Sunday, August 21, 2011

Even Worse Than Predicted

With harder data now in, it looks like Conan the Barbarian did even less well than estimated over at Deadline Hollywood. The revised figures have the film grossing only $3.6 million on Friday and barely cracking $10 million for the weekend. Meanwhile, The Wrap puts the Friday figure at $3.7 million and estimates that it won't even break double digits for the entire weekend. However you slice it, this latest attempt to bring Robert E. Howard's most famous character to the silver screen is a failure.

I wish I could say that the failure was directly the result of the film's deviations from Howard's stories, but that seems unlikely, given how little known Howard's stories are. Of course, one might reasonably argue that, by presenting just a generic sword-and-sorcery movie whose lead happens to be named Conan rather than one that draws on what makes Howard's stories unique, the end result was inevitable. We've already got Clash of the Titans and Prince of Persia, what, other than the name, does Conan bring to the table that they don't?

Such questions are likely academic for now. Howard has never been treated well by Hollywood -- I think there's only ever been one remotely faithful adaptation of his stories -- and the failure of the 2011 Conan the Barbarian won't do much to increase the odds of that's changing. I'm OK with that. Like Lovecraft, Howard's an author about whom I care enough that I'd rather see no movies made of his works than bad movies. If I go to my grave without there ever being another Conan film made, I won't mind at all.

66 comments:

  1. I don't consider box office returns when judging "failure" - all that means is that the typical American is more into things like "Transformers" (Ugh) or those equally inane street racing movies (I can't even remember the damn name of the series - but you know, with that noted thespian Vin Diesel)?

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  2. It's been under-previewed in the UK compared to the Apes movie, so I doubt it'll do well until it gets On Demand and DVD.

    Have you read Momoa's interview in Empire ? - at least he's knows what YOU want from Conan.

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  3. It may not have adapted one of his stories but it had plenty of nods to Howards world & style; Mitras gets a mention; picts & many other nations/races get a run; sorcerors are evil & creepy as hell; a bit of sworplay; a bit of a sea voyage.

    It "felt" enough like a Conan story to me (& yes, I read & enjoy Howard). I really enjoyed it. Shame others are too busy nitpicking to just enjoy the attempt.

    It was a damn sight more interesting than the snoozefest LOTR series.

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  4. Have you read Momoa's interview in Empire ? - at least he's knows what YOU want from Conan.

    I haven't. Is it available online anywhere?

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  5. I was being sarcastic - what he actually said that made me wince was:

    'if people are really stuck on Conan being their own one thing, I think it's time to address it. We wanted to give respect to Robert E Howard, but you can't just focus on his fans. There are eight decades of stories and comics and movies since him, so Conan is different things to different people. You can't please everybody, but you can re-imagine Conan every couple of generations, like Batman or Bond.'

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  6. 'It was a damn sight more interesting than the snoozefest LOTR series. '

    But is it more enjoyable than The Scorpion King ?

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  7. I'm having a hard time even finding a theatre thats screening it. Most only have 3-4 shows a day, and two of them are during "Normal Business hours" I.E. impossible to get to.

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  8. I thought so. I liked it alot, 7/10. YMMV.

    The Mummy movies I can take or leave.

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  9. 'The Smurfs' did $35.7 million it's opening weekend.

    The Smurfs kicked Conan's ass.

    The shame is unbearable.

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  10. I'm probably going to see it today, just because it's sounds fun.

    BTW: I HATE critics. they'll be the first ones up against the wall when the revolution comes. IMO, they serve no purpose in society as a whole.

    The only folks who I would take their word on are gamers and S&S lovers when it comes to this kind of movie, and from what I've read, a majority liked it.

    So, since most of the critics don't like it, it means to me that it must be pretty good.

    I enjoy REH's works, but I am not a purist by any stretch of the imagination. As long as they capture the spirit of the stories, I 'm happy.

    In other words: James, do yourself a favor and go see it, at least at a matinee. I know I am.

