Saturday, August 20, 2011

Thak's Revenge

In the 1934 Conan yarn "Rogues in the House," Conan defeats an intelligent ape called Thak, who's set himself up in the place of Nabonidus the Red Priest. Nearly 80 years later, it looks like some of Thak's relatives managed to get the jump on the Cimmerian. The estimated box office receipts from last night's premier of Conan the Barbarian are in and the two week-old Rise of the Planet of the Apes made more money than the latest attempt to bring Robert E. Howard's famous character to the big screen.

I'll be honest and say I'm not too surprised by this. There wasn't much in the trailers that suggested that Conan the Barbarian was going to be a memorable film, let alone a noteworthy one. It reminded me uncomfortably of Clash of the Titans and other such fantasy action movies rather than anything in line with Howard's seminal pulp stories. If the estimates for the whole weekend prove true (only $11 million), then I think that pretty much poisons the well for any future Conan projects for the foreseeable future. That's a shame on one level, but, truth be told, I'd rather see no Conan movies made than a string of successful ones that bear little or no relationship to their source material.

43 comments:

  1. Well, the Rise of The Planet of the Apes was unexpectedly good.
    Anyone surprised by how much they liked the latest Conan?

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  2. I'd be willing to bet that this is really also tied to the economy. With so much trimming of personal budgets going on all across the country, and with the outrageous prices at movie theaters these days, I'm betting more and more people are opting to wait for the DVD release and to rent via the Redbox machines (which seem to be EVERYWHERE) or Netflix. Add to that the fact that, yes, this does look a lot like the Meh-tacular Clash of the Titans remake and I can totally see why it will pretty much bomb at the box office.

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  3. I saw it last night, you won't find a much bigger Robert E. Howard fan that me, I attended Howard days this Summer just to see the room where everyone's favorite barbarian was born. Sure, they didn’t adapt one of Howard’s stories and that was disappointing, but the story presented had a nice sword and sorcery feel to it and it pulled from Hyborian history.

    I had very few problems with the movie at all. Honestly I think everyone is taking this entirely too seriously. Its a sword and sorcery adventure, I'm really not sure what people expect beyond that. I liked Momoa as Conan, and especially Leo Howard as young Conan. He came across as a brutal warrior and a man of few words that was very purpose driven. Very like the Conan from Howard's pages.

    Perlman was great as Conan's father as well. The scenery, the sets, it all screamed Hyboria to me. The only real disappointment for me was the villain, who just came across as lackluster.

    I think if you go to this movie wanting to nitpick it to pieces, you will find plenty to work with. If you go into the movie wanting to be entertained and watch Conan hack through his enemies like the reaver he is.. you won’t be disappointed.

    As far as box office figures, I had trouble getting a seat here in Southeast Texas, all shows were sold out except for the 5:05pm showing.

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  4. In the seminar on the movie that I attended at Howard days, I did find out that the producers for the movie turned down a LOT of extra money to keep the movie R-Rated and to keep "The Rock" away from getting the role of Conan. I think had it gone that route, the Clash of the Titans comparison might hold water.

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  5. And let's not forget the ape he killed in the dungeons in "Hour of the Dragon." Poor beastie. The Hyborian World has much to answer for in its denial of simian rights.

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  6. Honestly, I think after a summer of Transformers and no less then four big budget superhero movies, the audience is probably pretty sated when it comes to action.

    The trailers for Conan didn't make it look "must see" to me, nor I suspect to anyone else. Good or bad, clearly not so many movie-goers were interested to find out.

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  7. I agree with Todd, it wasn't bad. Look at how long we have to wait for decent fantasy movies anymore. Expect perfection and set yourself up to be let down.

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  8. "...I'd rather see no Conan movies made than a string of successful ones that bear little or no relationship to their source material."--James Maliszewski

    Even if they're otherwise excellent movies?

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  9. I don't think anyone is expecting perfection. Just wishing they could come out of a Conan film thinking "Damn, that was GOOD!" as opposed to "Well, I suppose it's not bad, all things considered...," which happens with way too many movies these days.

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  10. Even if they're otherwise excellent movies?

