Wednesday 31 August 2011

The things you learn in research...

Work on the Encyclopaedia Hyboriana is getting back on track, while Deuce Richardson's suggestion of Hyborica is starting to intrigue me. However, I feel I might've left you all in the dark. So I thought I'd give you an idea of the sort of things which cause me to constantly reassess my work.

I've said before that I find something new in every rereading of Howard, and nowhere has that been more prevalent than my research for the Encyclopaedia. As I go through the tales finding every instance of Conan's utterance of "Crom," correlations between story titles and metaphors in preceding tales, and the plethora of allusions, sometimes something completely unrelated pops out at me.  Sometimes it's just a little extra detail, other times it forces me to totally change entire entries.  Each time, I wonder if it's worth including in the main body of the text, or whether it should be delineated strictly as conjecture. It can lead to me wandering far from the path.

Here are a few of those observations.

Sunday 28 August 2011

A Scottish Barbarian in London

I saw Conan. I hated it. But not everyone hated it. Maybe it's just me. Maybe I should see it again, this time in 2D without the glasses-over-glasses ruining it for me: perhaps I'll have a different reaction upon a second viewing.

With that out of the way, let me tell you a tale, of a Scottish barbarian and his long-suffering assistant travelling south to the other side of the island. Danger, mystery, excitement, and more abound in this journey, with days feeling like weeks, minutes like hours. Truly, a quest to be sung by the great bards and skalds for all time.

Or maybe not.  I guess I'll just write it on the blog.

Sunday 21 August 2011

What the hell happened?

So not only is Conan: The Wrath of Zym 2011 a critical failure, but it looks increasingly likely that it's going to be a commercial disaster, too.  It shames me to admit I feel a small measure of shadenfreude: see, Lionsgate?  This is what you get when you try to remake an Arnold film without Arnold, and more importantly, without the things that made the 1982 film a cult classic.  See, Millennium?  This is what happens when you try and build a story around the sets you have available instead of the talent.  See, CPI?  This is what you get when you try to compromise, when you try to make a film that tries to appeal to the lowest common denominator instead of making something bold, challenging and different.

But frankly, all those feelings of "we told you so" are utterly submerged in a deeper, darker feeling of regret.  So many people worked hard to make this film work: seamstresses working their fingers to the bone, production designers having nervous breakdowns trying to make everything work, SFX engineers trying to wring every drop of quality out of their rendering software, actors sitting for hours in makeup chairs.  Even the people I hold directly responsible for the mess the film became - the producers, aside from Fredrik Malmberg (though I do think he made some decisions which didn't pay off) and especially Avi Lerner, and Marcus Nispel - didn't try to make a bad film. I may feel vindicated that another example of people monkeying around with REH and thinking they know how to make a better story than one of the founders of 20th Century fantasy fiction has failed... but I'm more angry that this happened.  After everything that's happened, I didn't want the film to fail.

What to make of this?

Thursday 18 August 2011

Hypothetical Conan Trailers - King Conan: The Phoenix on the Sword

Since my idea for Conan the Barbarian: Black Colossus was such a success, I decided to have a bit of fun with some more hypothetical trailers, including some of my ideas for prospective Conan films.

King Conan: The Phoenix on the Sword

A little background: an idea I had was an anthology film that combines "The Frost-Giant's Daughter," "The God in the Bowl" and "The Tower of the Elephant," using "The Phoenix on the Sword" as a framing story.  These are the first four stories Howard wrote, after all, and they show a pretty interesting spectrum of Conan's life: king, warrior, and thief.

"The Phoenix on the Sword" - 24 pages
"The Frost-Giant's Daughter" - 9 pages
"The God in the Bowl" - 19 pages
"The Tower of the Elephant" - 23 pages

Now, if we take the old "one page equals one minute" idea for a second, we can see that "The Phoenix on the Sword" and "The Tower of the Elephant" have roughly equivalent length, while "The God in the Bowl" is shorter, and "The Frost-Giant's Daughter" shorter still. Obviously depending on the direction this could expand or contract, but I think on can justify "The Frost-Giant's Daughter" as a ten minute sequence, "The God in the Bowl" a twenty-minute one, and "The Tower of the Elephant" as a full half-hour. While "Phoenix" is only a page longer than "Tower," it's absolutely chock full of potential for expansion, or just plain spending more time on it.

