Yes folks, on this edition of ‘memo to the executives’ it’s time to pitch the best way to reboot ‘The Tonight Show’.
On second thought, why don’t I pitch something I actually care about; Conan the barbarian. As my good friend Jamie knows, I’m a sucker for the sword and sorcery genre, that wonderful breed of film which seems intrinsically part of the 1980’s and never made it out of that decade. I suppose if you did try and make a film like that today (and I really don’t count ‘300’ or ‘Lord of the Rings’ as such), it would seem quaint and passé. You could also argue that the genre has a pretty abysmal track record as far as producing quality films.
But one of those, and maybe the best, is the original ‘Conan the barbarian’ from 1982. It has a classic revenge story driving it, peppered with the philosophy of Genghis Khan and Friedrich Nietzsche, a great villain in James Earl Jones, really brutal and savage swordplay, wonderful cinematography and it makes, debatably, the best use of Arnold Schwarzenegger of any of his films. The movie made the promise of future instalments which would eventually see Conan made a king by his own hand and director John Milius was very keen to make this happen but, for reasons that are still unclear (apparently producer Dino De Laurentiis hated him for one), they never came to be. The actual sequel ‘Conan the destroyer’ was that typical 80’s follow up, rushed into production, made by a different crew armed seemingly with no knowledge of what made the original work. While the first film had the logic to show Conan wearing clothes, the second had the character prancing around a frigging ice castle in nothing but his underpants; that’s the kind of descent into camp we are talking about and it prematurely ended the series.
A few years back it seemed Milius might get another shot at making those lost films when he wrote a script entitled ‘King Conan: Crown of Iron’, presumably to be directed by him, to star Arnold once more and to be produced by the Wachowksi Brothers fresh from their success with ‘The Matrix’. Drew McWeeny aka Moriarty at AICN (as big a fan of the original film as myself) adoringly gushed over the script in a piece you can drool over here. Clearly too awesome to ever get made, we got hit with the old ‘creative differences’ shtick again as Milius and the Wachowski’s parted ways and Arnold become the Governator, never to wield a sword again.
I could spend the rest of this article just detailing the number of stops and starts the new Conan film has had in the last few years but I’m not going to. I have actually resigned myself to the fact that, like the proposed He-Man remake, I just don’t believe Conan will reach the silver screen again. But that doesn’t stop me from dreaming as it has the potential to be such an enticing, maybe even unique, project. I initially started thinking about the legitimate possibility of a new Conan film after watching Robert Zemeckis’ ‘Beowulf’. Just seeing the sheer amount of violence they got away with in a PG13 made me realise you could make a Conan movie with a commercial rating and, utilising the same technology, Arnold could conceivably return to play the part, regardless of old age and pot belly.
I will concede now that any chance of a sequel to the 1982 film and the story of Arnold’s Conan as king has come and gone. But for once, the idea of starting over from scratch may be even more exciting to fans. Regardless of how good a film it is, the 82 movie was not a completely faithful telling of the original Conan stories. John Milius wanted to make a Viking story, something which could have actually happened in our history and that’s what he did (James Earl Jones turning into a snake withstanding).
There is a whole other version of Conan which, I guess, cinema has never had the power to realise before. Fan as I am of the film, when you say the word ‘Conan’ to me I immediately think of Frank Frazetta’s artwork and that is what needs to be brought to the screen. Forget grounding the story. Sure, give us strong characters and exciting storytelling first, but also give us hordes of demon mutant creatures, mountains of corpses and skies of blood red fire. I don’t mind if it is done on a green screen sound stage as long as you are able to bring his paintings to life. I will maintain that if a filmmaker could pull that off, they would have a live action film that looks like no other.*
I think if you are going to tell a new Conan story, it must not fall into the clichéd plot of going on a quest to retrieve some magical dohickey; something which is all style and no substance. This is not ‘Dungeons & Dragons’. I think you should take the basic story of the original film and reconfigure it. Rather than telling a straight forward origin following Conan from boy to manhood, it would start with him as an adult, already a well established thief. His family and people were killed when he was a child but he can barely remember it. Nor does he remembers any special connection or bond to his family, or any teachings or wisdom they passed on to him. As such, Conan has grown up having to discover his own philosophy on life and his own purpose. That philosophy is that life itself is a vicious killer which delights in hunting men down and taking them before their time. Conan only response is to be a vicious killer himself, He does not wait for good things to come to him. He takes as much pleasure as he can and aims to get as much from life as he can before the world decides to chew him up and spit him out.