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  11. I can't comment on whether it lived up to REH, but i saw the movie and thought it was an enjoyable film that added some fun to my Saturday afternoon. In terms of my own personal enjoyment I'd probable rank it a 7 or 7.5 out of 10. I think you're being overly harsh on a movie you haven't even seen yet. You're also judging it using criteria that has nothing to do with the quality of the content.

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  12. I enjoyed it. As I've said elsewhere online, I don't think it's a particularly good REH Conan movie, but it's a nearly note-perfect Roy Thomas "Savage Sword of Conan" movie, that I'm OK with that.

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  13. James, you are hardly objective when commenting on this movie and haven't been in any post about it. Every post you've made about this movie has the "idiocy" tag attached to it... that's hardly an objective.

    If box-office numbers are your sole criteria for whether a movie is good or not... well.. I don't even know how to address that.

    This was a good sword and sorcery movie, it was a good Conan-like story, and Momoa portrayed Conan very well.

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  14. Theron: Now that's a review that speaks to me! =)

    Is Conan/REH public domain? anyone know?

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  15. I think the problem with Conan is that he is Saturday UHF Station Afternoon Movie Matinee material. Enjoyable, but not something that you would want to spend money on. You wait until it comes on TV with commercials. I love me some Conan, but I will wait until out of theatres, and out of on-demand, and out of subscription cable. FX or TNT or something will replay it to death in a few years, and that is when it will make its money. Kinda like Underworld. I don't know anyone who saw that when it came out, but now it is being replayed everywhere. Same type thing. I'll see it when I see it. In a few years, they might make another one.

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  16. If there's something that is so totally wrong with the present movie industry it is the totally inane fixation with money made the first weekend.

    Note: I'm not bashing James here, but the system. Broken, I say.

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  17. Underworld is being replayed because there is another sequel coming out....
    But then, wasn't the original just another "failure" movie too?
    Conan is a fun movie, it isn't perfect, I did like it much more than the Potter films but I don't expect everyone else to as well, especially since not many people even know the roots of Conan, how can they appreciate it?

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  18. "Howard has never been treated well by Hollywood..."

    It seems Howard himself has been treated better than his creations. The Whole Wide Word was actually quite good, though it's definitely not a sword and sorcery story.

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  19. In other words: James, do yourself a favor and go see it, at least at a matinee. I know I am.

    That's my plan. I don't anticipate I'll like the film any more than those who have seen and whose opinions I trust, but I feel a certain obligation to do so nonetheless.

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  20. The Whole Wide Word was actually quite good, though it's definitely not a sword and sorcery story.

    It's an excellent movie and I highly recommend it to anyone who wants to get a sense of REH as a man and a writer. I wrote a review of it here.

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  21. I saw the movie Friday and would totally agree that it is way more Roy Thomas than REH. In fact, I would say it is completely based on the comics while also referencing the Arnold's Conan. Many of the scenes are direct homages to Dark Horse's artwork.

    While I'm certainly not gushing about the movie, it provided very light entertainment for a Friday afternoon. There are some great visuals and flashes of an awesome movie that could have been (Leo Howard as young Conan rules). In the pantheon of crap Howard movies, I would place it above Red Sonja and Kull. It' slightly better than Conan the Destroyer, but not much. To be fair, I loved CTD when I was a kid, but it did not age well at all.

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  22. The aforementioned Empire Magazine Jason Momoa interview:

    http://www.empireonline.com/interviews/interview.asp?IID=1291

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  23. I find it hard to understand why it did so poorly, when Clash of the Titans did so well without being pushed so hard.

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  24. I caught it yesterday. It is, IMHO, a terrible Conan film (as expected) and not even a particularly good swords & sorcery film. Our hero barely achieves one-dimensionality, his father is a dolt, the villain and the plot are equally laughable, and at the end of it all, there was only one character I cared about, a minor figure who sailed off-screen well before the climax. Honestly, I don't care that it was a bad Conan film; a good one would be more than we can reasonably expect out of Hollywood. But every time Tinseltown turns out another poorly written, poorly directed, big budget but low grossing S&S movie, it lowers the chance that we'll ever get a good one. I'm not telling anyone to stay away from this. Go see it, or wait for the DVD, and form your own opinion. I'm sure it will develop a following, just as other films of its grade (Krull, Red Sonja) have.

