Conan: The Musical

Thanks to my friend, my dungeon master, Peter V. Dell’Orto for sharing this link. © 2012 Thomas Pluck

The Whole Wide World

The road I walk, I walk alone.

Robert E. Howard created some of the most memorable characters in fiction; most famously Conan the Cimmerian, a barbarian unsoiled by the weaknesses of civilization. I wrote in dept about Conan here, and when I’d heard there was a biographical film based on Howard’s life, a romance of all things, I had to watch it. It helped that Vincent D’Onofrio, that intense actor who gave us Private Pyle from Full Metal Jacket, played Howard himself. And Renée Zellweger plays Novalyne Price Ellis, a schoolteacher who had a brief friendship and romance with the author, and was perhaps the only person who walked alongside him, on the road he professed to walk alone.

A morose, ungainly misfit among men”

Based upon Ellis’s memoir, “One Who Walked Alone,” it captures small town Texas life in 1933
when Novalyne, a new schoolteacher, arrives in town. She lives at a boarding house for single women, but is rather plucky for a woman of the time. When she hears that a published writer, a bachelor of her age, lives in town she finds a way to meet him. And he’s quite unlike any man she’s met before. The pulp writer is a boisterous dreamer, a big handsome poet of strong convictions and little care of who thinks what about him.
At first, this appeals to Novalyne and they have a sort of courtship; but as he opens up to her, she seems the deeply pained man inside. Howard was an incredible prolific writer and filled volumes with his tales of Conan, Solomon Kane, Kull, Bran Mak Morn hammering away at his typewriter long into the night; at pennies a word, he made thousands… to pay for his mother’s medical bills. She had tuberculosis, and Howard was writing for her life. Early on in the film, we see the spell that mother holds over son, and how inside Howard is still a vulnerable little boy whose had a sickly mom since childhood, and will do anything to save her.
When Novalyne calls the house, since Howard doesn’t seek her out for a second date, his mother just says he’s too busy, and never gives him messages. Finally Novalyne goes to the house, and hears him reciting to himself as he types away. It’s a fine role for Zellweger, famous for later becoming Bridget Jones, and she’s utterly believable as a fiery Texas woman who refuses the fetters society places on her. She sees a kindred spirit in Bob, who has no use for civilization; Conan is constantly described as more animal than man, lean and hungry, not made lazy, dull and weak by civilized conveniences. Howard often forwent a fedora for a sombrero, finding it more practical; but we get the feeling he’s goading people on, wanting them to laugh, so he can give them a piece of his mind.

All men can go to hell!
We are, every damn one of us!

He admires her seeking him out, and while he is as unsocialized as his hero, showing up for a date under-dressed, and taking her to see films like Captain Blood, they manage a courtship of kindred spirits. He’s trapped by his mother’s rigid hold on him, her sickness making her impossble to deny, and Novalyne by her sex. But while Howard demands loyalty, he doesn’t expect her to behave any preconceived way. They quarrel and test each other; he lends her a risque book, to see how inhibited she is, and she refuses to be bullied by his facade, and shows him that he can’t scare her off.
oward’s life is a sad story, and Dan Ireland’s film manages to make a difficult man engrossing to watch. When he describes his tales to Novalyne, the background darkens and sounds of swordplay echo all around. He could come off as ridiculous, but he doesn’t. That’s to D’Onofrio’s credit as well, making him more than an overgrown boy with escapist fantasies, but a writer capable of building entire mythologies in his head and putting them to paper in a shorter time than it took Tolkien to sharpen his pencil. Howard’s worlds were more raw, and hardly as detailed, but just as alive. And while “troubled” puts it lightly, D’Onofrio’s Howard is certainly appealing enough to make the passionate kisses he and Novalyne share believable.
In the end, Novalyne was able to shake off the fetters of society and went to LSU where she taught for many years. Howard was never able to break the bonds his mother had on him, and when he learned that her disease was terminal, he took his own life. But for a short time he created some of the most memorable “yarns,” as he called them, ever written, and got to share some time with a woman who could stand up to his Conan-size temper. Perhaps she influenced his character of Valeria, the fiery swordswoman with an even sharper tongue.