Wednesday 17 August 2011

Preparing the S.H.I.E.L.D.W.A.L.L. for the onslaught to come

Man, that damned movie...

Anyway, I'm trying my best not to be negative, but in all the reviews for the upcoming film I've seen so far, few, if any, seem to know the slightest thing about Robert E. Howard. This isn't one of them - it's a review of the 1982 film - but it highlights exactly the sort of problems I'm having.  The largest of which being that some people think they can comment on Robert E. Howard purely by watching the 1982 film.  This review is the most profound example of that sort of thing for reasons which will become obvious.

Conan. Oh, Conan. A pulp hero whose whole deal was that he was big and strong and didn’t mind cutting a guy from crotch to throat, ripping out his tongue and throwing it to the starving dogs in the corner. But he also has a bruiser’s intelligence, that kind of thick-necked thoughtfulness an MLB slugger brings to the plate.

To be frank, that describes an awful lot of pulp heroes: Conan had a lot more to offer than that.  Conan was an outsider, someone born outside the comforts of civilization, and yet also curious about its history, wonders and treasures.  Sure, he's brutal, but also capable of great generosity and selflessness later in his career, to the point where he's a noble and just king.  He's a surprisingly complex, intellectual and thoughtful character who grows and evolves over the course of the stories without losing his sense of self.

I will say, that description of "bruiser's intelligence" fits Steve Costigan to a tee, though.

Most importantly, however, Conan has the physique of, well, a bodybuilder. 

It would be fairer to say Conan has the physique of someone who lives his life on the edge of death.  He grew up climbing sheer cliffs, hunting animals with spears, constantly battling enemy tribes.  The bodybuilding physique only came from the illustrations and comics, and was further cemented by Arnold.

So far, so predictable.  But this... this is impressive.

They retained Howard’s almost Jungian terminology: Wheel of Pain, Riddle of Steel, Eye of the Serpent, Mountain of Power.

... None of those terms appear in any Robert E. Howard story.  At all.  They're all Stone/Milius creations.  The story of the 1982 film has nothing to do with Robert E. Howard, save that it features a character called Conan, from a place called Cimmeria, and he happens to be a muscular swordsman.

Now riddle me this: how can a film retain "Howard's almost Jungian terminology" when that almost Jungian terminology is completely and utterly absent in the stories?

This is just the beginning.  We've already had dunderheids making statements like this:

It’s certainly obvious that a lot of work went into the film, both as a faithful re-imagining of the original, and as a fitting adaptation of Robert E. Howard’s writing, with much of its imagery being pleasingly evocative of his books’ pulp covers... though it wisely never takes itself too seriously, it never gets too ridiculous. It’s certainly far more enjoyable than it might have been, and whilst inevitably the question must be asked whether a remake was necessary, the film is a solid piece of violent fantasy, that should be enjoyed by fans and newcomers alike.

And eejits spouting this:

Though in most films such a skeletal narrative would spell disaster, it actually works perfectly for Conan The Barbarian. This is a no-frills action experience so fast paced that it leaves no room for high falutin' clap trap like introspection and ambiguity, and Nispel sensibly makes no effort to modernise the brutish, boorish Conan, whose caveman-like demeanour is actually part of his muscular appeal. "I live, I love, I slay...I am content," he says in a rare moment of thumbnail self-analysis. The handsome, charismatic Jason Momoa (Stargate: Atlantis) admirably commits to the role of Conan 100%, and makes for a likeable, impressively physical hard-man hero, while simultaneously injecting finely judged jolts of humour into his essentially one-note character...
As originally designed by Robert E. Howard, the world of Conan The Barbarian was an ugly and violent one, and Marcus Nispel captures much of that greasy, mud-crunched viscera here. Though he fails to work up any truly unforgettable set pieces to rival director John Milius' inspired visions on his big-and-bold 1981 cult hit, Conan The Barbarian (which starred Arnold Schwarzenegger in the title role), Nispel certainly succeeds in making a gutsy, ballsy, bloody action-adventure flick worthy of its central character's towering, archetypal mythos.