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  25. Maybe the films it's up against ?

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  26. I liked it. It had its flaws (the Hyborian world's huge, but Conan covers a *lot* of ground in not a lot of in-narrative time). I thought it was a fun sword & sorcery movie, the brutality's good, the villain isn't a moron. Rose McGowan was *horrible* in it however. A fun Conan yarn/pastiche set in his early 30s. It just seems to fit in that part of Conan's life.

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  27. To Jay, re Whole Wide World, It was a great movie. It was inspired and tragic. It felt like something Howard could have written if he lived long enough.

    To James, Pigeons from Hell is one of my favorite stories. It still gives me chills forty years after I first read it.

    It's sad that a good Conan movie will likely remain in our imaginations. I am sure somebody could do it in Eastern Europe or even Canada on a minimal budget. Many of his stories do not require elaborate sets or a lavish budget.

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  28. "I find it hard to understand why it did so poorly, when Clash of the Titans did so well without being pushed so hard."

    Simple: Arnie. To the world in general, most of whom have seen Arnie or clips of Arnie or sketches about Arnie's Conan the name "Conan" is a joke. The original Clash of the Titans evokes somewhat fond memories for many people who saw it as kids in the cinema or on Saturday TV.

    I know CtB has something of a reputation among FRPGers as being underrated but, honestly, is is a bloody awful movie; nearly unwatchable to anyone not starved of seeing their favourite genre on the big screen.

    I don't believe any "normal" adult would watch it from start to finish today except in an ironic mood, and if you want to make back $80m you can't go niche.

    CtB has cast a long shadow over the Cimmerian for non-fantasy fans. Unless word of mouth from this week is something special, this project is a dead duck regardless of its own merits.

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  29. Hopefully this isn't one of those Superman situations where people identify so much with one actor playing a specific role - like Christopher Reeve playing Superman - that it sort of poisons any subsequent portrayal by other actors.

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  30. @Crazyred:

    In the United States some of the stories are, and others aren't. In Australia they all are. Don't know about anywhere else.

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  31. I'm still planning on seeing it... it looks fun even if it isn't 'real' Conan. I expect I'll like it a lot more than the Ahrnold version.

    The 'opening weekend profits' thing is a vary lame way to judge... anything... except for opening weekend profits. Especially dumb when news media report on it as if it somehow informs you about anything.
    I still value critics though... a good critic can pan a movie but still let you know that you'd enjoy it. Ebert is always good for that IMO.

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  32. Saw this last night in 3d with the wife, who is a Jason Momoa fan since GoT on HBO. I thought it was a perfectly decent Sword & Sorc movie; more a Savage Sword of Conan movie than a Howard original stories Conan, but definitely enjoyable. I thought a bit too much time was spent on lil' Conan, and the main villain got a bit too much somewhat sympathetic motivation, but overall it was pretty darn fun. Speaking of Eastern Europe, it looks to have been almost entirely a Bulgarian/hollywood collaboration. My wife recognized some of the caves immediately.

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  33. I just got back from a showing at the Alamo Drafthouse.

    Having seen some of every film adaptation of Conan, I can say it's better than "Conan the Destroyer," the Conan cartoon (clips from which the theater showed before the movie), and the horrible TV series. It is, in some ways, truer to Howard's Conan than the original "Conan the Barbarian" (of which it is very much a remake) but it is not as good a film. It lacks the point-of-view, the (dare I say?) philosophy of the original... and Tyler Bates' score is no match for Basil Poledouris.

    It feels strangely like a 3.5 or 4E game brought to life -- dungeonpunk armor and spectacular but ultimately over-long set-piece fights. Speaking of D&D, the Alamo Drafthouse always shows a montage of related film clips as pre-show entertainment; in addition to the scene from "The Whole Wide World" in which Howard talks about Conan (which made the film that followed even more disappointing), I caught classic trailers for the films "Sorceress" and "The Sword and the Sorcerer." They actually name-dropped D&D in both trailers!