Conan the Destroyer

Conan the Barbarian is one of my favorite movies, and definitely in my top 3 for fantasy films. John Milius and Arnold Schwarzenegger took Robert E. Howard’s dark hero and created a much-copied genre in film- the grubby, barbarian-style fantasy. And a mere 2 years later, Richard Fleischer and Arnold destroyed it, in the aptly named Conan the Destroyer. What happened? Milky and I watched it to see how fantasy moves were destroyed until Peter Jackson brought them back.
Hollywood hated the fact that Conan was for adults. Kenner even made Conan action figures in prep for the movie, and when they saw the bloody violence, sweaty sex and cannibal soup of the snake people, they quickly renamed him He-Man, and we got the Masters of the Universe (full review). Dildo DeLaurentiis then figured he could make even more money with a more child-friendly version, so he brought Richard Fleischer on board for Destroyer. The guys who wrote Ralph Bakshi’s ode to Frazetta, Fire and Ice wrote a script that got trashed by Stanley Mann, whose best movie was The Silent Flute (aka Circle of Iron) with David Carradine. Conan’s character is thrown out the window, and he’s written as a musclebound oaf.

Comedy Conan!

I mean, Conan wasn’t that smart in the first one, but he wasn’t a drunken, easily led dope like he is in this one. We meet him with his new buddy Malak (Tracey Walter, Repo Man), a fellow thief. They’re running from a bunch of heavily armored horsemen with nets, who want to capture them. After Conan hacks them to pieces, we see two others watching from horseback- Queen Taramis and her guard Bombataa (Wilt Chamberlain, never in a feature film before or after this mess). They want to hire Conan to steal a mystic horn, with the help of Princess Jehnna (hottie Olivia d’Abo, Bolero). She is a virgin marked with a sign, and is the only one who can safely touch the key that will release the horn.

How come your breasts are always bigger than the women’s, Arnold?

Milky remarked, “Good idea having Wilt Chamberlain guard a princess’s virginity.” And yes, I imagine Olivia d’Abo was probably #10,001 on Wilt’s list. Queen Taramis (Sarah Douglas, Ursa from Superman II) hypmotizes Conan (see this post for an explanation) with her mesmerizing eyes and makes him think she can ressurect Valeria, and give him his own kingdom for his troubles, so he joins right up. Conan is now a sucker. A few seconds later, Taramis tells Bombataa to kill Conan as soon as they are done needing him.

“Don’t worry, Wilt has pledged his life to defending your hymen.”

On their journey, they return to the city where Conan punched the camel in the first movie- and this time it spits on him! So he punches it out again. It’s there that they pick up Grace Jones, that iconic singer and horrible actress who’s also responsible for appearing in one of the worst Bond movies, A View to a Kill. But like Arnold, she’s got presence. She kind of sticks out here, but Zula fits the Conan universe from the books well. She’d be a Kushite she-warrior. She’s chained up in the center of town, being harrassed by the townsfolk who have branded her a brigand. Conan being wise and fair, cuts her chains and lets her have a fair fight. She swings a stick around like a pro, and wears one of the least goofy helmets in the movie. A worthy comrade.

Conan and Zula in a lighter moment.

It’s unfortunate that the only characters who return from the first movie are Arnold, Mako, and the camel. And Mako doesn’t even remember Conan. They rescue him from some cannibals, with Fleischer’s trademark swordfights- the zing! of a blade and a head flying up is mostly what you get- and “Akiro” pledges his sorcerous skills to the barbarian. By the mid-80s, movies began having plots like video games. Go from city to city, collecting your party. Find the spooky wizard’s secret island. Hack hack hack. heal heal heal.

Malek trying to put ointment on Zula’s axe wound.


It was a real bad idea watching this right after Conan the Barbarian, which has some of the best set design ever. The cities look real, even when they are models; the castles and markets look like they fit in, and the Towers of Set stick out like ancient Churches of Scientology. Ron Cobb did a fantastic job with the production design. The demons that Valeria must save Conan from don’t look that bad, but boy does the animated “bird of smoke” look silly in this one. It looks like it has cartoon stink lines radiating from it, as it carries sleeping Jehnna off to the wizard’s castle. Bad idea mixing animation and models in the same scene without knowing what you’re doing.