And puddinheids trumpeting this:

Momoa actually filmed Conan before (now wildly successful) Game Of Thrones. And he exudes more charisma in his big screen leading role than most of the muscle bound heroes in previous decades, carrying the film with ease, even if Conan himself is restricted by his own motto “I live, I love, I slay and am content.”
Still, the lack of political correctness in Conan’s outlook on life and love is, depending on your point of view, part of its appeal, and for the most part is played in a comedic fashion, free from the malice which permeates so much modern horror, having most of the audience I saw it with laughing along.

And tubes mumbling this:

There is no point to analyze or criticize this bare bones plot because there is nothing to add. Going into Conan with zero expectations and a need to escape certainly helped the nearly two hours running time, and for its many flaws, unoriginal plot, wooden acting and atrocious pacing, Conan succeeds on some level because it fulfills the quota of a manly man beating stuff to a pulp... There is certainly nothing to be inspired by, it is all by-the-book and probably true to the source material in terms of how pulpy it all is... he kills stuff really well, demeans women and eats stuff really fast, there is not much more you can look for in a barbarian.

And glaikits simpering this:

Fully aware and firmly grasping how one-dimensional a character Conan is, Momoa gamely picks up the proverbial sword and hacks away at his enemies with strength and style. The plot is threadbare, as you should already expect, so, really, there is no need to break down what is simply almost two hours of testosterone-filled blood, sweat, fight and gore. Oh, and revenge... This is a lowest common denominator violent actioner, paced so fast you won't - and shouldn't - have time to breathe or think. Concentration, in-depth plot lines and analysis? There is simply no room or no time. Not when what you've come for is to witness a new brute flex his muscles and sell that rough-and-ready caveman-like demeanour. Call it man appeal in a bottle.

And most infuriatingly, numpties snorting this:

An ultra-violent action-adventure, which centers on the same character that Schwarzenegger played but is not a remake, the movie delivers the basic goods (but not more) expected of a primitive mythic epos whose story is driven by obsession and vengeance, guts and blood... The filmmakers are certainly aware of the simple (and simplistic) mythic qualities of the literary material, which explains its long-enduring appeal especially among teenage boys.

This entirely unnecessary potshot got my hackles up:

Screenwriters Thomas Dean Donnelly, Joshua Oppenheimer and Sean Hood mercifully spare us most of the arcane mythology with which Howard larded his original tales, putting what little setup auds need into the mouth of narrator Morgan Freeman, whose presence offers the first clue that the project aspires to some sort of respectability. 

Mercifully? You say that as if Howard's work wasn't worthy of being collected in the Library of America or Penguin Classics, or cited as one of the foundation stones of the modern fantasy genre alongside Tolkien, or that the Hyborian Age wasn't a well-crafted and fascinating milieu worthy of consideration alongside Middle-earth.

And then this sirrah makes this magnificent generalization:

If you believe you’re going to see an intricately crafted piece of cinema, you are sadly delusional (and most likely insane). What we do get is something that, if contextualised in its genre, satisfies on an adequate level.The title alone generates associations and it’s exactly what we are presented with; testosterone, violence, objectification, blood, gore, and sheer brutishness in abundance, as we follow a protagonist that would make 300′s Leonidas look like a crying school girl. Sure, Momoa plays the title role effectively and let’s face it, it’s never going to be the most challenging, as intellect and subtlety are substituted for brawn and killing power (a prime example of the dynamic of the character is when he bellows, “Woman! Here! Now!”).

It doesn’t sink to its predicted lows, but you weren’t expecting the depth of Inception now, were you? It doesn’t try to be anything other than what it is; a non taxing, fantasy-action, that entertains when it comes to its set pieces and choreographed fights, yet ultimately proves that this, indeed, is no more than a shameless cash in, rather than a thought provoking creation, a la Rise of the Planet of the Apes. Momoa delivers a Neanderthal-like performance suited to the character, which culminates in a film that can ultimately offer no depth in terms of story or character development...