    Perhaps the most frustrating aspect of the new Conan is they actually directly reference "the Tower of the Elephant" at one point. If the film makers had just had the sense to stitch Conan's early thieving stories together into a coherent plot they could have saved half their budget or more and made a film that would have been at least as successful.

    At least it had lots of boobies.

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  34. Yeah, from the credits it seems the entire population of Bulgaria worked on this movie.

    For good/faithful adaptations,we can still hope for a release of the animated Red Nails with Perlman voicing Conan. Maybe?

    If only this one would do well, I'd love an animated Tower of the Elephant prequel (Conan's pirate buddy mentions that as one of his past exploits in the movie).

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  35. Definitely not a "Sword & Sorcery" movie - there was almost no sorcery! The intro sequence was terrible and most of the first half of the movie was a waste of time with far too much clumsy hack-and-slash gore. The second half was MUCH more interesting when all that was mostly over with. The one "monster" was lame. The movie needed more one-on-one battles, more monsters, more sorcery, more acting, more time spent on fantastic scenery, and far less of the clumsy large battles and fake gore. There was a lot of potential, but the movie was most valuable in inspiring you to think about "what could have been".

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  36. Competent filmmakers could have made a great movie with the same cast and effects and a straight adaptation of the original stories. I'm glad I saw it, but felt frustrated it didn't live up to its potential.

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  37. @Brooks Rownd
    I was just about to decide to watch this movie (with suitably low expectations) until I read "...there was almost no sorcery!" That's downright discouraging. Now I'm not sure I can be motivated to watch it.

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  38. By the way, one movie that has a surprisingly Howardian "feel" without having anything to do with Robert E. Howard's fiction is Mongol: The Rise of Genghis Khan (2007). I thought as I was watching it that this director could conceivably make an excellent Conan movie.

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  39. I'm not sure why someone would say there is no sorcery, there was plenty of sorcery. The entire plot was built on Acheronian Sorcerey..

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  40. I think there's only ever been one remotely faithful adaptation of his stories

    Thanks, James. I watched that today on Netflix. I haven't read the story in eons, but it seemed to follow fairly well. Plus, it was a fairly macabre production for 50 years ago TV!

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  41. I'm surprised to see people decrying Rose McGowan's performance. I thought her witch-girl was awesomely creepy. I'd say Rachel Nichols' Tamara was a considerably weaker link.

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  42. It feels strangely like a 3.5 or 4E game brought to life -- dungeonpunk armor and spectacular but ultimately over-long set-piece fights.

    Thanks, gaelbach, for the comment of the thread so far.

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  43. Matthew James Stanham said...

    "I find it hard to understand why it did poorly, when Clash of the Titans did so well without being pushed so hard."

    Actually they had a massive marketing campaign for it in the millions. plus COTT came out only a few months after Avatar so Sam Worthington's presence helped tremendously, but even more so, it also had a PG-13 rating which means families were more inclined to go and anyone over 13 could attend. on their own. This is the sole reason why garbage like Alvin and Chipmunks made close to $50 million dollars on the opening week.

    No matter how bad Conan might be( I'll be seeing it tomorrow) at least they kept it an R rating.

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  44. But every time Tinseltown turns out another poorly written, poorly directed, big budget but low grossing S&S movie, it lowers the chance that we'll ever get a good one.

    That's why I keep wishing Hollywood would quit focusing on a known "brand" like Conan and just try to make a good S&S movie. They've proven time and again they don't get Howard, so wouldn't the wise course of action be to start from scratch with something original -- or at least go and pick on some other S&S barbarian? Might I suggest Thongor or Brak? I don't think anyone would complain.

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  45. CtB has cast a long shadow over the Cimmerian for non-fantasy fans.