Stinky smoke bird

It’s even worse once they get inside. The inside of the castle consists of nothing but a huge pillar with a spiral staircase, and you can see the change in color of what’s a matte and what isn’t. But who cares? Conan is about the fights, right? WRONG! The sorcerer has Jehnna locked in his bedchamber, which is past a hall of mirrors. When they approach, he sees them in his crystal and whispers, “too late.” I assumed this meant he broke her mystic cherry, but no such luck. Evil Wizard reminder- if you capture a virgin who has to stay a virgin to complete her quest, why not? You’re an evil wizard, dammit. Are you gonna wait and ply her with champagne Polanski-style? (Olivia d’Abo was only 14 when this was filmed. Oh, I went there).

For a virgin, she dresses quite provocatively.

Conan gets trapped in the circular room of mirrors, and soon 12 red-robed figures appear, then meld into one Giant Lizardman with Man-Boobs. For some reason, he doesn’t have scales on his chest, and we’re subjected to flabby wizard tits. It is my conjecture that they are the true source of his power, not the mirrors. Conan and the Man-Boob Lizard have a lame pro-wrestling style fight, where Arnold gets to scream AGGHGHAAAAH!!! a lot, which is always my favorite one-liner of his. HastAGHGHGAAAAA la Vista, baby. I won’t tell you how he defeats the Wizard, but let’s just say Conan never appeared in a sequel due to 84 years of bad luck. There’s actually a nice effect when Toth-Amon (a real wizard name from the Conan books, woo) decides to touch the Key he’s been guarding, and light spills out of his eyes and wounds until he goes pop like the weasel. Pat Roach plays Toth-Amon- he was Brytag in Red Sonja, the big bald mechanic in Raiders, and many more memorable big galoots.

He is only vulnerable in the moobs, Conan!

Now they have the Key, on to the next level! Bombataa- probably named after Afrika, the guy who sang “World Destruction” with Johnny Rotten- isn’t very good at hiding Queen Taramis’s real plans for Conan. They get attacked by the Queen’s Elite guard, including Sven-ole Thorsen, who played Thorgrim, the guy with the big fuck-off hammer from the previous movie. They have a protracted and anticlimactic battle, which ends with Bombataa taking a few swipes at Conan, too. What the fuck, dude? His only response is, “I thought you were going to hurt the girl.” But why did the queen’s guards attack us? “Um, not on her orders!” Okay, it’s all good, brah!
While the previous movie gave us memorable lines like “Crush your enemies, see them driven before you, and hear the lamentation of the women!” and Thulsa Doom’s endlessly quotable psychotic cult leader babble, here we have to settle for seeing Conan drunk and stupid, saying things like “give me the promise I was kingdomed!” He sounds a lot like pot-head Arnold from the Conan the Barbarian DVD commentary. It’s really embarassing to watch Conan graduate from the pit fighter born of the Wheel of Pain, who survived the Tree of Woe (sort of) and nearly single-handedly took down the Cult of Set, into frat boy Conan, who’s only good for comic relief. Most movies have a comic relief character, but here we have Malak, Grace Jones and Mako all mugging it up, plus our hero. It almost feels more like Olivia d’Abo’s movie, because she’s about the only character we can take seriously. Or maybe we’re just staring at her boobs (Dude, she’s 15! So what, she’s like 40 now).

“This spell requires mandrake root… and Metamucil!”

They steal the horn from its incompetent ancient guardians, and Mako gets to have a Wizard Battle. Wizard battles involve lots of groaning, and from behind closed doors might sound like Old Man Wizard needs more fiber. But as always, Mako can do anything and we’ll forgive him. Hell, they should have made a spin-off TV series with him. But all his groaning is all for naught, as Bombataa traps them with a rockslide and spirits Jehnna away for her virgin sacrifice. In the director’s cut I like to imagine that Jehnna wasn’t a virgin when he brought her back to Taramis. I just can’t see Wilt playing such a kiss-ass to the Queen. But that’s what he is.