Expecting a Conan film to be an intricately crafted piece of cinema would make one "sadly delusional," and "most likely insane"?  Surely not, just "maladjusted to the point of psychosis" would suffice.

No, no, I'm not going to be negative.  I have to stay positive.  The Critique is... well, I'll be frank, it's going to rip the film apart.  The more I've been thinking about the film, the angrier I've been getting, especially when I come across "whadaya expect, Citizen Kane?" type responses.

Tuesday 16 August 2011

Clark Ashton Smith, 50 years in the worlds between worlds

In all the hubbub about the Conan premiere and my subsequent review, I feel infuriated at myself for letting the regulars at The Blog That Time Forgot down, as well as allowing the supposed "Conan" film (I'm back to using apostrophes) to cloud my mind so much that I very nearly missed another important milestone: the 50th anniversary of Clark Ashton Smith's death.  After unforgivably missing C.L. Moore's centenary, I'm not going to let this celebration of the Emperor of Dreams be unmarked.

In addition, I really miss the pow-wows of the posters here, and frankly, I'm so sickened by the new Conan film that I'm probably going to be a lot less involved in the site.  I'll still post links, news and information, but after my critique and a few other things in the pipeline, I'm not going to let it dominate my waking hours.  I've spent enough time on it, and there's so much that's fallen by the wayside in the process.

So, Clark Ashton Smith. As I've said before, there was a period of my life where he was my single favourite author, and he remains one of my top ten.  Since I was caught unaware, I don't have anything prepared, but my memories of "The Empire of the Necromancers" still hold true, and he deserves more exploration. In addition, drop on by Two-Gun Raconteur for Brian Leno's interview with Smith emeritus Donald Sydney-Fryer, Rusty Burke's hearty hail to the sorcerer on, and Ryan Harvey's fantastic interview on Black Gate. Wander over to The Eldritch Dark to see what new wonders the folk there have uncovered, or just re-immerse yourself in the incomparable prose and poetry in the site's black library. Or just swing by your shelf and pick up one of the stories in print form.

Thursday 11 August 2011

Break the skin of civilization and you find the ape, roaring and red-handed...

I haven't been blogging for a while, not just due to the film premiere running up, but various events happening at home.  Some of which have surely not gone unnoticed in international news.  I live far from the madness running rampant through England, though there's no telling how the Scots will react.  Perhaps the Scots will decide that rioting in Glasgow, Edinburgh and Aberdeen would be too "English," and we enjoy a rare quiet week in the cities. Wales and Northern Ireland join us from the sidelines, watching our southeastern brother tearing itself apart. Sibling rivalry is a constant in the United Kingdom, but for all our chants and jeers in football games, we're still united for now, and the plight of England is met with dismay. England's skin has been broken, and we have wild men with hands and bellies, filled with hate and filled with lust, looting and pillaging and destroying.

And for what?  Social change?  Reaction to a political outrage?  Expressing terror and panic?  Apparently, no one is sure. Some blame a general malaise, a madness which has afflicted England's cities, causing them to burn and demolish for seemingly no reason beyond simple opportunism.  Others say the gap between rich and poor has grown so vast that mass looting is truly a viable solution to their financial woes, and acting in a concerted nationwide robbery would mean higher chance of evading capture.  Still more blame "kids these days."

Truly, we can call England's cities civilized. I say this not out of parochialism - Scotland's cities have proven themselves to be just as civilized on many an occassion - and not to decry civilization.  Just out of an observation that for every creative and protective act of civilization, there is an equal and opposite destructive and aggressive act of civilization.  In this past week, we've seen the fruits of architectural genius being torched to ashes by the anger of malcontents; the spoils of economic conquest hoisted away by new victors; the peak of city life washed away in a torrent of fear and chaos.

I'm still going to the Conan premiere. I grew up in the West Coast of Scotland during the years of the Lockerbie disaster, the Dunblane Massacre, and the final days of The Troubles, and Greenwich hasn't seen much of the rioting.  I'll likely be safe, and I'm surely not going to be looking for trouble, as long as trouble doesn't get in my way.  My skin's already broken.

