voice.  It can result in some disasters, like this sadly misguided, salty-tongued chap:

But fret not, because you also get guys like this:

Wow, he puts across his point in a way that's level-headed, reasonable, and... dare I say it... nicely? I thought they were a dying breed on Youtube. But he isn't alone:

I've seen Subrick and bluemagus elsewhere, and though I disagree profoundly with some of their statements - namely his optimism regarding the film, as well as the "Conan novels" misnomer - they're saying a lot of the things I've been saying, and they make their arguments in such a reasonable, even-handed way that I can't help but wish there was some way to give people a pat on the back through the internet.  Perhaps some sort of robotic arm which responds to certain commands... But I digress.

Hopefully this verbal outpouring of non-sequiturs and ramblings makes some degree of sense.  This is why, I think, I'm so disappointed in the new film.  I would've loved nothing more than to see people experience the original stories that captured my imagination on screen.  I'd love to see them myself.  So I'm not frustrated that they got it wrong for the simple fact that they got it wrong: I'm frustrated that they got it wrong because I want more and more people to experience what I love.  There's no substitute for the short stories, but there's no denying that films can make a lovely gateway into the wide world of literature.

That's all I want from the new Conan film.  More people for us all to talk to.


  1. You talk too much. =)

    Hey, I'm a big Conan & REH fan, too. But when I first saw the trailer, my reaction was very similar to those you posted here. And I've read all of the REH Conan stories, I'm guessing, at least twice. And I've read them many more times than that through Marvel's CtB and SSoC adaptations.

    And I still didn't remember the quote. I think it is a kind of cheesy quote, even if REH did write it. I like the Genghis Khan quote from the original Conan movie better, so sue me.

    I am pessimistic about this movie. I am so pessimistic, it is impossible for me to be disappointed with it. On the one bright side, I see Mamoa's build as a better fit for Conan than Ah-nold's bodybuilder build. That's about all I have to say about this upcoming movie that is positive.

  2. Internet site talkback's are the rancid drippings of a million monkeys chained to typewriters, collected, triple distilled and then served up for your consumption.

    They tend to have the same effect on me that say, a Durian fruit smoothie does. ( Which for the un-initiated is a fruit which was once described as having an aroma akin to that of dirty nappies soaked in gasoline)

  3. At the risk of sounding like a broken record, Al, you know what I have said about most people, particularly those who spout shite on the interweb.

    Count yourself lucky that you can go to Cross Plains during Howard Days and speak to other souls, passionately and knowledgeably, about Howard's work. What gets derived from those texts matter not, neither do the infantile raving of the shrieking electronic monkeys. Lagomorph Rex hits the nail on the head.

    No, best to count your blessings and hold fast to what you have rather than grasping for the insubstantial. Believe me, I know the deep psychic pain that it causes, but as Samuel Beckett says: "Nothing to be done."

    And for the benefit of Bree Yark! who seems to have missed it, I will remind you of the passage from QUEEN OF THE BLACK COAST that Jason Momoa is paraphrasing worse than a Cliff notes:

    "Let me live deep while I live; let me know the rich juices of red meat and stinging wine on my palate, the hot embrace of white arms, the mad exultation of battle when the blue blades flame and crimson, and I am content."

    Conan was rather loquacious for a Barbarian. In that I think he rates above an Austrian Actor who was an even worse governer. Howard's prose stands mountain-like over the work of two hollywood hacks (Milius and Stone) who have an inflated sense of their own importance in the grand scheme of things.

    Besides, it could be worse. You could have been a real fan of Ian Fleming's novels perpetually in apoplexy as more and more dreck poured out onto the screen as a supposed "definitive" representation of his iconic creation and forced to listen while supposedly intelligent people debate the merits of one of those representations over another.

    Are you a fan of Alexander Dumas? Have you read The Three Muskateers? Seek out the trailer for that 3D monstrosity looming on the horizon with Milla Jovovich running Matrix-like through a corridor of explosions and tell me that Hollywood has any respect for the printed word.

    As usual I have grown far to prolix on this subject and I will curtail this missive before I fall victiom to the dreaded "delete this comment" option.