    Yes. I figure, if someone can make an excellent pastiche Conan movie, they can just as easily make an excellent original sword-and-sorcery movie.

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  11. Just wishing they could come out of a Conan film thinking "Damn, that was GOOD!" as opposed to "Well, I suppose it's not bad, all things considered...," which happens with way too many movies these days.

    That would be nice, although I'll admit that, in the case of Conan, I was hoping for something that showed a little more of Howard's stories than a handful of names and a few paraphrased lines here and there.

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  12. I just can't help but feel there is a thinking that Howard's stories are not suitable for adaptation to the screen. I don't know why... But given how easy it ought to be take the stories, and how reluctant the studios have been over the years, it is all I think of.

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  13. "I figure, if someone can make an excellent pastiche Conan movie, they can just as easily make an excellent original sword-and-sorcery movie."--James Maliszewski

    While that's certainly true (if you ignore the issues of financing & marketing) -- so what? Wouldn't it be better to have some excellent sword-and-sorcery movies, even if they're pastiches, rather than no excellent sword-and-sorcery movies at all?

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  14. Wouldn't it be better to have some excellent sword-and-sorcery movies, even if they're pastiches, rather than no excellent sword-and-sorcery movies at all?

    If the choice is between no excellent sword-and-sorcery movies and the further distancing of the character of Conan from his origins, then I'll choose the former. Too many people already think Conan = Schwarzenegger or Conan = comic book character as it is. I'd hate to say that misunderstanding further advanced, even if it means missing out on otherwise good movies.

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  15. I'm going to see this thing tonight, in 3d even (my first 3d movie since the 80's). It's my good friends birthday movie, and its expected to be bad.

    I agree with James to a certain extent, although I think there's something to be said in defense of the comic book version of Conan, which is where my first visual image of Conan comes from, there and Frazetta.

    I treat these movies like I treat 3 Musketeers films; The Micheal York films are always going to be better, but I encourage folks to take a shot at topping them.

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  16. I'm with James on this. (Hi James!)

    It took many people decades of hard work to excavate original Howard from under the pastiches. Why turn back the clock?

    What gets me is that there is no good reason why you can't film original Conan. The stories aren't dated. They have all the elements to make a good screenplay. Sure, not all of them are movie length, but Hour of the Dragon or (say) People of the Black Circle would fit a script.

    If people don't want to make a Conan movie, and can't come up with anything original, it's not like there isn't a huge amount of excellent classic sword-and-sorcery crying out for a screen treatment. I'd love to see an Elric movie (seeing Harry Loyd as Visyrys in Game of Thrones, I kept thinking "he'd make a great Elric.")

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  17. Whoops, posted that as UNKNOWN by mistake.

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  18. 1) Maybe my favorite Frazetta.

    2) I adore Howard and all things Conan but I'm probably waiting for 2D rental and have relatively low expectations.

    3) Just stopped by to say I really appreciate and enjoy your blog.

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  19. I'll probably go on a matinee this week, but looking at the credits of the film on IMDB I can tell you the single biggest reason why this picture ended up the way it did is because there's not one, or two, but THIRTEEN producers listed on the credits. I didn't see that many last time I checked IMDB but that's an ungodly amount even for Hollywood standards. If you can imagine working in a kitchen and having the equivalent of ten Gordon Ramsey's telling you and everyone else around them what to do, you might get an idea how much of a clusterf---k this film was to make even before cameras started rolling. Ugg...

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  20. "If the choice is between no excellent sword-and-sorcery movies and the further distancing of the character of Conan from his origins, then I'll choose the former...I'd hate to see that misunderstanding further advanced, even if it means missing out on otherwise good movies."--James Maliszewski

    That position could make sense if we were talking about misrepresentations of a holy text propagating fallacies about a religion. But for pastiches of fiction causing misconceptions about a character? Really?

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  21. That position could make sense if we were talking about misrepresentations of a holy text propagating fallacies about a religion. But for pastiches of fiction causing misconceptions about a character? Really?

    Really.