AGGHAHAAH!! #7

He’s really only in the movie so we have someone huge to fight Conan, and the barbarian is finally pissed when he realizes he’s been swindled. So he heads to Taramis’s castle with his friends to fuck her shit up. He kicks Wilt’s ass so handily that you wonder why we thought he was so bad-ass with his spiked and beaked mace, but we finally get some bloody fighting, with Bombataa chomping Conan’s ear off, as they wrestle and stab each other. Zula and the rest are left to save the girl, and unfortunately, saving the girl in this case means Releasing the Rampaging God Dagoth, Who Is Pissed Off That There’s No Virgin in His Cheerios.

The folks at www.arnoldheight.com use this to say he’s on’y 5’11”

The end is really the best part of the movie- Dagoth is a huge slavering web-footed reptile with a rhino horn for a nose. It was Andre the Giant under the make-up, so Dagoth is a massive lumbering beast. Can Conan defeat a god? You’re damn right. Bare-handed, too. Now that’s the Conan we remember, the guy who succeeds because he doesn’t think he can fail. It’s too bad that after he tears Dagoth’s horn out, he didn’t stick it up the dead god’s ass and kick it out his brain. That would have been something.

Pro-wrestling with the gods

While Conan the Destroyer is an order of magnitude greater than Red Sonja, it was still an enormous disappointment. Conan went from being a vengeful warrior who was a little wet behind the ears, to a legendary swordsman who’s mostly a drunken idiot when he’s not killing people. Couple that with comic relief like Malak- who’s useless in a fight unless he can jump behind you on your horse and stab you in the kidneys- and not one but two non-acting celebrities, and even if the script wasn’t toilet paper you’d be in trouble. The original story was published as a graphic novel called The Horn of Azoth, and I remember reading it when it came out. Now, THAT story would have been awesome on-screen. But Dino DeLaurentiis didn’t like leeches, so it got scrapped. I’ll give him credit though, he’s produced a lot of stinkers, but many great adventure movies. And he’s still doing it at 100 years old.
The film looks decent- Fleischer directed epics like The Vikings and his DP was Jack Cardiff, who’s made beautiful films like and even Black Narcissus, The African Queen and even Rambo: First Blood Part II. The DVD doesn’t show it off real well, being nonanamorphic and dull. Was 1982 the last of the golden years of the ’70s? I think so. And will be posting about it soon. Seeing how Conan changed from awesome to awful in 2 years just proves my point.

Beers Required to Enjoy: 3
Could it be remade today? Sadly, yes.
Quotability Rating: Low
Cheese Factor: Fromunda from Crom’s loincloth
High Points: Great end battle.
Low Point: Fat, drunk & stupid is no way to go through life, Conan.
Gratuitous Boobies: Nope! Olivia d’Abo nearly pops out of her dresses a lot though.

Red Sonja

“If danger is a trade, I’ll learn it by myself.”

I’m very glad they changed Arnold’s character from Conan to Kalidor for this turd. Brigette Nielsen is the red-haired swordswoman who was brutally raped and her family slaughtered when she refused to be scissor sisters with the Evil Queen Gedren (Sandahl Bergman). She’s supposed to be a master of the sword, but she gets in trouble a lot, and Arnold rides in out of nowhere to save her ass every time. Arnie’s wife Maria Shriver said of it, “If this doesn’t kill your career, nothing will,” and she was right. “It’s the worst film I have ever made.” He joked, “Now, when my kids get out of line, they’re sent to their room and forced to watch Red Sonja ten times. I never have too much trouble with them.” Red Sonja is definitely 80’s trash.

80’s villain note: If you have someone’s family killed, they will scream for vengeance.

After a rapey montage, we see the guardians of the Talisman, a glowing green rock that gets its power from “light,” and was used to create the world. They’re all women in white robes with swords, and Gedren’s soldiers- who wear huge gaudy helmets- sneak in and slaughter them all. You’d think Guardians would have a lookout, but oh well. The Guardians are about to lock the Talisman away to save the world, but Gedren has them thrown into a pit and sealed up instead, taking the rock for herself.

Next time, take the lead role.

I’m not sure how the Talisman works, but it seems to make storms that can destroy entire cities. Kalidor meets the lone survivor of the Guardians- Sonja’s sister- and is tasked with telling Sonja of her death. He meets Red after her Sword Mitzvah, where she’s told by the Master that there is nothing more he can teach her. Unfortunately he must suck, because she needs more bailouts than GM and AIG combined. Brigette looked really good back in ’86 with a red ‘do, but she acts like a female Arnold in Hercules in New York (full review).

