Saturday, September 24, 2011

Conan the Disappointment

(Sorry for the white boxes; blogger is acting up and I wasn't able to fix it.)

Yesterday I finally got a chance to go see the remake of Conan the Barbarian. I had been anticipating seeing the movie for quite some time knowing full well that it would probably be a disappointment partly because probability dictates that the majority of remakes will suck and partly because I read many of the reviews before seeing the film. (Yes, I'm one of
those people who look over critic reviews of movies before going to see them.) While the movie has some highlights, notably Jason Momoa performing remarkably well as the titular character, overall it is fairly insipid and banal; related in name only to the original Conan the Cimmerian as created and developed by Robert E. Howard. (To be fair, though, the original movie was mostly related to the Howard Conan in name only as well.)

Recently, I began reading the original Conan stories which has been an absolutely delightful experience. And one thing that I've come to realize about the Conan character created by Howard is the lack of motivation that Conan has for doing the things he does. Well, that's not quite correct. He does have a reason for what he does but it's fairly base. Basically, Conan acts in the manner he does (i.e., like a barbarian) in the stories simply because he likes it, simply because he's a Cimmerian, simply because he's a barbarian. And that's what barbarians do; act like barbarians! Consider the following discussion Conan has with the Pirate Queen in the story Queen of the Black Coast. The context has to do with a discussion about the larger purpose of living and, especially, the afterlife:

I seek not beyond death. It may be the blackness averred by the Nemedian skeptics, or Crom's realm of ice and cloud, or the snowy plains and vaulted halls of the Nordheimer's Valhalla. I know not, nor do I care. Let me live deep while I live; let me know the rich juices of red meat and stinging wine on my palate, the hot embrace of white arms, the mad exultation of battle when the blue blades flame and crimson, and I am content. Let teachers and priests and philosophers brood over questions of reality and illusion. I know this: if life is illusion, then I am no less an illusion, and being thus, the illusion is real to me. I live, I burn with life, I love, I slay, and am content.

Now any other time I would probably complain about the lack of depth in a character but in this case it makes sense for Conan to be the way he is. He does not need any further motivation to act in a barbarian manner. Yet, one of the things that this film gets wrong, as well as the original Schwarzenegger film, is to ascribe an unnecessary layer to the motivation of Conan’s character, namely, revenge. Why can’t it be enough to read a story in which a barbarian does barbarian things principally because he is a barbarian! I hope subsequent adaptations of the original Howard concept eventually get this but that's doubtful. Oddly enough, the film Conan the Destroyer which most lambaste as a terrible film actually comes closer to capturing the true essence of Conan the Cimmerian as created by Robert E. Howard. So, and I can’t believe I’m saying this, if you don’t have time to read the original short stories then watch Conan the Destroyer for a more accurate portrayl of the Conan character. On the other hand if you want to see a better film that involves Arnold Schwarzenegger beating up people then watch the original Conan the Barbarian and stay clear from this film which should have been titled Conan the Disappointment.

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