  4. The full quote...

    "I have known many gods. He who denies them is as blind as he who trusts them too deeply. I seek not beyond death. It may be the blackness averred by the Nemedian skeptics, or Crom's realm of ice and cloud, or the snowy plains and vaulted halls of the Nordheimer's Valhalla. I know not, nor do I care. Let me live deep while I live; let me know the rich juices of red meat and stinging wine on my palate, the hot embrace of white arms, the mad exultation of battle when the blue blades flame and crimson, and I am content. Let teachers and priests and philosophers brood over questions of reality and illusion. I know this: if life is illusion, then I am no less an illusion, and being thus, the illusion is real to me. I live, I burn with life, I love, I slay, and am content."

    (now, if that's too deep for you, it's time to go back to reading Image comics)

  5. Tex: Indeed, you have found the salient passage where I had fallen short. Had I bothered to read a bit further I would have known that the film's dialogue is not quite as paraphrased as I had though. My thanks to you.

  6. Mr. J, when I was putting my post up, I was going to be #3 in line. I got wrapped up in the surrounding text, when I was checking the quote, before I could hit Post Comment. Happens a LOT when looking through REH.

    So you were most definitely NOT the target there.

    I just wanted the whole quote out there, as more ammo to shoot at the retarded monkeys.

    ("What is best in life," my arse!)

  7. Tex: No, no, you did me a service. I was more involved in my own rant then in perusing the actual quote. I am sincere in my gratitude to you.

    As for "What is best in life" as Mr. Harron has noted before that is a quote from Genghis Kahn that comes to us via Harold Lamb. It has only become associated with Conan via the Frankenstein-like grafting performed by the aformentioned Milius and Stone. That the hordes of retarded monkeys should laud it as more appropriate above Howard's own prose is testament to their own ignorance.

  8. At the risk of sounding melodramatic:

    "I wish it need not have happened in my time," said Frodo.

    "So do I," said Gandalf, "and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us."

  9. I must have skimmed over it the first time but... John O'Neil? I'm really surprised about that!

  10. Hi Al, you certainly have the right to be pissed if it's not a reasonable adaptation of Howard's Conan. The simple fact is this: way, way more people watch movies than read books, so the public perception of who Conan is in large part a product of the films.

    If the movie is a gross misrepresentation of Conan, "we" (yeah, we're in the club) will still have the real REH stories and characters, but the public perception of REH/Conan will suffer. And as you've pointed out it will be that much harder to engage in any sort of intelligent conversation with other fans.

  11. It always seemed to me that whenever there was any adaptation of a pulp hero,as opposed to a self contained novel ( which in most cases tries harder to be faithful) something always gets lost in the translation. Ask Tarzan, Bond Dracula or Holmes.Even 90% of these comic book hero adaptations are cookie cutter and formulaic in their way.You get an exception like nolans batman or x2 on occasion but reall watch the rest one day and tell me they relatively are not the same movie witha "palette swap", so to speak.Something in making an original work based on a character who starred in many stories...something gets lost in the logistics of it i dont know. I would be more scrutinous if it were a direct adaptation even if it were good ( lotr, entertaining good looking flick i think aside the first flick ,terrible adaptation though though it tries) taking a character and trying to make it appeal to the fans as well as those who watch oprah and wheel of fortune may be a more challenging task than we realize.As a Bond novel fan I know what movies i like that,come near my expectations out of 22 there are about 4 .and the bottom line is even if we get a relatively decent pastiche of a conan movie now, its a matter of time before the" stinker "comes along, its just the chance we take as fans and moviegoers. the good new after all of this is,Fleming, Burroghs ,Doyles, Stokers, works are still enjoyed and studied to this day. I believe Robert E Howards will too, He has grown exponentially in interest the past 10 years now, I doubt that it will cease becuase of this one movie.And you have met and talked to new people who have held interest in the stories , like myself. and I have too between you ray steve,sean waldgeist etc.I am actually more apprehensive on how Walter Salles handled On the Road, mainly because it is my favortie novel and I never thought it would get made.Hang in there ,sword brother the character conan and his creator is greater than any movie could do to him they both will endure.-Mario

  12. At least it will not the Charlie Kauffman's "Adaptation"...

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