    Sadly so and too many of the decisions made about this movie made it unlikely that this situation would ever change. I mean, why did they choose to use the very same title for this movie as the 1982 one? How is anyone supposed to take this movie on its own merits when it uses the same title and, on top of it, goes with the same "You killed my father, prepare to die" plot outline? Madness.

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  46. Hopefully this isn't one of those Superman situations where people identify so much with one actor playing a specific role - like Christopher Reeve playing Superman - that it sort of poisons any subsequent portrayal by other actors.

    That could very well be the case. I've read too many reviews that compare Momoa unfavorably to Schwarzenegger, complaining that he's "not right" for the role since he doesn't look anything like Arnie did. Of all the things to complain about, Momoa's appearance is not one of them.

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  47. Perhaps the most frustrating aspect of the new Conan is they actually directly reference "the Tower of the Elephant" at one point. If the film makers had just had the sense to stitch Conan's early thieving stories together into a coherent plot they could have saved half their budget or more and made a film that would have been at least as successful.

    That's probably the result of some late script doctoring by Sean Hood, who tried to inject some genuine Howardian content into the movie. Sadly, from what I have heard, his efforts mostly amounted to some name dropping and offhand references to REH yarns here and there.

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  48. For good/faithful adaptations,we can still hope for a release of the animated Red Nails with Perlman voicing Conan. Maybe?

    Oh, how I wish we'd see that, but the project seems dead in the water and has been for some time.

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  49. Thanks, James. I watched that today on Netflix. I haven't read the story in eons, but it seemed to follow fairly well. Plus, it was a fairly macabre production for 50 years ago TV!

    Yeah, it's pretty well done, especially considering its age and that it was done for network TV.

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  50. I saw the movie this afternoon (in 2D. Might that make a difference in the reviews?). As a Howard fan I'm disappointed that it wasn't an actual story adaptation, but despite that I really enjoyed it. It felt closer to the spirit of the stories than the Arnold films. It certainly seems like some of the Dark Horse comics, or Savage Sword. Another pass through the editing phase to tighten some scenes and transitions could have made a difference. I think I might go again next weekend.

    I didn't realize that Thriller was on Netflix Instant. That's great news.

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  51. I wonder if one problem with Conan movies is that the focus is often on the fighting and the barbaric superman element. Too often it's "yeah, I want an ADULT sword and sorcery movie: more gore, more flashy martial arts, more sex."
    Too video game - and audiences have seen a million video games. A Conan movie is probably closer to a Western with swords and monsters.


    Yet one of Conan's appeals is that he's actually a dynamic character who men and women want to follow, fall in love with, etc. (Conan is picked up by pirates or nomads or whatever. Within a week or so, he's more popular than their own leaders, at least partly because he's a hard-working everyman with a sense of humor.)

    Instead of trying for the grim blood-soaked Frazetta cover, I wonder if Conan would work better in movies if the goal was first and foremost to write and portray him as a strong but likable masculine hero.

    Think Eastwood's Dirty Harry, Willis' John McClane, etc. A guy who is tougher than anyone, sure, but also a guy who audiences can love for the way he talks, acts, etc.

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  52. Having just seen Cowboys & Aliens, one of the two films I predicted to be good enough to see in a Theatre this year (based purely on their superbowl ads), this year's stock of film offerings is bad. Most are DVD night material.


    What Kills a Movie?

    Too much CGI.
    Irrelevent 3D.
    Impossible Stuff.
    Messages preaching Loyalty to church and state.

    The Next good movie will be three hours long and about An Alien Invasion during the revolutionary war with as little CGI as possible.

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  53. As a critic (http://www.nationalreview.com/corner/275118/crom-wept-john-j-miller#) put it, "As you know, the best of Robert E. Howard’s pulp tales of the 1930s ... cry out for the cinematic talents of a Akira Kurosawa or a Sergio Leone, men possessed of the same operatic poetry, grandeur, heroism, and thematic depth found in Howard’s original stories."