    Look at Tarzan. How many people have the idea that Tarzan is some kind of grunting Neanderthal thanks to the Johnny Weissmuller movies and their imitators? That makes it difficult for future filmmakers to present a more Burroughsian interpretation of the character because it goes against what people have come to expect.

    Conan is not well-known in the general public. To most, he's "that character Arnie played in the 80s," with a vague sense that he was "in comics" beforehand. Every new pastiche projects -- and that's all we've ever gotten -- just adds to the difficulty in returning the character to his Howardian roots.

    I don't mind pastiches as one way to present the character, but the only way? That'd be like all movies adopting the Adam West interpretation of Batman as the interpretation and that's not something I suspect most Batman fans, even those who like the old TV series, would want. The same principle applies to Conan.

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  22. From someone who really likes REH Conan, yeah....really. I find it pretty annoying that hollywood will gladly slap the name Conan on the screen but wont go the extra step and actually make a good Conan film.

    For myself, I fundamentally HATE the revenge story. The notion of Conan being on a quest to avenge the murder of his father just doesn't work for me. I really don't understand why that has to be the trope when theres so much great material in the original stories that would make a fantastic S&S film. Conan should be like James Bond - his past doesn't matter, the current adventure is all that does...

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  23. Conan should be like James Bond - his past doesn't matter, the current adventure is all that does...

    I very much agree. Mind you, I think this is largely true of most superheroes, too, and Hollywood keeps giving us origin story after origin story. There's a reason why the second superhero movie in a series is usually the best one ...

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  24. "...people have the idea that Tarzan is some kind of grunting Neanderthal thanks to the Johnny Weissmuller movies and their imitators...Conan is not well-known in the general public. To most, he's 'that character Arnie played in the 80s'...That'd be like all movies adopting the Adam West interpretation of Batman as the interpretation..."--James Maliszewski

    Those examples are straw-men that ignore my actual question:

    "Wouldn't it be better to have some excellent sword-and-sorcery movies, even if they're pastiches, rather than no excellent sword-and-sorcery movies at all?"

    Note that I asked about "excellent" movies -- not B-movies, merely good movies and cartoonish parodies.

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  25. Note that I asked about "excellent" movies -- not B-movies, merely good movies and cartoonish parodies.

    Then I guess I'm having a hard time imagining such a thing. Can you provide me with an example of an excellent film that resulted from misrepresenting a literary character?

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  26. James has a point that all we've seen made into a movie so far has been either a Lin Carter Conan or a Roy Thomas Conan. If you're not going to make a REH Conan, why not just call it Thongor or Red Sonja? Have 'excellent S&S movies' by all means, but why tie them in to Conan other than that he is a S&S brandname?

    Btw, i wonder about the overlong time Conan has been a buyable property. If it had gone into public domain already would we have better or worse chances of a truer adaptation, a la the forthcoming John Carter movies?

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  27. Btw, i wonder about the overlong time Conan has been a buyable property. If it had gone into public domain already would we have better or worse chances of a truer adaptation, a la the forthcoming John Carter movies?

    The Conan stories are in the public domain in many English speaking countries, but the name "Conan" is trademarked, which would hamper the ability of anyone not associated with Paradox Entertainment doing a cinematic adaptation of any of Howard's stories. In addition, I believe it's only the original Weird Tales versions of the texts that are in the public domain, while the later, corrected ones are still under copyright. It's a complicated situation and that scares off a lot of people from even considering a true adaptation under their own auspices.

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  28. " Can you provide me with an example of an excellent film that resulted from misrepresenting a literary character?"

    I'm no expert on either film or literature, but I'll see how many I can think of...

    To start with -- the one that pops right into my mind -- there's Blade Runner. Not only is the character of Rick Deckard in the movie almost completely unlike the character with the same name in Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, but even the central theme and message of the movie is the exact opposite of what Philip K. Dick said his central theme and intended message in his book was.

    I'll list more as I think of them.

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  29. Can you provide me with an example of an excellent film that resulted from misrepresenting a literary character?

    One could argue that it worked precisely because even with all the changes around him the core character wasn't misrepresented, but perhaps the BBC's recent Sherlock would count? I do recall the purists gnashing and wailing about the modernisation beforehand, but I've not seen a bad word said about it once people had actually seen it.