We hold this candlelight vigil for the victims of Happy Fun Ball.

Her first bailout is when she takes the Toll Road- what is this, New Jersey?- run by a tyrant named Brytag, who demands payment, “the tender kind that all women give to Brytag.” Red’s not having none of that, and has a duel to the death with him, after he promises that his men will let her pass if she wins. Of course, they lie, so Conan- cough- Kalidor- has to show up to fight them off. Then he conveniently locks the gate and says he’ll stay behind and fight so she can escape. Otherwise it would be a Kalidor movie with Arnold, and might be more watchable.

“Maybe if you didn’t eat brontosaurus legs, you wouldn’t be so fat.”

At this point I thought the movie was bad, but I’d slog through it to see redheads in chainmail bikinis. Then Prince Tarn and his companion the James Coco impersonator show up. Prince Tarn is played by Ernie Reyes Jr., best known as the annoying little kid named Tai from The Last Dragon (full review). Thanks to Short Round from Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (full review), the little Asian sidekick was a staple of the mid-80s, like the side boob. At least Reyes can fight. He plays a young prince whose kingdom is levelled by Gedren with the Talisman. In the thankless role of comic relief is Paul Smith (Bluto from Popeye) as Falkon, his obedient and much-suffering servant. He’s the fat knife-throwing guy who fights with a brontosaurus hambone. It’s too bad there’s not still meat on it for him to gnaw on, but he does that later.

Underwater metal monster. Just wait for it to rust, duh.

They aimlessly wander the countryside and come upon some ruins they explore for no good reason. When the little Prince spies a huge pearl, he forces Falkon to try to pry it out, and releases a metallic water dragon thing that splashes them around. Of course, Kalidor shows up to go for a swim with it. Red Sonja really isn’t very good for girls’ self-esteem. Don’t worry, even if you’re a Sword Master, you’ll still suck compared to the guys, but cuz yer hot, some warrior dude will show up and save your ass, so don’t worry about it! I was hoping there’d be a sequel where she was an unfulfilled housewife, attacking the dishwasher with her broadsword. When Arnold’s flirting goes too far, she challenges him to a battle, since “No man may have me, unless he’s beaten me in a fair fight.” They duel until they are both exhausted, but because it’s a draw, Kalidor goes to bed with blue balls that night.

“So, the only man that can have you, is one who’s trying to kill you. That’s logic.”

The one person she doesn’t need Kalidor’s help to defeat is the other woman in the story, Queen Gedren. Sandahl Bergman has a lot of fun playing the villainess, risking the very world to increase her power. I began to wish she said typecasting be damned, and dyed her hair red to take the lead role, which she was offered. Their swordfight shows that she’s more athletic and capable for the fight choreography, and can act her way out of a paper bag, as long as it’s not closed too tightly. Red Sonja triumphs as expected, and we get to see Arnold in the rare role of romantic lead, when they kiss and make up at the very end. But like little Prince Tarn, we want to go “eugh,” and fast forward to the bloody battles we were promised.

“If you knew how much this chainmail chafes, you’d leave me alone.”

With this and his abysmal, comic sequel Conan the Destroyer, Richard Fleischer seems to have single-handedly ended the ’80s sword & sorcery craze that John Milius and Arnold began with Conan the Barbarian. Who knows what the hell happened to Richard Fleischer. He had memorable films every decade, until the ’80s hit him smack in the face. 1950’s Armored Car Robbery is a gritty crime film that inspired many others; in the ’60s he had Barabbas, and a great run in the ’70s with Mr. Majestyk, Soylent Green, Tora! Tora! Tora! and the trashy cult classic Mandingo. Then in 1980 he remade The Jazz Singer with Neil Diamond, and it was downhill from there. My theory is that Neil trapped him in a room and played “Turn on Your Heart Light” until his brain melted. Watch Red Sonja and you’ll agree.

“Late-uh, in your trailer. Den we do da real love scene.”