    This is a good point: Leone's combination of grand spectacle, hard-bitten realism and sense of nostalgia would be the perfect way to do Conan (I have even suggested the Leone - Kurosawa idea to my friends back in 2001 or 2002).

    However, modern Hollywood could never make that movie. It is too mired in seeing creative works through a thrice-removed perspective. There is no directness, no sense of "being there"; you couldn't find Leone's sweating, dusty, shifty-looking tramps, just characters distantly based on sweating, duty, shifty-looking tramps as imagined by urbane movie industry people.

    Even the technology contributes to the disconnect. Roger Ebert once recalled how Fritz Lang's movies were made: "He was often accused of sadism toward his actors; he had Lorre thrown down the stairs into the criminal lair a dozen times, and Peter Bogdanovich describes a scene in Lang's "Western Union'' where Randolph Scott tries to burn the ropes off his bound wrists. John Ford, watching the movie, said, "Those are Randy's wrists, that is real rope, that is a real fire.''" "That is real rope, that is real fire" - CGI cannot give you that.

    But it is mostly about attitude. Which is why the movies Hollywood produces nowadays feel like badly made carbon copies; either graphic novel-like in a bad way, or in the case of Tarantino and his imitators, ironically revelling in schlock in a way that actually feels deadly dull. The new Conan seems to be a combination of these two approaches.

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  54. Damn! Netflix canada doesn't have thriller streaming...Pigeons From Hell is a favorite of mine and I'd love to watch the show. :(

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  55. The best spin I could put on this film is this, Conan could've been the best SyFy channel movie of all time!

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  56. @mortellan - YES! It could also be the best D&D movie to date.

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  57. "Instead of trying for the grim blood-soaked Frazetta cover, I wonder if Conan would work better in movies if the goal was first and foremost to write and portray him as a strong but likable masculine hero."

    The best moments (few and far between) in this latest film were when they let Conan actually converse with people and interact as a human being rather than as a sword-wielding Robocop. Momoa has charisma, and a few other characters might have become engaging if they'd been allowed to say anything even remotely interesting. As it was, the villain was the only character who uttered anything meaningful, which is why he was the only one you felt any connection to at the film's ending.

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  58. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  59. If the box office wasn't bad enough, now Stan Lee is suing over ownership of the IP and want's 100% of the profits. It's a bit boastful on his part, but no question, this is a sure sign there's going to be many lawsuits to follow. The pool has definitely been pissed in and any chance of seeing another Conan film made again in our life time is basically dwindled down to zilch.

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  60. Wow... I guess the Dark Horse comics, video games, RPGs, and new printing of the original REH stories over the past decade never showed up on his radar.

    Be interesting to see how this plays out.

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  61. Stan Lee has been in the entertainment business for many years. If he has/ or had a clame to other IP rights he would get a cut of the profits of those as well -or he may just own a portion the film rights. This is nothing new as everyone in Hollywood is always suing one another.

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  62. Stan Lee Media is NOT Stan Lee. This is the remnants of the company that was once part of but is now really confusing. Stan Lee Media is actually suing Stan Lee and also trying to claim ownership of Marvel Characters. You can read about the company's history of Wikipedia.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stan_Lee_Media

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  63. I meant to say that "he was once part of" above.

    SLM did try to buy Conan but at that time the dot-com bubble burst and I think it reverted to the previous owners or was never finalized.

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  64. I don't understand why everyone wants a "faithful adaptation" - it's not like the author was consistent about his own setting!

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  65. Actually they had a massive marketing campaign for it in the millions. plus COTT came out only a few months after Avatar so Sam Worthington's presence helped tremendously, but even more so, it also had a PG-13 rating which means families were more inclined to go and anyone over 13 could attend. on their own. This is the sole reason why garbage like Alvin and Chipmunks made close to $50 million dollars on the opening week.

    No matter how bad Conan might be( I'll be seeing it tomorrow) at least they kept it an R rating
    .

    Odd, it seems to be getting a lot more exposure here than Clash of the Titans, but it might just be perspective. That is a very interesting point about the rating, never even considered that as a factor.

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