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  30. "Pastiche" is the pasting together of elements cut from previous works and glued onto new canvas. If done well, a pastiche produces an original collage that is thematically concordant with the originals.

    Granted the backstory to "Conan the Barbarian" (Milius) veers from canon.

    Yet the themes explored, proceeding from that contrived backstory, feel Howardian.

    Ahnald's "Conan" deliberately chooses rational or emotional responses. Tactically he is rational. Strategically, he rides the emotion of vengeance. Here is the departure from Howard's Conan, who consistently shows rational in strategy and tactics.

    But the question in evaluating a pastiche - do the disparate cuttings blend to form an overall accurate impression? It is a big picture vs brushstroke question. Some people like Monet or vanGogh. Some people like Dali. Some like the (forgettable) Dutch realists.

    I contend that the Germanic anti-Conan nonetheless contributes to a recognizably Howardian exploration of savagery vs. rationality. That exploration is recognizably Howardian not only in general theme, but also in the manner of presentation: consequences bluntly presented, implications left for consideration. Much like Hemingway, Howard excelled at telling a story that could be read between sparse lines. Milius achieved the same.

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  31. ... though, i must admit, Valeria-valkyrie was far too High Fantasy for me. The one glaringly off patch in the pastiche.

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  32. Now that I think of it, Sherlock is probably a bad example because it really wasn't a misrepresentation of the character at all. Never mind.

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  33. To start with -- the one that pops right into my mind -- there's Blade Runner. Not only is the character of Rick Deckard in the movie almost completely unlike the character with the same name in Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, but even the central theme and message of the movie is the exact opposite of what Philip K. Dick said his central theme and intended message in his book was.

    That's a very good example, thanks. I'd be amazed, though, if we can come up with many more examples.

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  34. Now that I think of it, Sherlock is probably a bad example because it really wasn't a misrepresentation of the character at all. Never mind.

    Yes, I like Sherlock a great deal, precisely because I think it's interpretation of Holmes -- and Watson -- is very good and, by removing it from its Victorian setting, makes it clear from the get-go that this isn't Doyle.

    (On the other hand, from what we've seen so far, I hate Moriarty from the new series and think he's not a very good interpretation of the character at all, but I'm willing to be convinced otherwise once we see more of him)

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  35. "That's a very good example, thanks."

    I thought so too. You're welcome!


    "I'd be amazed, though, if we can come up with many more examples."

    I must admit that I am having trouble thinking of many. But that's probably partly because I haven't read enough of the books that excellent movies were based on. But it's also probably partly because fidelity to source material, while not necessary for a film to be excellent, still is often partly why a film is excellent.

    Nevertheless, I did think of another example:

    Mulan is an excellent movie even though the character Fa Mulan in it is almost completely unlike the literary/legendary character Hua Mulan that she was based on.

    So that's two.

    I'll see if I can think of any more.

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  36. I wonder, would you consider the Lord of the Rings trilogy to meet your criteria? Excellent films, but certainly 'artistic license' was taken.

    Since his name was brought up, has anyone been more misrepresented by Hollywood than Phillip K Dick? As pointed out earlier, even arguably the best film adapted from his works is 'wrong'. The closest 'faithful' adaptation I've seen is 'A Scanner Darkly'.

    This whole thread has me curious as to whether or not ANY Hollywood adaptation of ANY literary property could be considered 'accurate' and 'excellent'. I would argue Hollywood doesn't even want that; they want to do 'their own spin'.

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  37. "...would you consider the Lord of the Rings trilogy to meet your criteria?"--Hawkmansdaddy

    If you're asking me, then yes. I think they're excellent films even though they misrepresent some of the characters.

    But, if you're asking James, then no. That's why I didn't mention them.


    "Since his name was brought up, has anyone been more misrepresented by Hollywood than Phillip K Dick?"--Hawkmansdaddy

    Maybe not. But, despite that, both Blade Runner and Minority Report are excellent films.

    (I don't know how faithful Minority Report is because I haven't read it yet.)

