Friday, September 2, 2011

Conan, Now and Then.

I haven't seen the new "Conan the Barbarian" in theatres yet...I'll wait until it hits DVD, and then I'll just give it a rent. There are many reasons for this. First, naturally, it's another remake, in fact it's a remake of the film from 1982 I know and love too well that first put the Governator himself, Arnold Schwarzenegger, on the map. (That being said, this is NOT a blog to compare the old and new films. I might do that when or if I see the Conan of 2011.) Second, why a remake? Why not a new story that doesn't have to cover the bases of his origins? Conan's not the most complex guy in the world, he's a barbarian...he's an honorable guy, but if you piss him off, you're dead. Or he'll punch out your camel. That's as basic a characterization as can be summed up for him! Third, I'm not very impressed with Jason Momoa in the title part. He's a big guy and he looks like he can do 'barbaric' well, but he looks more like the kind of guy Conan fights! He just doesn't have that much 'oomph', you know? I'm more interested by the fact Marcus Nispel is director...he made the excellent and similarly medieval "Pathfinder", with Karl Urban and Moon Bloodgood in 2007.

This blog, then, is for the purposes of my listing what I believe are The Top Ten Best Things about the original "Conan the Barbarian"!

1) The man himself, Ah-nold. He'd done films before "Conan", of course, but never was there a role that seemed tailor-made for the man. Still getting a grip on English, the script wisely kept Schwarzenegger's dialogue spare and proved the old saying true that actions speak louder than words. In that respect, brother, his actions and his pure screen presence spoke volumes. With every slash and flex of his friggin huge muscles combined with his naturally stoic expression, one can be forgiven for thinking Arnold was brought forward a few thousand years from those less civilized times by some form of time travel! But more important than his physical prowess and that he was so damned RIGHT to play Conan, the future Governator already held that growing, indefinable charm and charisma that would make him known and loved by moviegoers across America.

2) Director and co-writer John Milius. Who else could direct a film called "Conan the Barbarian", honestly? As conservative a filmmaker as you can imagine (he'd later make "Red Dawn", which while excellent played on Cold War paranoia), it seemed destiny that he'd helm a film where men ruled with swords and any pretense of political correctness was literally nonexistent. His most recent effort was writing the video game "Homefront", which like "Red Dawn" involves a Communist country's invasion of the United States. Hey, everything old can be new again!

3) Co-writer Oliver Stone. He was still relatively new in Hollywood at the time, but he as much as Milius gave the film a gravitas it wouldn't have had with anyone else writing the screenplay. The fact Stone and Milius were political opposites (see Stone's films like his antiwar opus "Platoon" and "JFK" in the years afterward) was alone of interest...imagine being a fly on the wall seeing those two get along during a script session!

4) Basil Poledouris, music composer and conductor for "Conan". I doubt Conan would have been what it was without Basil's amazing, pulse-pounding score.

5) The production design, especially the sets. Holy shit, if you want to see a movie where you felt like you've been transported to another time, this is it! These days, if you want great looking surroundings in a movie, they either have to be found (usually in Prague, of all places!) or made by computers to be laid on a green screen behind the actors later. Back in "Conan's" day of 1982, as Jonny Lieberman of Ruthless Reviews wrote, they built sets from the ground up, and you could feel their very real presence.

6) James Earl Jones as Thulsa Doom. Only two years after giving Darth Vader his immortal voice for the second time in "The Empire Strikes Back", the incomparable James Earl Jones was seen AND heard as another villain from the Dark Side! Doom is the one who fucks Conan's life up royal when he was still a kid, leading a raid and killing everyone in the future barbarian's village...his dogs rip apart Conan's dad, and he even mesmerizes and cuts off his mom's head as the kid's holding her hand! When Schwarzenegger's Conan finally confronts Jones' Doom for the first time as an adult, when the latter is taking over the world as a cult leader, the archvillain can only explain that he was in a killing and pillaging phase when he destroyed Conan's people. There was no REASON for his mass murder, he just felt like doing it! Hey, these were barbaric times, after all. Doom's also a sorcerer, which explains how he can control people to do his bidding...but he could also turn into a giant snake, and in one brutal moment kills someone close to Conan by using a bow to snake to kill them. Yes, I said a bow and snake. You have to see it to believe it!

7) Sandahl Bergman as Valeria. To be plain, she was hot as fuckin Hell. In spite of her fiercely independent nature as a professional thief, to not be chained down by anything or anyone, she can't help but devote herself to Conan and melt into his big arms. Refer again to Milius and Stone co-writing the movie to explain that.

8) Cassandra Gava as the Witch. Like Valeria, she makes guys stand at attention (you know what I mean), even when she's got clothes on! Her purpose in the plot is to point Conan in the right direction to achieve his long-yearned desire to avenge his parents. But a price has to be paid for her divinations, which means they get it on in her hut. The Witch is one sexually hungry chick, but when her nails turn to talons and she grows fangs, latching onto Conan, their romp in bed truly becomes something that has to be seen rather than described!

9) The pure, sword-swinging violence. One thing above all others has to be emphasized about "Conan". The title character is a barbarian. He's not very civilized or even polite. He may have his own moral code, but if you get on his bad side, your head will end up flying off your shoulders! And outside of Valeria, Subotai and the bitchy Wizard, he keeps running into characters who are even LESS civilized and polite! Even with that in mind, it still surprises me at times how bloody this film gets...and I mean surprising in a good way! The sword fighting is fast and has a truly distinctive style that will please most anyone into this brand of action. (I'd even say this film still measures up well to more recent films like "The Lord of the Rings" trilogy and "300"!) Okay, bows and arrows were used more than once, too, but they don't count!

10) What is best in life? The answer to that question, from the man himself...

"To crush your enemies, see them driven before you, and to hear the lamentations of their women!" -- Conan

Damned right! :D By the by, another 'swords and sorcery' favorite of mine is "Red Sonja" from 1985, which reunited Ah-nold and Sandahl Bergman, but not quite in the way many fans of their pairing in "Conan" expected! Model Brigitte Nielsen was chosen to play the part of Sonja, another good yet barbaric character on a quest for revenge. While it wasn't as good as "Conan", "Red Sonja" is still a guilty pleasure people need to see at least once!

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