Thursday 4 August 2011

"What Happened To Waiting 20 Years For Remakes?"

Last weekend, the cinemas of America were bursting with several fine films — Captain America and Harry Potter in the multiplexes, The Guard, The Future, Tabloid, Project Nim at the art houses — yet the big hit was The Smurfs, a CGI-enhanced big-screen version of the intolerable, one-joke cartoon series from the 1980s. The film has been a punch line for months, but when the receipts were tallied up, The Smurfs came within a hair of beating the weekend’s top grosser, Cowboys & Aliens, co-starring no less than James Bond and Han Solo.
Suddenly, the previous big question surrounding The Smurfs (“How the hell did that get made?”) has been replaced by a bigger one (“How the hell did that make so much money?”) and sadly, both questions have the same answer: the ’80s nostalgia factor. It is not a phenomenon confined to the singular occurrence of The Smurfs; my own visit to multiplex this weekend confirmed the existence, via trailers and posters, of similarly unnecessary and unwelcome remakes of artifacts like Conan the Barbarian, Footloose, and Fright Night.
Why are these films being made? Because the people who make movies (and even, increasingly, decide what movies are made) are getting younger and younger — young enough to have been children and teenagers in the 1980s, and to have fond memories of a show like The Smurfs and a film like Footloose, and if it was good then, it would be even better now, yes?
 -  Jason Bailey
As I put on the comments section:

The new Conan film isn't a remake any more than Captain America is a "remake" of the 1990s Matt Salinger film - or the Reb Brown tv movies, for that matter. Like Captain America, Conan has had a long following in books, comics and other media dating back to his first appearance in 1932, in "The Phoenix on the Sword" by Robert E. Howard. A new Conan film had been in development since the 1990s, but was only made into a film now because of constant fumbling and missteps by Warner Brothers. There were at least two occasions where development on a Conan film were getting pretty far along, before something or other (usually because Arnold chose to do a different film, or went into politics). To attribute Conan being made only now due to '80s nostalgia is to completely ignore the recent history of the film franchise.

In fact, this idea of Hollywood executives making films they're nostalgic for is nothing new in Hollywood. Why do you think so many black-and-white films like Ben-Hur and The Man Who Knew Too Much suddenly got colour films in the '50s and '60s? For the same reason that silent films were remade into talkies - and the same reason '80s films are being remade now - because Hollywood was never about originality. Remakes have been a fixture of Hollywood since the dawn of the business.

Don't believe me? Here are a list of remakes made before 1970, which were made ten years or less after the original. I'm not including adaptations, because the list would be preposterously huge otherwise. But it shows that this insane notion of Hollywood only now running out of original ideas is nothing short of... inaccurate.  (that's all I could think of saying.)

Hoodman Blind (1913) remade as Hoodman Blind (1923) - 10 years
The Golden Chance (1915) remade as Forbidden Fruit (1921) - 6 years
The Three Godfathers (1916) remade as Marked Men (1919) - 3 years
The Grocery Clerk (1919) remade as The Counter Jumper (1922) - 3 years
His Royal Slyness (1920) remade as Long Fliv the King (1926) - 6 years
Outside the Law (1920) remade as Outside the Law (1930) - 10 years
The Unknown Cavalier (1926) remade as Ride Him, Cowboy (1932) - 8 years
Duck Soup (1927) remade as Another Fine Mess (1930) - 3 years
Land Beyond the Law (1927) remade as The Big Stampede (1932) - 5 years
Love 'em and Weep (1927) remade as Chickens Come Home (1931) - 4 years
London After Midnight (1927) remade as Mark of the Vampire (1935) - 8 years
Seventh Heaven (1927) remade as Seventh Heaven (1937) - 10 years
Somewhere in Sonora (1927) remade as Somewhere in Sonora (1933) - 6 years
The Phantom City (1928) remade as Haunted Gold (1932) - 4 years
Lost Patrol (1929) remade as The Lost Patrol (1934) - 5 years
Teacher's Pet (1930) remade as Bored of Education (1936) - 6 years
The Dawn Patrol (1930) remade as The Dawn Patrol (1938) - 8 years
Range Feud (1931) remade as The Red Rider (1934) - 3 years
The Mayor of Hell (1933) remade as Crime School (1938) - 5 years
Penthouse (1933) remade as Society Lawyer (1939) - 6 years
The Life of Jimmy Dolan (1933) remade as They Made Me a Criminal (1939) - 6 years
Viktor und Viktoria (1933) remade as First a Girl (1935) - 2 years
Intermezzo (1936) remade as Intermezzo (1939) - 3 years
The Walking Dead (1936) remade as The Man They Could Not Hang (1939) - 3 years
Pépé le Moko (1937) remade as Algiers (1938) - 1 year(!)
Le Corbeau (1943) remade as The 13th Letter (1951) - 7 years
Van Gogh (1947) remade as Van Gogh (1948) - 1 year(!)
Cat-Women of the Moon (1953) remade as Missile to the Moon (1958) - 5 years
Seven Samurai (1954) remade as The Magnificent Seven (1960) - 6 years
Jigoku (1960) remade as Jigoku (1970) - 10 years
Yojimbo (1961) remade as A Fistful of Dollars (1964) - 3 years
Irma la Douce (1963) remade as Irma la Douce (1972) - 9 years