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  38. I wonder, would you consider the Lord of the Rings trilogy to meet your criteria? Excellent films, but certainly 'artistic license' was taken.

    I'm still not sure of my answer. Several years ago, I would have unambiguously agreed with this proposition, but, as the years wear on, I find I dislike Jackson's films more and more.

    This whole thread has me curious as to whether or not ANY Hollywood adaptation of ANY literary property could be considered 'accurate' and 'excellent'. I would argue Hollywood doesn't even want that; they want to do 'their own spin'.

    I'm hard pressed to think of any film adaptations of books that I find exceptionally accurate in terms of both content and spirit. Some are better than others, though. The LotR movies, for all that I would criticize them, at least present Tolkien's story in a fashion that was at least recognizable to readers of the novel. That's something we've never gotten with Howard.

    On the larger issue, I'm not sure Hollywood cares one way or the other about fidelity toward the source material. They do care about "brands" and known IPs since they want a guaranteed return on their investment. They don't care how they get it that, so I think the blame rests with directors and screenwriters, many of whom want to put their own personal stamp on their movies, which means they're going to change things.

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  39. That's the basic problem with Hollywood as in the director (based on the auteur method), and the producers have a lot of control, and in some cases the Star power of the lead roles.

    In Hollywood, the writer is not as well respected, and screenplays get rewritten and go through several drafts. The whole point of the Writer's Guild is to make sure they don't get exploited--because without the guild I suspect they would.

    Basically, there are only two ways you can really get faithful adaptations of works--either the director and/or producer must really love the original work so much that they make sure the treatment is genuine, or the owner of the property is still alive and is involved and insists on that level of control--but without the first quality many of those movies don't get made.

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  40. JRT Said..

    "In Hollywood, the writer is not as well respected, and screenplays get rewritten and go through several drafts. The whole point of the Writer's Guild is to make sure they don't get exploited--because without the guild I suspect they would."

    The WGA dose a pretty good job too-so long as your a guild member or write a script for a company who has a deal with the WGA.

    Anyway, nobody goes out of their way to try and maker a bad film--even Ed Wood wanted his crapfest to be good. An even with the right people there's still so many obstacles in making a film that's it's almost like being in a war. Case in point " The Godfather" one of the greatest films of all time, but the stuff Coppola and his team had to go through, it would of been amazing if the film only turned out 1/4'th as good as it did. Check out " the Godfather and the Mob" over on youtube.

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  41. "Conan should be like James Bond - his past doesn't matter, the current adventure is all that does..."

    That was Howard's original concept, wasn't it? Tell the stories in no particular (starting with him as king) as if he was a guy in a tavern relating tales of his life.

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  42. "Can you provide me with an example of an excellent film that resulted from misrepresenting a literary character?"

    Here's an example of an excellent film that, in the casting of its main character, totally ignored the detailed description of that character at the very beginning of its literary source:

    "Samuel Spade's jaw was long and bony, his chin a jutting v under the more flexible v of his mouth. His yellow-grey eyes were horizontal. The v motif was picked up again by thickish brows rising outward from twin creases above a hooked nose, and his pale brown hair grew down--from high flat temples--in a point on his forehead. He looked rather pleasantly like a blond satan."--Dashiell Hammett, The Maltese Falcon

    Humphrey Bogart didn't look even a little bit like that.

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  43. I can’t think of many movies that “faithfully” represented the original literary material, though I have enjoyed a number of the “reinvisionings” nonetheless. I thought “The Thirteenth Warrior” was a great action/horror movie but a substantial departure from Creighton’s novel; “Timeline” – based on another Creighton novel – is even more changed from what I’ve been told (I haven’t read the novel yet so I can’t say for sure).

    In terms of faithful films: “300” seemed to be a good representation of Frank Miller’s comic (though I have a ‘different’ huge frickin’ issue with how horribly the comic and movie totally misrepresent the actual events of the Persian Wars). The Harry Potter movies have generally represented J. K. Rowling’s novels quite well – even to the extent of producing a fairly grim & bleak seventh movie that many critics panned for being unnecessarily faithful to the book.

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