I hope the rumors of Robert Rodriguez remaking this movie with Rose McGowan (Grindhouse, The Doom Generation) in the title role are true. Red Sonja‘s tale deserves a good telling. She’s the iconic swordswoman character. Apparently Rodriguez is out now that he & McGowan have called it quits, but another director has been handed it. On the Movie Set Blog, there’s a brief synopsis, which doesn’t sound all that great. Pity.

Beers Required to Enjoy: 4
Could it be remade today? Sure, there’s plenty of room for improvement.
Quotability Rating: zip
Cheese Factor: Hyborian stank cheese
High Points: … well? we’re waiting! um…
Low Point: Pretty much everything.
Gratuitous Boobies: Just sword girls in bikinis round these parts.

Arnold constipated, trying to pass this turd of a movie.

Conan, the Cimmerian

“Barbarism is the natural state of mankind. Civilization is unnatural. It is a whim of circumstance. And barbarism must always ultimately triumph.”

Like our President, I am a big fan of Conan the Barbarian. I don’t collect Savage Sword of Conan, however I am tempted. I was raised onthe movie incarnation by Arnold Schwarzenegger and John Milius, and I finally got around to reading the stories by Robert E. Howard- who managed to create Conan, Kull the Conqueror, Solomon Kane, Red Sonya, and an entire mythology out of the whole cloth by the age of 30. Howard was supremely talented storyteller, despite essentially living in his mom’s basement- he was a mama’s boy, and when she passed into a coma during her terminal run with tuberculosis, he killed himself. He did have a romance of a sort with a schoolteacher, chronicled in her memoir One Who Walked Alone, and the movie adapted from it, The Whole Wide World. Vincent D’Onofrio plays Bob in that, and I’ve tucked it in my Netflix Queue.

But he left us a legacy that influenced fantasy literature as much as Tolkien, even if he was more interested in commenting on the shackles of civilization than experimenting with language, myth cycles, and the battle between technology and nature. Whenever you see an image of a sword-wielding man with mighty “thews,” possible Howard’s favorite word, you are seeing the legacy of Conan. Magic was a Lovecraftian force, a devil’s bargain, that corrupted all who attempted to master it. Women were often damsels, but he also created characters like Valeria, the archetype for the unattainable battle mistress.

 

Sure, he was not beyond titillating his readers with scenes of women whipping each other, or my favorite, a savage king raking his bristly beard over Valeria’s breasts after he tears her shirt open:

Her shirt had been torn open in the struggle, and with cynical cruelty he rasped his thick beard across her bare breasts, bringing the blood to suffuse the fair skin, and fetching a cry of pain and outraged fury from her. Her convulsive resistance was useless; she was crushed down on the couch, disarmed and panting, her eyes blazing up at him like the eyes of a trapped tigress.

Steamy stuff. Makes me regret trimming my beard. I’ll have to test its raspiness on Firecracker and report back to you. So if you see me with black eyes, you know what happened).

The stories are iconic and still enjoyable 70 years later. Unlike much pulp and adventure fiction, they don’t feel dated- what was shocking then is still exciting now, and his cynicism suits the times. The movies seem quaint in comparison- they were considered gory, bloody and gratuitous when they came out, but compared to Howard’s stories they’re tame. Conan the Barbarian is the bloodier of the two, and based on a smattering of different stories. It takes Valeria from “Red Nails,” the black lotus (Stygian, the best) from there as well; the snake cult of Set is used in many stories, and Thulsa Doom is the name of a Kull villain, but based on Thoth Amon from “The Phoenix on the Sword.” His magic resembles that of “The People of the Black Circle,” and Conan’s raid on their airy castle is similar to his commando strike on Doom.

Conan the Destroyer is more a product of the ’80s than the perfect syzygy of Arnold’s rise to fame, John Milius’s obsessions with Conan, Nietzche, and Genghis Khan, and James Earl Jones going from Oscar-worthy performances in The Great White Hope to an infamous villain in Star Wars. Arnie seems goofy in the sequel; gone are the surfers from Milius’s Big Wednesday as Subotai and Valeria, replaced with comic relief like Grace Jones and Tracey Walter. At least Mako returns as the Wizard, and despite the dopey storyline, we at least get to see Conan battle with Wilt Chamberlain, and Andre the Giant in a Dagoth constume. We get the eye candy of Olivia d’Abo, but the film is strictly PG, a smarmy land that no Conan should be forced to tread, by Crom!