What about some modern examples of quick-turnaround remakes?

L.A. Takedown (1989) remade as Heat (1995)) - 6 years

... That's it.

But what about foreign-to-English Language remakes, which I'll expand to include modern times?

Castle of Blood (1964) remade as Web of the Spider (1971) - 7 years
Le Jouet (1976) remade as The Toy (1982) - 6 years
La Chèvre (1981) remade as Pure Luck (1991) - 10 years
Three Men And A Cradle (1985) remade as Three Men and a Baby (1987) - 2 years
Force Majeure (1989) remade as Return to Paradise (1998) - 9 years
La Femme Nikita (1990) remade as Point of No Return (1993) - 3 years
La Totale! (1991) remade as True Lies (1994) - 3 years
Eat Drink Man Woman (1994) remade as Tortilla Soup (2001) - 7 years
Nattevagten (1994) remade as Nightwatch (1997) - 3 years
Un indien dans la ville (1994) remade as Jungle 2 Jungle (1997) - 3 years
L'Appartement (1996) remade as Wicker Park (2004) - 8 years
Shall We Dansu? (1996) remade as Shall We Dance (2004) - 8 years
Taxi (1996) remade as Taxi (2004) - 8 years
Abre Los Ojos (1997) remade as Vanilla Sky (2001) - 4 years
Insomnia (1997) remade as Insomnia (2002) - 5 years
Ringu (1998) remade as The Ring (2002) - 4 years
Nueve Reinas (2000) remade as Criminal (2004) - 4 years
One Missed Call (2004) remade as One Missed Call (2007) - 3 years
Shutter (2004) remade as Shutter (2008) - 4 years
Il Mare (2000) remade as The Lake House (2006) - 6 years
L'ultimo bacio (2001) remade as The Last Kiss (2006) - 5 years
Mostly Martha (2001) remade as No Reservations (2007) - 6 years
Infernal Affairs (2002) remade as The Departed (2006) - 4 years
The Eye (2002) remade as The Eye (2008) - 6 years
Klatretøsen (2002) remade as Catch That Kid (2004) - 2 years
Interview (2003 film) remade as Interview (2007 film) - 4 years
Ju-on: The Grudge (2003) remade as The Grudge (2004) - 1 years
Brødre (2004) to Brothers (2009) - 5 years
Sigaw (2004) to The Echo (2008) - 4 years
Anthony Zimmer (2005) remade as The Tourist (2010) - 5 years
# 13 (2010) from 13 Tzameti (2005) - 5 years
[REC] (2007) remade as Quarantine (2008) - 3 years
LOL (Laughing Out Loud) (2008) remade as LOL: Laughing Out Loud (2011) - 3 years
Anything for Her (2008) remade as The Next Three Days (2010) - 2 years

So next time someone complains about a remake of Krull or The Breakfast Club as another example of Hollywood running out of ideas, remember - this is nothing new. Stop acting as if it is.