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.


  1. I fully expect the actors, producers and director to be as ignorant of Robert E. Howard's original writings as these critics are. I'm still going to see the film but with absolutely no expectations, that way I won't be disappointed.

    To be fair though, the trailers make it look like an enjoyable movie even though it misses the mark by miles. It looks like it was more influenced by the Conan comics than any of R.E.H.'s works.

  2. Now, Al, don't start frothing at the mouth just yet. You know, even if they made a truly faithful Conan movie, adapting all of what was in the stories to the screen, the numnuts critics would praise the filmmakers for spit polishing Howard's poor piece of dross into something fine and wondrous.

    Film critics don't know shit. That's why they're film critics and not real journalists.

    In fact, real journalists don't know much more, which is why they're journalists and not... us.

    Just try to stay calm and remember what I told you about the film eventually winding up in the DVD remainder bin at Walmart (or Tesco's). Howard's prose will still be there in all its its glory long after the film is a footnote.

  3. I'm just impressed that the Lancer Defense spontaneously manifested all over again. 'Yes, the movie is just shallow fun, but, heck, so was the original writing!'


  4. *sigh* Reviews like these make me (and presumably any Howard fan) realize how the Great Gazoo must have felt having to put up with all the "dumdums" on The Flintstones.

  5. I just want the movie to have more positive than negative reviews on aggregate sites, and be a financial success, leading to a proper Conan movie... Dreamers can dream.

    The reviewers' rejection of the attempts at pulp style say a lot about today's standards. Lots of things to say... For some reason I can't join the forums, I'd love to join you and the rest there.

  6. I actually feel bad about some of the nonsense thats coming down the pipe,I see how passionate you are about this and the aggrivation pains me a little, but there is an upside: a person on the movie blog came out and said at first he didnt like how people were bashing arnie on it so much but read enthusiastically the conan blog for a year and is now interested in reading REH.Its not a small victory by any means, either. If this movie makes someone open to reading and eventually an reh fan, as far as i am concerned it did more than it was supposed to.
    I've yet to see it to make my own determination and I will, and i still hope i enjoy it, even on a base level. but I am glad you and steve dilks got to enjoy yourselves as two guys who love conan and reh , that is also another victory, the friendships that can be made from this, instead of getting into pissing contests. keep your chin up Al , you and Johannes did a great job,please dont forget that in all the noise that will follow!-Mario

  7. ^ What Martin said. For once, let us PLEASE have an actually GOOD movie about an old hero of ours. :(

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