After years of development hell, it seems like we’ll be enduring a new Conan movie- but I am heartened by the choice of screenwriter, Howard McCain. He did a fine job with Outlander, taking a ridiculous concept- Vikings vs. Predator, essentially- and made a good movie out of it. On the other hand, putting it in the hands of bland-o-tron hack Brett Ratner assures that like Red Dragon, we’ll probably get an inferior product held together by the actors. With the proper choice of Cimmerian, we could have a good movie; Let’s hope they just throw us in the middle, like Howard would have- no need to rehash his origin, for Conan never really had one- he walked out of the hills of Cimmeria where barbarian tribes fought, and was a tiger among the livestock of civilized humanity. Give us bloody swordplay, give us scantily clad sorceresses, fearsome magic too terrible to contemplate. And never let Conan be the butt of any jokes. I hope there’s room for Arnie to make a cameo as an older king- perhaps a role similar to Max Von Sydow’s in the first movie- but it would be fine if he kept governating.

Who’s my choice of Conan? Because it has to be a big name, I’d say the obvious choice is Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, who has both muscles and charisma. Give him the right haircut and make him forgo that easy smile of his for some blue contacts and a smoldering stare. That would give me hope. As for Robert E. Howard, tragedy made Conan and his other characters spring forth from his imagination- he wrote to pay the bills when his mother got sick, and his father’s business floundered during the Depression. At one time he was making $6,000 a year at 1 1/2 cents a word. Talk about prolific. Someday I’d like to visit the Robert E. Howard museum in Cross Plains, Texas, and see the tiny room he tapped away at his typewriter in.

Outlander

Outlander. No, not the Sean Connery “shotguns in space” movie from the ’80s, this time it’s Alien meets Predator in a Viking settlement, with Jim Caviezel (The Passion of the Christ) playing a space traveler named Kainen, hunting down a horrific dragon-like creature called a Moorwen. Can Space Jesus kill the predalienodragon, using only iron age weapons and whale carcasses? Like Doomsday, this film is derivative of its betters from 20 years ago but still makes for good entertainment.
When his ship crashes with the Moorwen in tow, he has to join with Vikings led by King Rothgar (John Hurt) and Gunnar (Ron Perlman) to defeat it, which is a bit of a task, since his space-faring folks usually nuke them or pepper them with plasma cannon fire. The story holds together when most B-movies of this type don’t bother. They don’t waste excruciating minutes of dialogue explaining everything- we see some flashbacks of Kainen’s family colonizing the Moorwen planet, and the terrible price they pay for their hubris. and while Kainen the Outlander is distrusted by his Viking captors- when he proves himself, we don’t get the lazy writing of having people still not trust him.
He does have to deal with Wulfric, next in line for the throne, seeing him as ambitious competition, but they bond over a charming Viking-era contest called “shields.” Rothgar’s daughter Freya (Sophia Myles, Underworld: Evolution) has a bit of Eowyn in her- she can swing a sword and wants to fight, and she gets to be more than just she-warrior eye candy. Ron Perlman (Hellboy) is a bald, raving lunatic swinging two big fuck-off hammers to our delight. He looked like he could beat the Moorwen to death with his nutsack, but the hulking beast has plenty of tricks. The real surprise is Cliff Saunders as Boromir (where have I heard that name before?), the oddly Irish-sounding warrior, quick to share his bag of mead. He’s the smart-ass of the bunch and keeps things from getting too serious.
The pacing lags a bit here and there, but the creature looks great and manages to be quite menacing; the characters are enjoyable and while the scares aren’t all that unexpected, the battles are great and isn’t that what a Viking movie where Space Jesus comes to kill Grendel is all about? Once you get past the ridiculous concept, they handle it quite well, and it’s a lot like The 13th Warrior‘s original source material- the source of the Beowulf legend with a supernatural twist. It’s a great popcorn movie and not as groan-inducing as most movies of that moniker. Milky and I loved it. many bellies were slapped in enjoyment of this fine piece of guy cinema.
Writer-director Howard McCain fought hard for this project to make it to light, and I am not frightened that he is writing the screenplay for the new Conan movie coming out next year. That project is still in development, and unfortunately will live or die on who plays the barbarian. I hope Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, the obvious choice, at least gets a chance. He’s got the mighty thews and the charisma to make it work. Forget The Scorpion King and give The Rundown a try, it’s an overlooked, fresh and funny action flick where he shows his chops.
4 Viking bellyslaps out of 5