He also, in order to earn the gold needed to sustain this pleasure, earns a reputation as a formidable mercenary warrior. We cannot have a watered down Conan in this film. In battle, he is a savage animal and since his whole life is one long fight, that doesn’t leave any room to be sensitive or caring. It is this ruthlessness and efficiency which brings him to the attention of our villain; a powerful sorcerer. You can call him Thusla Doom or Toth Amon or whatever you like; just pick a name, it doesn’t matter. Having uncovered an ancient evil force which threatens to consume the world, he informs Conan that he has managed to suppress the beast so far with human sacrifices. The more that are sacrificed, the more time he has to figure out a way to use his magic to stop the evil for good. All our villain asks is that Conan be the one to bring those sacrifices to his altar, each body worth its weight in gold to the barbarian. Having always been wary and distrustful of magic and sorcery, Conan readily agrees.
Conan starts the body count by hunting down the undesirable elements of the world, the killers, thugs and lowlifes that won‘t be missed. It isn’t long, however, until the killing becomes so mundane and such a regular routine that Conan thinks nothing of it. He doesn’t realise that he is being slowly, brilliantly manipulated by the villain the whole time. The lines become so blurry that Conan begins to slaughter innocents all for the greater good of saving the world from destruction. After a particularly brutal raid on a peaceful village, Conan sees a young boy in front of him standing over the bodies of his slaughtered family which triggers what memory he has of his own family’s death. Conan realises to his horror (probably the first time he has felt such a thing) that it was our villain who was responsible for the death of his people, but even worse, the actual killing was probably carried out by a mercenary for hire, a man with no conscious, a man ready to justify his actions by saying it was all for a greater good but in reality, destroying lives for just a little more gold...........a man just like Conan.
Conan turns his back on the villain’s bidding but by now it is too late and too much blood has been spilled. The villain was obtaining sacrificial lambs in order for the evil power to regain it’s full strength so as to cover the world in darkness and that goal is now in sight. Conan heads off to face his enemy against unspeakable odds. But even after cutting down an army of freakish undead creatures, the sorcerer and the ancient evil, Conan must face himself. His quest is not for revenge or even to save the world but to save his own soul. Only after he has accomplished his mission can he continue with his life content that he finally did the right thing after years of being the very thing he would normally kill without hesitation.
After about 30 minutes of magic and demon slaying carnage, Conan has won and the final shot of the film mirrors Frazetta’s most famous portrait of the character, standing upright on a mound of victory, sword in hand and the last man standing. The audience (hopefully) cheers. So you have a story of character growth, of a man facing himself and changing his entire outlook on life. You throw in a sexy lady, colourful locations, villains that are really scary and repulsive to look at, hard R rated action and you have a film.
But enough about what I want. Conan is many things to many people and if you are reading this I’ll bet you are more fluent in your Robert E. Howard than me. What do you want from a new Conan film? Feel free to mock my ideas in the comment section. Just bear in mind…
…ifff you do nat liszten..............DEN DA HELL WITH YU!
*Of course I’ve just remember that Frazetta also did work on ‘John Carter of Mars’ which is in production right now and if I were a betting man, I would say that his art will have a big influence on the look of that film. Oh man, now I have a boner from anticipation and must excuse myself. I’ll see you next week.