NYC Comicon – Venture Bros. panel

I haven’t been to a Comic con before, but there was a Venture Bros. panel, so I decided to go with Milky and Darth Dross this weekend. While I am still recovering from geek overload, I do not regret it. We began Tick Tock Diner, home of the English Breakfast Burger, Eggs Arepas, and other fine fare. We knew we were close, because a fat Jedi waddled past the window. At the Javits Center, the line to the dealer floor was enormous, but they kept it moving quickly. Soon enough we were in the dealer’s room, with all their wonderful toys.

Things got off to the wrong foot when I saw my old high school pal C.C. Banana while I was on the escalator. I’d seen his website, but I was not prepared for my old friend to be dressed as a giant fruit. We didn’t have a chance to talk, or for me to see his act. Then again, with the amount of grown men dressed as Inuyasha, I shouldn’t single him out. There were plenty of good costumers there, from the 501st Legion- Star Wars costumers- to a guy on stilts as an actual-size Hulk. And of course, plenty of Venture Bros. fans.

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I only fanboyed over a few people. Lou Ferrigno was there signing photos, and the Hulk was my childhood idol, as those who know me when I’m angry can attest. It was $30 for a photo with him, so I opted for an autographed one of the Hulk instead. I snagged a photo of him anyway. He was friendly enough, but it’s got to suck making money this way, so I don’t hold it against him.
While I’m more of a fan of the Conan movies and books than the comics, when I saw Will Conrad was there selling sketches, I got one of the Cimmerian. Milky got a headshot of Leonardo the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle from the artists there, too. I also met animator Bill Plympton, one of my favorite animators. His sick sense of humor still cracks me up. He was showing off his newest, Idiots and Angels.
Of course Watchmen was a big thing- Dave Gibbons the artist from the original comic was there- but I was surprised there wasn’t more. No actors promoting it, or anything like that. I guess NYC ain’t as big as the San Diego one yet. Thankfully there weren’t any Dr. Manhattans going around in blue body paint, either. Here’s Milky’s Rorschach costume and a guy dressed as the Comedian.
The panel was very crowded- I had no idea Venture Bros. was this popular! Doc Hammer was there in his multicolor-haired and scrawny-limbed glory (hey, he spent like 5 minutes talking about how a men’s size small fits him like a circus tent, so don’t blame me for commenting on his gangliness). They showed some clips from the upcoming Season 3 DVD and Blu-Ray, the first HD release. The Blu-Ray will come with the soundtrack CD included; DVD set buyers will have to get it separately. The deleted scenes were pretty funny, and I’m sure I’ll be getting the set soon. I wonder how many will convert to Hi-Def to see Dr. Girlfriend in her Mrs. The Monarch outfit.
The panel was good fun- Doc, Jackson Publick, and Michael Sinterniklaas (voice of Dean, among others) answered many questions from fans who are a hell of a lot more obsessive than I’ll ever be. We didn’t learn much about Season 4, as expected. They repeated that #24 was dead so many times that I have an inkling he’ll be returning somehow. You can’t break up a good team like that. One of the more amusing questions was about how they’d cast a live-action movie of the show, and it seems they are big fans of Lost, since Hurley would be #21. And all the fans who lust after Dr. Girlfriend, the voluptuous villainess voiced by Doc Hammer with a throatful of gravel, got taken to task when a guy asked Doc if “he’d do her,” because of her voice. Doc replied, “would you have sex with me if I had a sexy girl voice?”
They did autographs afterward but I didn’t bring anything, and the line was limited to 1 hour- and moved glacially slow. So we went to see Fanboys instead. I’ll post a full review tomorrow, but I loved it. It was hilarious, somewhere between Detroit Rock City and Role Models. Certainly funnier for Star Wars nerds, but even Firecracker liked it. If you’re nerdy at all, you ought to go see it so it’ll get a wider release.
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